Thursday, June 30, 2011

Empathy, Forgiveness and Gratitude ...then you can eat, pray and love!

You can’t touch it but it affects how you feel.
You can’t see it, but its there when you look in the mirror.
You can’t hear it but it’s there every time you talk about your self.
What is this important yet mysterious thing?

es·teem: to regard highly; with respect or admiration; a favorable opinion or judgment.

There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that when it came to this letter of my alphabet it was going to be this word. But it soon became apparent that I was choking on it.
( this rate if I’ll be lucky if I get to Z by Christmas!!)
But finally...FINALLY...the Universe stepped in - as she always does when you ask her to...when you sit quietly and percolate your thoughts...mentally meander...when you listen and when you pay attention!! And I did.
 Best you get comfortable.
 Why is it that we always hold others in higher esteem than we hold ourselves? And why is it that this beautiful word is so often associated with pain and doubt and negativity?

Psychologists say that almost every aspect of our lives - our personal happiness, success, relationships, creativity, dependencies, actions, reactions, economic status, apathy, criminal behavior, harmful and defensive behaviors, etc - all of this revolves around one core characteristic: our precious self-esteem.

And I agree!

In the deepest part of ourselves we carry an image of who we are as a person and how worthy we feel in relation to others. Compare it to an oil painting; one that has layer upon layer of paint. Layers of colors; of light and shade. Layers that have been applied since our birth. Each time some one says or does something to us another layer goes on. All of this starts at a young vulnerable impressionable age and we just continue adding layer upon layer to our canvas. Other people’s paintings are always prettier and more colorful aren’t they? The grass is always greener on the other side. Like I said, more often than not we undervalue and devalue ourselves. Consistently and constantly. I know I have.

 “If you put a small value on yourself,
rest assured that the world will not raise your price.”

~Unknown Author

I LOVE the way a child can be wherever he or she is and let it all hang out and not give a shit! This epitomizes the true essence of living in the moment; of being oneself. Nothing is holding them back from being who they are meant to be.
I DESPISE how that joie de vivre can be squashed flat with cruelty. A single word, a thoughtless gesture or worse, nothing at all, can cut one to ones core.
And think how we all shrug our shoulders at the innocence of childhood and think/say/wish ..”yeah, but you just wait til life arrives and shows you its not all fun and games” (or something to that effect).
PEOPLE arrive!
Children do not have the emotional vocabulary to process the messages they get from screwed up adults.
And why are we screwed up?
Either someone says or does something to the child that makes him think that he is wrong and the other person MUST be right. Must be right because they are parents, teachers, friends …or significant others.
Or someone says or does something innocently and this is misinterpreted by the child.
Worse still, a person is not present in that child’s life; or they are but don’t show up!

Regardless of what it might have been the child comes to the same conclusion...there is something wrong with them...with me.
From that point onward they start to scan the world for these things; this is now the filter they pass information through; the tinted glasses through which they process or look at the world and doing this they will always find what they are looking for to justify their new self image, the world will tell them they are flawed in some significant way and Voila! a new self fulfilling prophecy is born. Our belief system absorbs it, we move forward with it and recreate it all the time so we end up being adults who carry around self-doubts that limit our potential.

That is why we are screwed up.
That is why people justify themselves saying “That’s just the way I am...That’s just who I am...take it or leave it” (always accompanied with that shrug of the shoulders!!)

I realize now I’ve always gotten stuck where the gurus say things like ...”this is where a choice needs to be made Possum: you can either let those self-doubts control your actions, or you can work through them by improving the things you can change and accepting those you can't. Only then can you start working on the most important relationship you'll ever have: the relationship with yourself.”

This accepting crap did not sit well with me. I wanted to know!! I have lost track of the amount of shelf help I have absorbed over the years but there really does come a time in your life when you say (bloody well) enough!
And then a light came on.
Knowing all the information;having all the answers. That alone cannot enhance our self esteem.
One can get a "How to" ride a bike book out of the library and learn how to ride a bike. Shit, you can get TEN “How to” books all telling you the same thing. But to really learn to ride a bike you have to “get” on the bike and wobble and maybe even fall to finally “get” the distinction of the concept of reading how and feeling how; of feeling what that balance is. You have to apply the facts to your life to “get” them. That is what this whole choice thing is about. You not only have to choose new behaviors, you have to to make the decision to hold yourself up to a new possibility. You have to ask yourself: “do I stay on the old path and keep the dysfunction or do I try something different and stop the spiral of self sabotage?”
You have to declare them first and then step into them. Declare that you want to be known for these qualities ...and then step into them. I guess it’s a bit like declaring you are going to get fit and then stepping into the new behaviour of an exercise regime. I believe if we shift the pictures that we hold in our mind we can change our reality; change the colors of our canvas; strip off the old useless layers and add our own new layers.
But we need to pick up the paintbrush and mix the colors to “get” the distinction!

I guess I’m fortunate in that I have had the time and circumstances to ponder all of this and make the choice to look inwards for answers; make the choice to sit still and think for a bit when an upset has happened; when health issues have made me take pause. I’ve realized that whatever’s been going on no longer works for me; it might actually have created actual dis-ease. I’ve worked out that when the upset happens it is a microcosm of the initial upset that hurt the little girl in me. I don't think we need to remember what the actual initial upset was because we know what it feels like; we’ve reproduced it all our lives!

I also get the concept that we have an emotional reactive form of listening. We don't just hear with our ears, we hear with our emotions. If it’s not going to be happy then it’s going to be either angry or sad or afraid. And then we will respond with anger, sadness or fear. For example, indignant anger...the “how dare you!” reactions...or the “oh woe is me” reactions...or those dreadful fearful reactions. This is how we head the hurt off at the pass to protect ourselves. The majority of us have lived out of any of these emotional responses for years and years. I know I have.
But guess what? If we reinterpret the upset we get to reinvent ourselves. This is the penny that I had to get to drop. If we simply make up something else other than the indignant anger or the fear or the sadness, if we simply replace it we will get a different result.


But seriously I have pondered this and it is that simple. Our emotional response is the big red flag. When I was able to identify my trigger I literally reinvented the situation that had caused it but attached no emotional status to it.
Next time someone cuts you off in traffic see what mood that triggers!
But take a moment and reinvent the situation. Instead of assuming the guy is an asshole who dared cut you off, do a mental 180 and assume maybe he got bad news and just did not see you or maybe he had a bad morning or ...whatever. We don't need to forgive the bad behavior we just don't need to let it ruin our day. We don't need to be addicted to the anger or sadness or fear anymore.

We all know people who are addicted to worrying. Right? No matter what is going on in their lives they need to have something to worry about. They scann and look for this and will always gravitate toward people and situations that will give them their fix. Just like I have clearly always gravitated towards people who will criticize me, reject me, abandon me, not love me. So when we know what runs us by identifying what our emotional reactions are we can heal our past hurts and that will raise our self esteem.

Or not.

We could just stay in an uncomfortable comfort zone because it’s what we know. Like new shoes...they can rub and pinch so instead of trying them on and walking in them we’ll stay with the old holed ones. And whine!
So when someone shrugs their shoulders and says that’s just the way they are my reaction will not be to jump in and try and save them from themselves or change them or god knows what else I have done in the past to gain their approval or acceptance or vent my will recognize that they are being who they CHOOSE to be and regardless of who they choose to be I am responsible for who I am. I shall mind my own business! I shall however mind it with Empathy, like we did with the 'asshole' driver remember?

We act out of whatever images we hold in our minds remember, this gives us our fix; our ability to vent to dominate, to be fearful or sad. Being empathetic allows us to not step into that victim status. Being empathetic takes away the perceived assault. Putting yourself in the other person’s world doesn’t mean we will now condone bad behavior but it does mean that we will take a moment to think about what it feels like for them. Accept that they are not doing it TO us...they are just doing it. We don't always see the big picture being in a row of dominoes. Empathy gives us the option of reacting to the world from the point of view that it is not actually always about us.
In fact it is rarely about us!

Did you know that depression can cause the brain to alter its chemistry? People can be addicted to sadness. It allows them to be never have to take responsibility. Assuming a victim status keeps us stuck; allows us to be right! You get that?

It. Allows. Us. To. Be. Right.

Yay! We finally get to be “right” about something when so often we have been told we are wrong. And being right feels good so we hang on to it for dear life! But all we are doing is keeping a chronic situation in place. Right? That lightbulb moment was a biggie for me.

After E comes F and after Empathy comes Forgiveness.

Hmm...I’ve alluded to how difficult this has been for me in other posts this is what I am working on. Daily!
Forgiveness starts with forgiving oneself for making mistakes; realizing we are not perfect. What do “they” always say: “we tend to hate in others what we hate in ourselves?” I can accept this but I also accept the fact that I can hate things in people that are nowhere near in me - Murder, infidelity, rape, and abuse to name the immediate few. Okay so let’s assume we can forgive ourselves yet still take responsibility for our actions; own them but not dwell and fester about them. Okay? Now we need to forgive others.

If forgiveness is about forgiving another for making the mistake and not about condoning the bad behavior; if it’s about saying I have a right to be angry but that I am not going to carry it around and vent all the time, then it works for me. This definition of forgiveness means that I can decide to be someone who is known for love instead of anger.
One can simply decide that that person made a mistake.

One can simply decide you are not going to look for revenge.

One can simply decide that the anger no longer serves you.

Forgiveness is the process of releasing it. The process of blessing that person. (okay I said I was working on it!!!) One does not have to agree with another person’s behavior or actions but you can simply decide that you are no longer going to be affected by it; you are going to move on. I do believe that when we release that emotion and are willing to move on and not let it dominate our lives with anger the loving relationships will follow. One can’t have anger in one’s heart and attract the things you want in your life at the same time. One has to be willing though, willing to move on, to let go of the juicy negative bits that have justified our very character; that have made us right. You have to be willing to step into and act on the declaration of who you have decided to be.

Finally Gratitude.

Why Gratitude? Because it is impossible to be angry and vindictive if you are grateful. Similarly, focusing on the negative does not allow us to be grateful. At all.
I am beyond grateful that I now live in a time and place that affords me the luxury of being able to focus on what is right about today; here and now and in the absolute moment. I am sure that this alone has led me into this dissertation very long post!

I think I got to do all of this backwards... from G to E.
I found myself in a good place so I started looking for more good and found it and the more I found the less importance the negative held for me; the more disruptive and exhausting the irritations and anger became. I think when we realize we have the ability to make more of the good on purpose, the ability to manifest the things we want, we then decide quite simply that we are going to look for the good ...because we say we are.
That is how we stop being apathetic, when we stop settling for less. The ultimate prerequisite for happiness and success is to elevate our self esteem so the sooner we start to believe in ourselves the sooner we will manifest a whole new reality!
That is when we get to design our whole new life on purpose.

That is really living deliberately.