I'm sensitive. Ask anyone who knows me, and I'm sure they'll agree. For a long time my sensitivity felt like an albatross, something to be ashamed of. It's only been in recent years that I've been able to acknowledge it as a gift.
I gained my empathic skills growing up around people who, for the most part unknowingly, trained me to build my sensitivity around their needs. As a result I became a keen observer. Learning to identify my own needs happened much later in life. In the interim, I developed an identity around helping. I attracted wounded people and relationships based on that role and eventually made a career out of it.
One day someone pointed out that perhaps my role wasn't my true identity. That taking it on and making it my "job" helped me as a child, but if I wanted I could choose to be someone else as a grown up. I didn't need to be a helper to be good or loved.
Which leads me to my next point: saying no and hearing no.
In our culture, relationships are built on yes. And just like improv comedy, the scene tanks when there's a no. Yes is a rush. Literally, adrenaline and dopamine course through your veins when you hear it. A green light that promises instant gratification.
But yes alone doesn't build connection and trust. Yes alone can't sustain intimacy.
In my early relationships honesty was too risky. Yes was the only choice I thought I had. No was equated with selfishness, rejection and failure, and I did everything in my power to avoid it. By saying yes I learned to protect your ego even if it meant compromising mine.
I wasn't lying to hurt you. In fact it was the exact opposite. I couldn't stand the thought of hurting you because, again, in my belief system saying no was hurtful. So I said yes and became dependent on the gratification of giving you exactly what you wanted.
I had coffee with a friend this morning, and she said, "I'm starting to feel more okay with people being unhappy with me, and that's been so freeing."
I can totally relate. The day I felt good despite sensing someone's disappointment was the day I got my freedom papers. My therapist named it fierce self compassion.
Not long ago I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder. It came as no surprise. The truth is, I had been anticipating the news for some time.
Western medicine doesn't understand the underlying cause of auto-immune disease so it can only treat symptoms which stem from chronic inflammation. The inflammatory response is the body's first response to stress. It attacks anything perceived as a threat. When this life saving function is ongoing, the body begins to perceive itself as the problem.
As a practitioner in the alternative healing industry, I've worked with scores of women living with chronic auto-immune disorders. Hearing their stories always struck a chord because they were all HELPERS in one way or another, and they had all experienced some form of trauma in early life.
Studies have proven that gender plays a significant role in the development of autoimmune disease. This isn't surprising to me. Historically girls are more likely to be groomed for codependent roles and to uphold an image of perfection. Part of the image includes not losing your composure or exposing unpleasant feelings and thoughts, thereby encouraging self-editing.
“I'm not a mess but a deeply feeling person in a messy world... when someone asks me why I cry so often, I say, 'For the same reason I laugh so often- because I'm paying attention.' I tell them that we can choose to be perfect and admired or to be real and loved. We must decide.”
-Glennon Doyle Melton
The most crucial thing that anyone in a healing process has to learn is self compassion. Listening to my clients has given me valuable insight on this so when the tables turned, I had to become the client and practice what I teach about boundaries, compassionate self-talk, and asking for help. I had to get used to the initial discomfort of emotional honesty and to risk being less popular when I wasn't self editing.
Because self editing is self harming.
I needed to feel what it was like to be the inconvenience, to make mistakes, and to live without apology.
I also knew I had to change my behaviors in relationships that felt like work so that I could experience the joy of real connection. And sometimes I had to detach from a relationship if changing my behavior wasn't enough.
In a nutshell, I gave myself more choices.
Because having a choice means I get to trust myself and trust you. I'm trusting you not to make it personal. Not to punish me, silence me, or withdraw your love even if it changes your plans, inconveniences you, or hurts your feelings (which I do care about).
I get to learn what self care means for me and what it means for you. That when we give each other the space to take care of ourselves our relationship feels more secure, and it becomes easier to take care of each other.
Sometimes self-care is saying no. And no is not maybe. It's not an invitation to change my mind or negotiate. No doesn't even mean something is wrong. It's simply telling you that what you want is different from what I want.
I'll end with this.
I believe the physical and the spiritual move at different speeds. On the surface we appear to be flesh, bone and blood... dense matter. But all matter breaks down into hierarchies of information constantly arranging and rearranging. The body listens. And when the body speaks, we should listen.
So I challenge you to join me on this journey by asking yourself, "Where does it hurt, and what do I need?" And meet yourself there. Meet yourself, and listen well.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there.” -Rumi