Thursday, December 6, 2012

Truth or Consequences

When I hear the word vulnerable, certain images come to my mind:  A dog or cat, or any animal laying down on its back during a fight.  Someone with his or her back to a wall with nowhere to go.  Or someone walking down a cobblestone street, in the dark, slightly damp with scary music in the background.

All these scenarios indicated danger or losing to me.  And I shied away from using the word.  Yet it is the current buzzword in communication/new age health circles.  So I decided to look it up.

vulnerable |ˈvəln(ə)rəbəl|
susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm: we were in a vulnerable position | small fish are vulnerable to predators.
Bridge (of a partnership) liable to higher penalties, either by convention or through having won one game toward a rubber.
ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from late Latin vulnerabilis, from Latin vulnerare ‘to wound,’ from vulnus ‘wound.’

What!?  Susceptible to attack!  Harm?!  Of course it is hard to be vulnerable. Of course I hear people say I don’t want to be vulnerable.

But what does that have to do with saying the truth?  Why do we think that telling others what is really going on for us will make us susceptible to attack?  I’m sure it is an old story.  Parents and society in general not being able to communicate their needs without squashing the needs of the children?  Possibly going to school for 12+/- years sitting in straight rows, competing with the kids next to us for the approval of the authority?  Thus making ‘all others’ our enemies?  Yes, we do have a lot to get over.

And is there a difference between being susceptible to attack and being harmed?  I think yes.  And it is a big difference.  If someone doesn’t like what you say or do and they tell you (yes, even in ways you do not like, for example yelling or poking fun) which may seem like an attack, still really what is the harm?

So I looked up harm.

harm |härm|
physical injury, esp. that which is deliberately inflicted: it's fine as long as no one is inflicting harm on anyone else.
• material damage: it's unlikely to do much harm to the engine.
• actual or potential ill effect or danger: I can't see any harm in it.
verb [ with obj. ]
physically injure: the villains didn't harm him.
• damage the health of: smoking when pregnant can harm your baby.
• have an adverse effect on: this could harm his Olympic prospects.

Talks about physical injury only.  Most often when the discussion of vulnerability comes up, it is emotional harm that we are talking about.  “I don’t feel emotionally safe.“   And that, my friends, is an inside job.  What I hear when you say ‘emotional safety’ is that you are not willing to bear the feelings you have because of the meaning you make about what someone says to you.  You are mistakenly giving your power away.  Maybe that’s why you might say you are vulnerable.  But, as it turns out, it isn’t true.  

The consequence is to continue to outsource your emotional safety, and wait til you think you can control what everyone says to you and wait and wait, and hope to get your needs met, so you feel comfortable.   Although I am not so sure you are really comfortable, you just prolong the experience of feeling scared.  Which is the very experience of not having emotional safety.  augh.  What a horrifying loop!

What if you took yourself on and remained curious about how and why you feel a particular way?  What if when someone said something you didn’t like, you used your uncomfortable feelings to guide you to the very things that are important to you in that moment?  It is quite the powerful, resourceful place to be.  It is freedom.

You can walk down the dark alleys of relationships fraught with dangerous conversations with confidence, knowing that your emotions (yes, even the ones you have been trained not to like) are your gateways to identifying what’s important to you.  And when you know what’s important to you, you can make conscious choices to have more of it – in every moment.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Do I Trust You? (part 2 of a series)

Trust.  Commitment.  These are important elements in a relationship.  I’m sure you will agree.  But how does it look in a healthy relationship?  That we may not agree on.  Please read on.

If you watch as much television and see the same movies as I do, possibly you yearn to hear someone say, “I am committed to you”.  Or long to be in a relationship so you can say, “We are committed to each other”.   It sounds so romantic.  And as soon as that happens you will live happily ever after.  Quite alluring.  And I think, UNdoable.

But the pull is real.  So use it for your advantage.  Ask yourself why would you commit to someone?  What NEEDS will be met?  What kind of experiences are you hoping to have more of?  (possibly safety, security, partnership, love, inspiration?)  These questions will enable you to determine if being in a relationship with the person you are committed to is, indeed, an effective strategy for the experiences you say you want.   I suggest you (both you and your partner), commit to those needs and values rather than to each other.  

Compare these two scenarios:
Scenario One:
You have found the love of your life.  You are committed to each other.  It is yummy.  As humans, you begin the relationship by projecting your hopes and dreams onto the other person.  (And, after a while you will begin to project your fears onto this person...but I’ll save that for another article).  You like the same movies, you are both interested in art, and reading the Sunday times in bed.  You both want a house and two kids. Everything is going to be great.   Fast forward two years.  Your partner lost his job 10 months ago.  You discovered recently that it wasn’t due to a cut-back in his office, rather he got into a fight with a co-worker, and then published some private information about that person on facebook.  Your partner was not the person who gave you this news.  He is now interested in accepting a job halfway across the country.  It would require you leaving your job of 7 years, where you will be vested in an 401k in just 2 more years (I made that up, please forgive that I know nothing of 401k plans).  For the past 6 months you have been happily providing the finances that support you and your partner.  You ask your partner for a conversation about your concerns about his leaving out some details about how he was fired from his job, and your dwindling bank account and moving.  His response is, “I didn’t think I could tell you what happened, and this is why.  You don’t have my back.  I can’t believe you even talked to so-and-so.  I thought you were committed to me.  If you love me, you wouldn’t be making it so hard for me to take this new job.  Its perfect for me.”

If you are committed to him, what are your choices?  It seems that he is no longer committed to you, although if you ask him, he will say of course he is, that is why he wants to take the job.  To support you.  Even though that isn’t what you want in order to feel supported.  He is committed to you, you are committed to him and now it doesn’t seem much like how you imagined it in the beginning.  I see years of arguments increasing in volume and distress, until one of you blames the other one enough to finally feel justified in breaking your original commitment.  Painful.

Scenario Two:
You have found the love of your life.  You are so happy when you are with each other.  It is yummy.  As humans, you begin the relationship by projecting your hopes and dreams onto the other person.  You like the same movies, you are both interested in art, and reading the Sunday times in bed.  You both want a house and two kids. Everything is going to be great. 

As you deepen your relationship you take the time to discuss what is important to you individually and as a couple.  For example, you might say to you partner, “I am hoping to have an experience of collaboration, fun, trust and honesty inside this relationship”. To support that outcome, you each agree to have weekly check-ins, you decide that you want to dedicate time to hear the important things that are happening in each other careers, etc.  In addition, you decide to have monthly check-ins about how you feel about the relationship.  Maybe this is where you get to say, “Last Tuesday, when you decided to go out with friends, and didn’t invite me, or let me know, I felt disappointed.  I made a roast for dinner, and I would have loved to have had more of an opportunity to make plans with my mom, had I known in advance.  When we talked about collaboration, this is what I had in mind.  I’d love to know how it worked out the way it did, why you didn’t let me know ahead of time.”  This gives him an opportunity to express himself about what happened – from the agreement to collaboration and trust.  Fast forward two years.  Your partner lost his job 6 months prior – in the same way as the previous scenario.  He told you about it, how it happened, and how he felt about it.  Now he wants to take a job halfway across the country and has asked you to move with him.

The conversation might look more like, “Honey, I understand you want to support me, and I am having trouble trusting that this move will provide the support I am looking for, given the circumstances of the past year.  I am not prepared to give up the security I have in my career, for the possibility that your job may work out.  How about you go out for 3 months, and I stay here.  I will continue to contribute ½ of the financial support during those three months.  I am hoping that we can feel supported by each other again in this arrangement, as we work our way toward finding more trust, collaboration and comfort in our relationship.  In 3 months, let’s talk about how it is and isn’t working, and what kind of changes we’d like to make then.  How do you feel about this arrangement?”

If you are committed to the experience of trust, honesty, collaboration, your actions are in response to that.  Meaning, that even if your partner ‘lies’ to you, your response to that would be one of collaboration and trust and honesty.  Rather than blame.  Remember that what you say and do will be to increase the experience you are looking to have. If it turns out that this person has changed their commitment, and is longer interested in the same values you agreed to, then your choices become more clear. 
There may be many reasons to stay in the relationship – other needs that are getting met.  You may choose to get your collaboration needs met in other ways, and modify your expectations about that inside this relationship so that you feel more contentment.   Not giving up...but choosing new strategies to get more needs met.   There is no arguing in this case.  It still may be difficult and sad to change the relationship, mourning the loss of a certain quality of connection, yet there is actually trust, collaboration and honesty inside the re-working of what NEEDS you are both committed to inside the relationship now.

In the second scenario, where you are committed to NEEDS being met, there is so much more freedom to choose the perfect relationship in every moment.  NEEDS and values change, people change, dreams change.  Are you able and willing to notice what’s alive in you now, know what is important to you for your life and commit to that inside any relationship you have moment by moment?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Do I Trust Me? (part 1 of a series)

Trusting people can be so confusing, can’t it?  There isn’t much worse than someone saying one thing and doing another.  It is just plain wrong.  We are only as good as our word after all.  Confusing because in Nonviolent Communication we suggest that moralistic judgment (right/wrong thinking) is not a resourceful strategy to get needs met.  Certainly in this case you would be exempt from not making a moralistic judgment because lying is clearly inappropriate behavior.  No one likes a liar.

I have grappled with this my whole life, and I can honestly say now that I like many liars.  And my life is much easier now because of this.  (Haven’t we all ‘lied’ at one point or another?  C’mon.) I’ll explain this further.

For reasons that are no longer interesting even to me, I had built complicated rules about people who made commitments to me and then broken them, or might break them, or might talk about me behind my back, or did something and didn’t tell me about it, or laugh at the wrong time when I was talking, and on and on.

There were many times when I was distraught about something someone did and I had strong urges to punish them in some way for how I felt.  I learned that my reaction was not universal.  I would talk to friends about the situation and they didn’t think ‘it was that bad’.  That is when I discovered that I might have ‘trust issues’ I decided to ‘work on them”. 

My first strategy was to make clear agreements, and then expect (read:  hope and pray) that everyone would live up to them always.  Of course I explained in detail to people why it was important to me that they keep their agreement, and most often the people in my life did keep their agreements.  But...not always.  And that became a problem.  I would be extraordinarily upset.  “How could they?  Especially when they know my history...blah, blah!”  And even when people weren’t breaking agreements, I still had worries that they might in any moment.  Needless to say, I was in some level of personal distress a great deal of the time.

As I longed to address this problem, get people to be trustworthy, I sought the help of a teacher of mine.  She asked me a simple question.  “Are you willing trust yourself to meet your needs, by how you think, by how you listen, and by what you do?”  This question changed my life.  This is when I learned how to be responsible when I discovered (or decided) that someone was not worthy of my trust. 

Armed with the understanding that needs are universal, and everything I say and do is to meet a need, (and everything everyone else says and does is to get a need met), I began to realize that my strategy to have an experience of trust was not very resourceful.  I was outsourcing the responsibility to others.  Yes, people may or may not keep their agreements with me.  Intentionally or unintentionally.  And the real question I began to consider was, “Am I willing to know what my needs are, and make an effort to address them in every circumstance I find myself in?” 

Here’s an example, if someone breaks a commitment to you over and over, are you willing to let go of expecting that person to keep the commitment, and make a new choice about how you might relate to them ongoing?  Or will you keep ‘selling yourself out’ and ask again and again?  Most likely blaming them over and over, and labeling them untrustworthy – not worthy of my trust.  This is an exquisite example of using judgment to determine if life is being served (needs are being met).  If someone is “untrustworthy” and you have a strong need for trust, and you continue in the same way of relating, then really, aren’t you the one who is not meeting your own need for trust?   Are you being response-able to what your feelings are telling you, to the situation in the moment? 

Please consider your resources (time and energy) when reflecting on this question.  
Are you willing trust yourself to meet your needs, by how you think, by how you listen, and by what you do?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Terrie’s Rules of Etiquette

To the disappointment of my trainer, I often read magazines while on the elliptical machine at the gym.  A favorite is Real Simple Magazine.  I like the pictures, quotes, suggestions and some articles, though I often find myself disagreeing with the advice given in the Life Lessons section.  Here’s an example:

My cousin, who lives one state away is a terrible hostess.  Her home is such a mess (think soiled clothes and piles of paper in the hallway) that I’m not comfortable having my family stay there when we visit.  However, I don’t want to hurt her feelings by confronting her about her bad housekeeping.  What should I do?

You’re right to stay away from chastising your cousin.  Unless your family’s health or welfare is directly affected (for example, your child has an allergy to dust), it’s not your place to critique her homemaking.

Of course, you are under no obligation to put up with it either.  Why not simply stay with a friend, if you have one nearby, or in a hotel?  If she asks why you’re bunking elsewhere, avoid hurting her feelings by saying, “You’ve been so generous to host my family and overlook the disruption that a lot of guests cause.  I want to see you, but without creating so much hassle.  With any luck, she’ll thank you for being so considerate.

When I first read this article I was nodding my head up until the part when the author tells the advice-seeker to lie to her cousin. Of course she should stay somewhere else if she feels uncomfortable with the surroundings in her cousin’s home; a sense of obligation is not a good reason to do anything. However, by being dishonest or evasive about her reasons for doing so, she misses a chance build connection and understanding in her relationship with her cousin.


We all have opinions about what people do, how they live, and what they say. The problem comes when we believe that our assessment is the ‘right’ one.  What we think is neither right nor wrong.  It is just a mechanism to help us determine what we value.  In this case, the writer values order and cleanliness as well as family and connection. 


Just because we do not like the way someone does something, in this case, housekeeping, does not mean that we must judge the person as wrong for doing it that way.  By letting go of judgments and using language that emphasizes connection - for example, asking with curiosity and concern about why the house looks the way it does - we promote understanding.  


For the advice seeker to lie about what is going on for her, or keep it to herself and hope that “she’ll thank you for being so considerate” seems at best misguided and at worst mean-spirited. This strategy assumes that expressing her desires will necessarily result in conflict or hurt feelings. 


In this case, there really is no need for confrontation or lying, nor to express condescension regarding the cousin’s housekeeping skills. Nothing needs to be said about the house at all. Rather than saying, “I don’t want to disrupt you”, which is not true, she could say, “I feel more comfortable staying at a hotel”, which is true. By saying what is true and letting go of the belief that the cousin needs to organize her house in a particular way, the connection between the two of them can deepen.  


Sharing what is really alive in our hearts seems so difficult, but by doing so we open up a world of possibilities for personal freedom, connection and satisfaction.  In this case, the advice-seeker would do well to recognize her own values- her preference for cleanliness and her concern for her cousin’s emotions - and ask for what she wants with honesty and compassion. While the short-term outcome might be the same - she’ll stay elsewhere - long term, her willingness to live from the heart can’t help but bring the two cousins closer.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Feeling Rejected?

If you are on Facebook, you probably see many of the same quotes I do.  They are meant to inspire us or make us laugh or cause us to see something in a different light. I’ve read this one a few times as it’s made the rounds, and each time I’ve felt a thud in my stomach.

My intuition tells me that this quote is more likely to keep people stuck than set them free.  So I’d like to tease out what troubles me about it.

What does it mean to feel rejected?

What happened that you interpreted as rejection?  Did someone turn down your invitation to lunch? Did someone you were interested in fail to reciprocate your interest? For the author of the quote, rejection equals sadness. But must you feel sad (or hurt or upset or depressed) when someone turns you down?

If we dig a little deeper into your mind, the reason that you feel sad (or bad or hurt) when someone rejects what you have offered is because you already believe you are not good enough.  Your brain has a way of interpreting the facts to support your beliefs about yourself. This person didn’t want to go out with me; therefore, he must not think I’m good enough.

You can’t always believe what you think.

Bill Harris [] attributes this process of interpretation to what he calls the Internal Map of Reality.  It works like this:  You receive some kind of input from the environment.  As it comes in, this sensory input is filtered. Filters include your beliefs, values, memories, past decisions, the language you speak, information you have retained, and on and on.  Filters delete, distort, and generalize the input as it comes in, based on the way your Internal Map of Reality has been set up to filter, all of which happens in a split second.  And though you’re aware of some of this, almost all of it is going on outside your conscious awareness.

Your Internal Map of Reality organizes information that you receive from the environment. Helpful, right? Most of the time, yes. Except when somebody turns you down for an invitation to the movies, and this “rejection” is instantly filed with the other evidence that proves you are not good enough. When you feel bad about a supposed rejection, keep your attention on what actually happened. Did my friend tell me I wasn’t good enough? No! She just declined an invitation to go to the movies.

If nothing is wrong with me, then something must be wrong with you.

In the second part of this message, there is an implied obligation.  They should have accepted what you offered. If they aren’t interested, then there must be something wrong with them. But isn’t this really a demand?  They must like you, or else. 

Why should we expect everyone to like us? Do you like everyone you meet? Do you say yes to every invitation?  Do you get in a relationship with everyone you meet?  Of course not! It doesn’t make sense.

If you truly believe that what who you are is good enough, then you will be confident that someone will be attracted to you, and you won’t be hurt every time someone is not interested. I like to think of a golden retriever I once knew.  That golden retriever ran around to each person she met - pet me! pet me!  Even when pushed away, she just tried again.

Compassion is the key.

When you offer something that is precious to you and someone says no, you may think
 the person doesn’t value you. Rather than address what you already believe about yourself - “I must not be good enough” - you tell yourself there is something wrong with the other person.  But as I say and write over and over, there is nothing wrong with anyone. Maybe you didn’t clearly express what you wanted, or the other person just didn’t understand. Or maybe the other person truly didn’t want what you were offering. That’s okay.  

Remember that compassion - for yourself and others - is the key to keeping a rejection from turning into “feeling rejected”.  Keep in mind that the person you are making a request of also operates under the influence of an Internal Map of Reality. Perhaps they would have liked to say yes but simply lack the confidence, courage or understanding to do so.  Listen for what meaning they long for, and stay present to that, rather than your own stories.  You may be surprised at what happens when you respond to rejection in this way.

Ask for what you want.

Access your inner golden retriever and ask, ask, ask for what you want.  And don’t let getting a no become more than it is.  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Life and Death

I have recently experienced the death of someone close to me.  The suddenness of this loss reminds me how fragile life is.

My concerns, thoughts, and worries had certainly not been on this ‘healthy’ person. I had been preparing for others close to me to  make this transition, contemplating how their passing would affect my life.  Not Tom.  Tom was slow, steady, strong.  He was here for the long haul.  

Now, immersed in Tom’s personal papers, his things, awash in stories and memories of what he meant to people, I am reminded of the significance of every moment we live.

I don’t, however, want to write about his life.  I am writing about life.  What do we do with it?  We have it for some unspecified amount of time.  We share it with some people in a deep way, with others in a more superficial way, and somehow - albeit unknown - we share it with those billions of people who are here for the same moment we are but whom we will never meet.

Intention has been the theme of my life and my practice in recent years - knowing why, in every moment, I do and say the things I do.  But what’s the grand intention?  Is there a purpose to life?  To my life?  To your life?  I believe it is up to each of us.  We get to decide.

Cosmological physicist Brian Swimme says:
“At the very, very beginning, the universe comes into existence and these various forms of matter experience an attraction for each other. So that very attraction is what gave rise to our existence in our consciousness. In a way, the purpose of human beings is to reflect love, is to be self-aware of love, is to be conscious about love, is to be that conscious expression of love, as far as we know, in the universe.”

If you knew you had a short time to live, would you spend that time being angry at someone for cutting you off on the highway?  Or holding a grudge with your friend for forgetting to send a birthday card?  Would you spend it judging people for how they eat?  Or holding off saying something important?  Or would you choose to spend your time left cherishing every minute?  And if you chose to cherish every moment, what would you be doing? How would you being doing it, and with whom?

I encourage you to give these questions some thought, some energy, some action.  Why put it off?  For every moment you are alive, know your intentions and act on them.  For yourself, and for those you will leave behind.  

This poem by Dawna Markova, offers me inspiration and describes the grand intention for my life, which I consciously choose in every moment that I can remember.   What’s yours?

I will not live an unlived life.
I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,

to make me less afraid, more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance;

to live,
so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.