Why we should consider being less approachable

“Last year I felt confused and sad because someone told me that I was ‘unapproachable.’ This sort of thing happens to me often.
I used to feel upset about it because I thought the world perceived my quietness as unkindness. That made me feel misunderstood.
I called Elizabeth Gilbert And complained to her about being called unapproachable. She said this: ‘awesome. well done, Honeyhead!’ And I said, what? This is terrible! I don’t want people to think I’m unapproachable! Liz said: wait, why? Do you want to always be approached? And I said: Um. No. And she said: Exactly. Well done. Carry on.
Love you, my introverts. We love deeply don’t we? For example: We will die for you, but we won’t, like, meet you for coffee.
Carry on, quiet Unapproachables.”

– Glennon Doyle

The older I get, and the more I look at the lives of those I admire most in this world, the more I see a common thread. In the words of Brene Brown:

“[In my years of research on compassion] I found that the one thing the most compassionate people all shared in common was they were very boundaried. They happened to be the people who had very, very clear boundaries about what they were willing to do, what they were not willing to do, what they were willing to take on, and what they were not willing to take on.”

I would add, and I think Brene would agree: the most compassionate people are also very boundaried regarding who they’re willing to associate and spend their time with. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which Oprah brought up an incident where Dr. Angelou kicked someone out of her home for making a racist joke, Dr. Angelou responded:

“I’m convinced that the negative has power. It lives. And if you allow it to perch in your house, in your mind, in your life, it can take you over. So when the rude or cruel thing is said—the lambasting, the gay bashing, the hate—I say, ‘Take it all out of my house!’ Those negative words climb into the woodwork and into the furniture, and the next thing you know they’ll be on my skin.”

Perhaps Glennon Doyle and Liz Gilbert and Maya Angelou are onto something. Perhaps we ought not be approachable to everyone. Perhaps a friend of mine was onto something when she told me years ago:

“I don’t want any more friends.”

Does that sound bad? Does it sound horrible, to limit friendships? To choose a relationship with this person, over that one? But… is it? If time and energy is finite (hint: it is) then maybe one of the most loving things we can do, both for ourselves and for those around us, is give those finite resources to those whose presence we cherish, opinions we value, and who contribute to our own well-being just as diligently as we attempt to contribute to theirs.

“Do you enjoy your friends? If not, dump them. Seriously. Why spend time with people you don’t enjoy? There are plenty of people out there (about 6 billion), so surely you can find a handful of people you enjoy spending time with. I have a personal policy that I won’t spend time with people I don’t enjoy. That means I don’t go to parties or to dinner with people I don’t really like. At times that makes me very unpopular with others, including my wife, but very popular with myself. I just won’t compromise my personal happiness to put myself in the presence of people I don’t like. Selfish? You bet! And I suggest everyone do it.”

Sound harsh? Maybe it’s not. Haven’t we all had relationships with people we dread spending time with? Whose presence leave us mentally and physically drained? Who make us feel bad about ourselves, are unsupportive, or even actually make us worse people? Maybe we find ourselves gossiping more when we’re around them, or judging people more harshly than usual, or participating in activities we would typically avoid. Maybe, as Maya Angelou says, that really does climb onto our skin.

What if our presence in the world matters? What if the way we spend our time here on earth, and who we spend it with, matters? What if spreading ourselves thin in an attempt to be “nice” or “helpful” is not only limiting our ability to make a difference toward those we care the most about, but also limits the ability of others to find their own way? If someone irresponsible with money is consistently bailed out of financial crisis, are the rescuers helping or hurting? When we fake our way through unpleasant interactions, rather than allowing people to suffer the consequences of their destructive personalities, are we helping or hurting?

I have a theory that God is always waiting to whisper direction to us, but can only communicate through a line held open by honesty. Honesty about who we are, what we think, how we feel, and what we want. How can God give us “the desires of our hearts” if we’re not honest about what those desires are? Using the theory of the law of attraction, how is the universe supposed to bring us the things we want and need most, if we’re too afraid to allow the universe (ie. those around us) know what those things are? And how is the universe supposed to stop bringing into our lives those things we don’t want, if we keep opening our arms to them?

When you force yourself to spend time with someone or pretend to have a good time you are either lying to yourself or lying to them.
This is not truthful living.
– Vanessa Van Edwards.

Maybe, unlike the popular facebook meme I’ve seen floating around, lately, my door shouldn’t always be open. Maybe I shouldn’t be available for everyone, at all times. Maybe the most loving, supportive thing I can do is be honest about who I want in my life, who I want to spend my time with, and who I’m willing to drop everything for at a moment’s notice.

Maybe limited approachability is a gift. A gift to ourselves, a gift to those who need to find another way, and a gift to those for whom our limits with others grant us time and energy to love more fully.

.

Related Articles:

The Truth Will Set You Free

 

Sanctuary

Guilt or Glory

Phoenix

 

Posted in Friendship, PERSONAL | Leave a comment

Thursday’s Thought: Glennon Doyle Melton on body image

One of my daughters was telling the other a story about a woman we met, recently.  She was doing her best to describe the woman, and went on and on, describing the way she spoke, what she wore, where she sat, even how many children she had and how old she thought they were.  And as I sat there, I waited for the descriptions that never came…

“Heavy.  Overweight.  Big.”

In her desperate search for a way to describe this woman to her sister, the characteristic that stood out most to me wasn’t even on her radar.

I was reminded today of something Glennon Doyle Melton wrote:

Your body is not your offering. It’s just a really amazing instrument which you can use to create your offering each day. Don’t curse your paintbrush. Don’t sit in a corner wishing you had a different paintbrush. You’re wasting time. You’ve got the one you got. Be grateful, because without it you’d have nothing with which to paint your life’s work. Your life’s work is the love you give and receiveand your body is the instrument you use to accept and offer love on your soul’s behalf. It’s a system.

We are encouraged to obsess over our instrument’s SHAPE, but our body’s shape has no effect on it’s ability to accept and offer love for us. Just none.  Maybe we continue to obsess because  as long we keep wringing our hands about our paintbrush shape, we don’t have to get to work painting our lives. Stop fretting. The truth is that all paintbrush shapes work just fine -and anybody who tells you different is trying to sell you something. Don’t buy. Just paint.

 

Posted in Thursday's Thought, Weight Loss | Leave a comment

Rocking Who I’ve Fought to Become

“The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes. You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart — your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born.”

–Anne Lamott

“With age comes inner strength and the power of not giving a shit what others think.
Today I am rocking who I’ve fought to become.”

—Unknown

.

At various times in my life, I’ve realized I am a liar, a hypocrite, judgmental, self centered, and in desperate need of forgiveness. I’ve confessed many of these things publicly over the ten years I’ve been blogging, because I have also realized this forum is an extremely effective tool in my fight to become a better person. Part of my understanding of what that means includes honesty and transparency, and, through writing, I have experienced first-hand what physiologists are only beginning to understand: the process of gaining insight into our experiences and sharing those experiences is a critical step in emotional and physiological growth. I am a better person because of the things I’ve shared, and I believe that by sharing my own struggles, I can help others through theirs.

Yet, lately, it seems the biggest struggle I face is the fear of what others might think of what I have to say. For months, this has kept me bottled up, feeling secretive and ashamed, unwilling to let anyone see the deepest parts of my heart.

This must stop.

That doesn’t mean I’m ready to publish a tell-all (I’m working to find the balance between transparency and confidentiality) but it does mean I’m going, to the best of my ability, to stop giving the opinions of others so much power over me. It means I’m going to start writing the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of my heart. It means I’m going to rock the person I’ve fought to become, even if that means being misunderstood, or criticized, or losing the relationships I cherish most.

Because I have another confession:

I am prideful.

I’m prideful enough to believe I have something to offer. I’m prideful enough to believe that something I say might resonate with someone, somewhere, and I’m prideful enough to believe I can make a difference.

A friend asked me yesterday: “When are you going to happen to the world?”

That work starts today.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Unconditional Love

I turned to my friend. “Something is different with me. I don’t know what happened, but I know I’m not going to be able to keep my feelings inside anymore. I’m afraid I’m going to start screaming, and I don’t know what to do about that.”
She stepped closer. “Well, then, we’ll just have to build a wall to muffle out the sound so the neighbors don’t hear us.”
I searched her face. “Are you saying you’re not only willing to accept my screaming, you’re willing to participate?”
“Well, yes. If that’s who you’re going to be, we’ll just have to figure out a way to make it work.”
In that moment, I felt a love unlike anything I’d ever experienced before and, with it, the freedom to be myself, completely and utterly, warts and all, safe in the knowledge that I was loved and supported and always would be. Safe in the knowledge that someone had made a DECISION to take the good along with the bad, come what may. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life.
Then I woke up.

When I woke, the feeling of being unconditionally loved stuck with me. And yet, as I thought about the dream in the days that followed, I saw clearly that my friend’s love had come at a cost: Her love was contingent upon her being able to accept something about me she would not otherwise have accepted.

I am learning that unconditional love requires this kind of acceptance—even for those things I ordinarily would not want to accept. It requires sacrifice and support and, at times, even participation as the need arises. To be honest, there’s a part of me that has a hard time with that, because I have many hopes and dreams and definite preferences regarding what I want my life, and especially my future, to be like. When I think of that kind of acceptance, I realize it might mean laying down some of those desires for the good of another, and there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to do that.*

But I’m learning that we don’t live in “the future,” we live in NOW. And when I focus on what ought to be, I forget to be grateful for what is. I forget that life is meant to be lived one step at a time, and I don’t allow for the possibility that what I want now might not be what I want in the future, and that the things I see as problems now may not remain so once I learn to accept them.*

I often feel as if I have to figure out what I want and what type of future I’m working toward, because I don’t want to waste time walking a path that can’t take me where I think I want to go. But I am learning that if I can learn to love with a self-sacrificing love, the years spent walking will have been FAR from wasted, regardless of where the path leads.

Through the dream, I realized that being loved for exactly who I am, and having someone create a safe place for me to be myself in, was among the greatest blessings I could ever experience—far beyond anything else I think I might want in life. I realized I not only want to have that kind of love in my life, I want to give that kind of love. And I realized that if I can focus on the present, if I can make a commitment to love, moment by moment, and give those around me a safe place in which to be themselves without condition, then I’ll reach the end of my life having learned more about love than I know now, and having given those around me the gift of my love, to the greatest extent possible. And whatever it took to get there will have been worth it.

*Some clarifying thoughts:

I think it’s important to note that unconditional love does not—and should not—always require participation, and acceptance is not the same as encouragement. There are very real things people deal with that should not be participated in or encouraged (some forms of addition, physical or mental abuse, etc.) In these instances, acceptance for where they are, while at the same time working toward change for their betterment, is a good thing, and love from a distance may be necessary.

Also, when I speak of laying down my own desires, I speak of this in the context of sacrifice by choice, not obligation (I’ve written more about this HERE.) I think that involves getting very truthful with ourselves about what we want and what we’re willing to tolerate. I think it’s also important to recognize that a failed relationship does not necessarily equal a failure to love.

“Not everyone in life is meant to be a beautiful story. Not every person we feel something deep and moving with is meant to make a home within us, is meant to be forever. Sometimes, people come into our lives to teach us how to love; and sometimes people come into our lives to teach us how NOT to love… How NOT to settle, how NOT to shrink ourselves ever again. Yes, sometimes people leave—but that’s okay, because their lessons always stay, and that is what matters. That is what remains.”

–Unknown

.

Related Articles:

Sanctuary
“Self respect is the act of paying attention and giving myself a voice. It’s the act of respecting myself – my own thoughts and feelings, wants and desires, just as much as I respect others and being just as willing to meet my own needs as I am to meet theirs”…  

Phoenix
Where religion gives a map, The Spirit gives the next step, and only the next step. Should I choose to take it, there will be no one on the other side to cheer me, no one to tell me it’s all going to be okay. Religion gives a picture of the journey. The Spirit extends an empty canvas”…

Posted in Love, PERSONAL | Leave a comment

Confirmation bias – how our thoughts shape our reality and how we can use this to create a better life

Confirmation Bias: The tendency to search for, interpret, or remember information in a way that confirms what we already believe or think.

We got to see an excellent example of confirmation bias last week in regards to the Covington Catholic High school students. As more information came out, people either actively ignored the additional footage, or scrambled to find new evidence to support the opinions they’d originally formed. Eventually, most of us were forced to admit we’d been wrong about our assumptions, at least to some degree, although getting there was an uphill climb.

This is because confirmation bias leads us to ignore facts that are contrary to what we already believe, and actively search out information that confirms our opinions. It affects us both in how we seek out information (watching only liberal/conservative news stations, for instance) and also how we process otherwise neutral information (a smile becomes a smirk, or vice versa.)

It’s a scary thought. But there’s something even more frightening…

We all do it, we’ve always done it, and we will always do it.

The brain’s primary goal is self-protection, both to the physical and physiological self. When opposing facts challenge our identities, our brains automatically perceive them as a threat and act accordingly. This takes place mostly on a subconscious level and causes us to put much more emphasis on things which work to prove our existing beliefs than those which contradict them. It can be likened to a bank where affirmations represent deposits and contradictions represent withdraws. Unfortunately where confirmation bias is concerned, everything that contradicts the view we already have is worth one coin and everything which confirms it is worth five. (This is why it takes tremendous effort to change our views once they’re established, and why most of us never seek to challenge our own opinions.)

I’ve recently come to realize that I struggle with a negative confirmation bias when it comes to relationships. Somewhere along the path of my life, I adopted the belief that I had to earn love. Unfortunately, mixed with this idea was also the belief that I was never/would never be good enough. And so these traits worked in tandem to make me constantly feel unloved and unlovable. This is a huge problem, because when we look at confirmation bias in the context of human emotion, the person who has a negative view about themselves will put much more emphasis on whatever confirms that negative view than that which confirms the positive. So a person who feels like no one cares about her will place much more importance on the two times a friend didn’t call back than on the ten times that same friend did, and a person who feels like he’s stupid will place much more emphasis on the one test he failed than the five he aced. We get tuned in to the emotions that support our existing view, and will constantly find reasons to justify those thoughts and make them true… even if it means interpreting neutral circumstances as negative.

That person didn’t smile at me, she must not like me.
My friend didn’t return my call, she must be mad at me.
My husband came home from work late, he must be having an affair.

One can imagine the kinds of problems this can cause in relationships if every negative action gets magnified, and every positive action is downplayed or (if the bias is severe enough) ignored altogether. In fact, researchers have found that couples in unhappy marriages tend to underestimate the number of positive interactions they have with their spouse by 50%.

But the good news is that confirmation bias works in the opposite direction as well, and by becoming aware of it and directing our thoughts, we can actually USE our bias to bring more positivity into our lives. In my own life, I’ve done this primarily in three ways:

1. Practicing Gratitude

It’s been said that what we pay attention to grows, and I recently learned that the reason for this has to do with a part of our brain called the reticular activating system. The RAS’s job is to filter into our awareness the things we’re looking for, and out of our awareness the things we’re not looking for (this is why, when we become interested in something new, we often see things relating to it everywhere we go.) By consciously focusing on the things we want more of in our lives, we can actually train our RAS and it is theorized that when we do this, our RAS will reveal the people, information, and opportunities that will work to help us achieve those things. (This has also been called the “law of attraction.”) If this is true, and we place conscious focus on the positive, our RAS will actually help us to CREATE more positive situations in our life. It makes sense, doesn’t it? As we do more to search out and express our gratitude for the positive interactions we have with others, the more positive interactions we’ll create (this has also been called “the law of reciprocity,” “karma,” and simply “what goes around comes around.”) And it all begins in our thoughts.
Personally, I’ve begun keeping a gratitude journal. Throughout the day, I try to be on the lookout for things to write in my journal, which helps me put more emphasis on the positive than on the negative. According to the law of attraction, this helps me not only acknowledge but also create more positivity in my life.

2. Remember the Positive

Focusing on the positive is much easier when there are lots of good things happening, but there are days when it seems like every interaction I have is awful from start to finish. When this happens, it’s amazing how quickly I can mentally list hundreds of things wrong with my loved ones. Suddenly I can remember every transgression since 1998 and I’m wondering why I’ve put up with this person for a single day, let alone years. When this happens, I try to set aside my feelings, even just for a moment, and think of as many good qualities about them as I can, and reflect on the good interactions I’ve had with them over the months/years. I’ve set up separate folders in my gratitude journal where I record some of these positive interactions, just so I can read through them when I’m flooded with negative thoughts. This helps me keep things in perspective when I start feeling like things will “never” get better, or will “always” be this way, and sometimes even changes my outlook completely so that what seemed to be an insurmountable problem an hour ago becomes a non-issue.

3. Tell A Different Story

Whenever I feel a negative emotion or find myself judging others, I try to take a few moments to identify exactly where my feelings/opinions are coming from and what my judgment is made of. Once I know this, I can take steps to work through it and determine how to best deal with it. In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown gives four steps that are helpful in this process, which I’ve expounded on, below. Personally, the two steps that have helped me most when it comes to personal relationships are
A. Identifying the story I’m telling myself (ie. “My friend didn’t call back, she must be mad at me”) and
B. Telling myself a completely new story (ie. “Someone must have dropped by” or “her phone must have died” or “her son must have peed in the pie and she had to make it all over again.” (True story—happened to my grandmother!)
The story I make up really doesn’t really matter. I figure if I don’t actually KNOW why my friend didn’t call, I might as well make up a good reason on her behalf. This is often an effective tactic to help me see there are a myriad of other possibilities which have nothing at all to do with me. It also helps me to interrupt the flow of negative thoughts and retrain my mind to look for the positive side of those interactions.

If, however, I’m dealing with information too complex or too important to deal with in a simple story,  or if I simply can’t let go of my hurt feelings regarding a certain situation, Brene Brown gives a series of questions that help me further understand my emotions and come to correct conclusions/solutions:

1. What story am I telling myself, or am I being told?

As mentioned previously, we all tell ourselves stories about the events which take place in our lives. Identifying the story we’re telling helps us to see what, exactly, is making us feel what we feel. For instance, if I walk into a room and my friends suddenly grow quiet, I might be telling myself they were talking bad about me and got quiet because they don’t want me to hear.

2. What more do I need to learn?

In this step, we ask two important questions that help us better understand what our stories are made of:
A. What do I know objectively?
B. What assumptions am I making?
For instance, all I know objectively regarding my friends is that they were talking and fell silent when I walked in. The assumption I’m making is that they were talking about me.

3. What more do I need to learn and understand?

In this step, we ask two questions that help us discover how to collect the information we need to make a more clear judgment:
A. What additional information do I need?
B. What questions can I ask, that would help me understand and/or find the truth?
An easy solution for the assumption that my friends were talking bad about me would be to simply ask. I often revisit my conversations with loved ones to ask for clarification or additional information. It’s important in that situation to give the other person the benefit of the doubt and believe the best rather than accuse them of something hurtful. One of my favorite methods of dealing with a conversation like this is to say: “when you said (or did) this, I interpreted it to mean this, is that really how you meant it?” This isn’t always an easy thing to do when feelings are on the line (I recently accused a loved one of something and it was only after she expressed how badly I’d hurt her feelings with my accusation that I realized what I’d done.) As with everything, it’s a progress.

4. What more do I need to know about ME?

Here we seek to understand where our negative reaction to the situation came from, by asking two last questions:
A. What is under my response
B. What part did I play?
Perhaps my negative response has to do with a hurtful situation from the past that left me sensitive to friends talking behind my back. Or perhaps I, myself, often talk about people this way which makes me assume others are doing the same. Or perhaps my friends were talking behind my back, and it’s because I’d been a hateful jerk the week before and they were trying to figure out how to approach me about it. Here we take an honest look at ourselves to determine why we react the way we do, and what part, if any, we had to play in what happened.

I’ve employed these questions in my own life many times (though admittedly not often enough) and they’ve often helped me see things from a new perspective. Interestingly enough, this practice has led to some pretty incredible things. About a year ago, I looked through one of my old journals and was horrified to see the fear and insecurity which ran across every page—fears I look back on now and can hardly believe I once felt. I feel much more freedom in my interactions with people, and much more secure in my relationships. I still have a long way to go, but I’m getting there.

And that’s something else to be thankful for.

Posted in Friendship, Marriage, PERSONAL, Thankfulness | Leave a comment

The Truth Will Set You Free

“If you will not reveal yourself to others, you cannot reveal yourself to yourself. That does not only mean that you suppress who you are, although it also means that. It means that so much of what you could be will never come forward. …Truth is the light in the darkness.” –Jordan Peterson

“I can’t tell him that!”
“Why not, if it’s the truth?”
I stared at my friend. He had just advised me to be honest about something I knew would hurt my husband and potentially change the nature of our relationship forever. I considered his words carefully and later that night, I told Jon the painful truth.

I’ve talked a lot recently about listening to the still, small voice inside, the one I (perhaps presumptuously) call God, and how God never seems to reveal the five year plan. Instead, He tells us the next right thing, and then the next, and then the next. As E.L. Doctorow once said, it’s like driving at night in the fog. You can only see a small path before you, yet you can make it all the way home that way. But I’m coming to understand that listening for the next right thing is only one part of the equation. There is another, equally important, thing we must do if we are to follow where God leads:

Share our truth.

If it’s true, as I am coming to believe, that God whispers direction to us one step at a time, then hearing and expressing go hand in hand, each requiring the other in order to light our way. After speaking with a friend recently, I was struck by how much time we waste worrying over the future—carefully and exhaustively weighing every option, considering every possibility, and planning every potential outcome, continually fretting over what might be. We can remain frozen this way for years as life, to use my friend’s words, “happens to us.” But if, instead, God wants to lead us one step at a time, then taking those steps require honesty about who we are, what we think, how we feel, and what’s going on in our lives. Otherwise, we remain stagnant; terrified to move for fear of how others might react; unable to follow because we’re not willing to reveal our truest selves, our deepest thoughts, our strongest desires. As I look back through the years, I can see how every moment of significant growth in my life has taken place during a time when I told those around me the truth about what was going on inside, or when someone in my life spoke a difficult truth to me and I was forced to struggle through it. In this way, our truthfulness affects not only our own lives, but also those around us, enabling all to see a bit more clearly. Though not always comfortable, I am coming to believe that the reactions, conversations, and consequences that result from honesty are the very things that make the next step clear.

After sharing the truth with my husband, our relationship DID change. And it’s been hard and scary and frustrating and uncomfortable ever since. It’s also been incredible and amazing and inspiring and wonderful. We’re forging a new path. Together.

“An ethical and evolved life entails telling the truth about oneself and living out that truth.” —Cheryl Strayed

“What you don’t say owns you. What you hide controls you.” —Unknown

“The truth shall set you free.” —Jesus

.

Related Articles:

Phoenix

Guilt or Glory

Sanctuary

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Yodeling Children of Kentucky

Dear Neighbor,

Please excuse my children for their brilliant (and loud!) rendition of “The Yodeling Veterinarian of the Alps” last night. They apparently have no concept of time or appreciation for the fact that some people enjoy sleeping.

You, my friend, deserve a medal.

 

.

Related Articles

We are THAT family

 

Posted in Humor, The Eigh of 'em | Leave a comment