Room for Growth

I am following up my recent post about how to know whether each person’s full humanity is being recognized in a relationship. Today, I’m focusing on my own weak spots in living up to what I wrote. The list from my previous post is below.

“If your full humanity is being recognized in a relationship, you will be:

  • considered as a whole person, not as a representative of one aspect of your identity
  • expected to own your mistakes and to make concrete steps to improve
  • welcomed as you are
  • able to set appropriate boundaries, saying yes and no according to your preferences
  • only responsible for managing your own emotions, thoughts and behaviors
  • able to make your own decisions
  • allowed to consider the compatibility of each person’s needs, desires and wishes
  • taken seriously when you share that something offended you
  • offered love, affection and trust without having to earn them
  • apologized to when someone’s actions harm you
  • allowed to express your needs, desires and wishes without being shamed or mocked
  • given space if you ask for it
  • present with each part of yourself
  • encouraged to adapt and grow at your own pace
  • built up, cheered for, and supported.”

Offerings of acceptance

“Welcomed as you are” is a struggle for me in my personal relationships. In professional relationships where I have authority over someone, I strive to my fullest capacity to be open-minded, non-judgmental and to find something good in everyone I meet. Outside of the structure of this context, I tend to focus on potential red flags, signs of abusive tendencies and to assess on a continual basis how likely my boundaries will be repeatedly tested in a relationship. In other words, I center my attention on self-protection and compatibility. I would like to better trust myself to be able to adjust how close I am to someone in the context of information I learn in the future, rather than to take every questionable situation and elevate it into “and we’re done” before I have a full assessment of how things might go.

Unearned trust

I am not certain as to my capacity at “offering love, affection and trust without having to earn them.” I am not overly transactional in my relationships (for example, I don’t give gifts or act with generosity with the expectation that it is returned in kind), but I do open up incrementally as I build trust with someone. I also think that I am prone to withdrawing if I feel hurt and could fairly be accused of “abandoning” people, although my perspective is that we each need to be responsible for handling our own emotions rather than expecting someone else to resolve difficult feelings for us. I suppose my evaluation of this capacity would be that I am alright with where I am at on it, but I think there have been others in my life who would report me as being limited in intimacy and closeness.

Change on your own time frame

I am not very good at making sure those in my life are “encouraged to adapt and grow at your own pace.” I want results and I want them now! My lovely brain is highly skilled at instantly peering, with accuracy, into another’s weaknesses and then developing, without intention, a multi-step plan for how they can better their life. I have advice overflowing and have had to do a lot of work to contain my desires to share it when it is not solicited. I’ve been reinforced many times as to the fact that the assessments I make are on-target and insightful, so I feel confident that my wisdom isn’t merely a projection of my own unconscious issues. I own my shit and I work on myself constantly; my desire to help others do the same is both a reflection of my dedication to inner work and of my intolerance for a lack of insight.

But, and the pause matters here, I am not in charge of anyone’s life besides my own. I do not get to decide how, when or where someone comes to a reckoning with who they are and the impact of their actions, especially when they do not have a direct effect on me. My insight may not be what the person needs at that moment in time, especially if they are upset. Often, offering empathy clears space for objectivity and analysis, but being “rational” doesn’t always allow for an emotional connection. I feel frustrated that people I care about have to help me learn this lesson on a repeated basis, but it also allows me to circle back to considering compatibility. I do best with those who appreciate my clear-sighted way of looking at the world, rather than with those who only want “emotional support” and who do not move from a place of coping emotionally to working on solving what can be solved in their life situation. There is a fine balance to be struck in this area and I hope, with time, to get better at finding it.

If you care to, please share which of the aspects of my list you find to be most challenging at embracing, and where you might go with it.

A green bush covered in slowly melting snow.

At the Edges, Melting (Today's Simple Pleasure)

Today’s Simple Pleasure card encouraged me to observe an edge and to record what was occurring at the transition line. The wintery mix Mother Nature provided in the last 24 hours proved an easy jumping off point for this encounter. We had snow which turned to sleet, freezing rain and then simply rain. The resulting slush has created minute transition points.

As I shoveled the “snow,” I noticed that it was melted underneath and had turned clear, so that it looked as though I was pushing a mound of congealed water. I made little progress in clearing my driveway as it weighed an astronomical amount and I didn’t have the strength to move more than the bare minimum necessary to open a few footpaths. A lesson I can take here is to consider how deceiving change can be. It may feel as though what’s come before can simply be pushed out of the way, whereas the true burden of what I’ve lived through may only become known to me in attempting to rid myself of it.

I kept getting halfway across my driveway, gliding with ease and thinking “I’ve got this” and then the physics took over and I was stopped dead in my tracks by the pile of accumulated slush. Each time, I had to pause and reconsider how best to dispose of the water ice in small batches. This image so fully captures my experience of trauma. Every time I believe I’m good to go, something trips me up and I have to unpack piece after piece of what had previously felt insignificant.

I was relieved to awake this morning and notice that the precipitation had at least spared the tree limbs and power lines, as I had feared they would be coated in an icy glaze that could knock out the electricity or bring down parts of a tree. I’ve met some borders of growth that have taken an inch by an inch to reach, whereas I’m finding other places in my life from which I’ve been unnecessarily shrinking. It is hard for me to know how intensely to assert myself, as I don’t want to respond with a whimper when I need to roar, nor do I want to knock about when small steps would suffice. Perhaps what’s required is more careful deliberation and noticing of the true state of affairs before I take action–there is no sense shaking a tree that’s already free.

Finally, I took a photograph of some of the bushes on my property. I am amazed at how much snow ice they can hold, and the ecosystem they can provide for small animals sheltering beneath them. There have been so many times I’ve been startled by a rabbit bounding out of the undergrowth or a swarm of gnats erupting skyward if I knock into it with my mower. Each bush is a sturdy, non-descript parts of the landscape, but is yet teeming with life and protection. There is a stillness of purpose here of which I am jealous. I wish I could allow life to come to me more than I do; I perceive its edges as places of destination, not as interludes that arrive to me when I’m holding steady.

In sum, nature’s message to me, when I take time to meet Her, is nearly always the following: Be here, still. And I am always grateful for the reminder and the insights She provides. What have you learned from noticing areas of transition in nature? Has snow or precipitation taught you anything? Where might you slow down to see what’s changing?

Forwards and Backwards (In the Cards)

Today’s card focused on two themes that I would like to explore: 1) the fears that are difficult for me to face and 2) the interplay of restoration and a fresh start. In seeking health and happiness, I think it can be useful to know what might hold me back from taking risks to obtain it. It is also useful to consider what in my life needs to be torn down and what might be salvageable.

I would say that I fear the unknown, but in reality I think my strongest fear is of what I’ve known. In being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse in the context of my family, I’ve known the possible depths of both direct harm and betrayal from a very early age. Perhaps the best way to put it is I fear being helpless again; losing my autonomy and having people who wish me ill control my means of subsistence. Mine was a friendless upbringing that I would do almost anything to avoid revisiting.

In fearing the known more than the unknown, I believe that I’ve resisted fashioning my life in direct opposition to that which I knew growing up, even though some of the outcomes of my choices would seem to contradict this. I’ve tried to make who I am and what I do a reflection of my core values, strengths and skills. I want to stand for something and not only against something, but trust me when I tell you I know my enemies.

One of my most passionate intellectual pursuits is questioning the frame–stepping outside of dichotomies to deconstruct the boundaries of inquiry and to critically evaluate the biases that lead to limited potential. In applying this line of thought to the issue of renewal versus change, perhaps there is renewal and rejuvenation through change and change through a retooling of what already exists. In reality, I’m more on the “burn it all down and start again” rather than the “save whatever you can” end of the spectrum of how one approaches problem areas, but I love the idea of reclaiming pieces of my origins and of generating new growth through the vestiges of what I’ve lost. Going back to go forward and moving ahead to find the past. I have no idea what that looks like as a lived experience, but it sounds more enticing than a linear journey.

To the extent that fear influences your life, is your fear based on wishing to avoid what you’ve already had to endure or is it centered on staying away from new dangers? Which appeals to you more–recharging the past or starting anew? How may these dual pursuits influence each other in your life?

Lessons Learned (Today's Daily Remembrance)

Today’s card invited me to consider what I have learned from a mistake I’ve made. What sprung to my mind, based on current issues I’m facing, is that I’ve lived “as-if” at times in my life to my own detriment. Specifically, I’ve muddled my way through life as if I do not have a disability, when in fact I do.

I am in the process of applying for accommodations at my job due to my PTSD. I do not know if they will be granted or not, but I recognize in coming to the point where I need to request them that I have finally accepted that I am significantly affected by my mental health condition. I am not doing “fine.”

For over a decade, I’ve lived in a shadowland of feeling completely overwhelmed emotionally but also terrified that the shaky progress I’d made towards autonomy would instantly collapse if I asked for mercy for any reason. I’ve been driven further into the fog by experience after experience where I’ve conveyed my limitations in personal relationships, only to have them be completely ignored or used to harm me. I’ve little faith that institutional mechanisms will prove more reliable, but I have to at least try to seek them.

I feel weak and pathetic for not being able to muster the resolve to defeat my demons, as if where I’m at in terms of functioning is a choice I get to make. It’s as if I’ve run non-stop for almost 15 years and yet continue to question why my knees are bone-on-bone. As though I’d chose this life if presented alternatives without PTSD.

My mistake has been not only in living without accepting my limitations, it has also been in believing my situation to be feast or famine. I kid you not, my conception of my world is one where I work as a professional and make a solid income or one where I’m homeless, with no room for possibility in between. Prior to the last few weeks, I honestly never considered attempting to get accommodations, as I figured my only alternative, if I could not manage anymore, was to quit my job. I question which other areas of my life I hold in the same untenable perfect-ruined dichotomy.

Are there any areas of your life where you live “as-if” and struggle to accept the true nature of your situation? What would it look like to face reality? Are there any gradients available between “all is well” and “it’s gone to hell” in the issue with which you are dealing?

Protecting Tender Shoots (In the Cards)

Today’s card from my In an Open Hand deck focuses on the decay of old growth and the buried seeds whose germination will benefit from the nutrients of the past flowering. In particular, it draws attention to guarding inner promises that, if uncovered too soon, would wither away. One such kernel for me is best summarized as to whom I answer in terms of my goals and dreams.

In capitalist societies such as America, the concept of our time frame and goals being self-directed is both an idealistic striving for autonomy and an experience far from our lived experiences. I have achieved a greater level of freedom in this regard than most people I meet, but it has come at great cost. On a conscious level, I accept the alienation and lack of social capital I am building by refusing to adhere to expectations to live up to my family’s perception of who I should be, or to engage in “people-pleasing” behaviors to make myself more appealing as a friend. I feel that it is a slavish devotion to self-determination that drives me at times.

To contextualize my thoughts, I had a friend contact me today lamenting how much they have to get done in the next few days to get ready for the holidays. I felt torn between offering to help (even though they’d not asked for my help directly) and wanting to spend my time in the way I’d planned. I knew they would likely refuse my help if I offered, that they were perhaps testing my loyalty by asserting “I have a problem,” but I could not bring myself to reward the indirectness of their statement nor did I feel particularly like helping them! I desire people who can ask for what they need and build trust with me rather than play games of “come close-stay away.” Moreover, I do not like when my plans are viewed as disposable, ready to be tossed aside at a moment’s notice if anyone else needs something from me.

I want generosity of spirit and I do not have it. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt and I cannot do it. I view the people I encounter IRL as desiring to subjugate my needs to their’s, as always tearing at the edges of my plans and strivings in order to take from me what they can. My inner drive is both seed and old growth; already achieved and always trying to spout new bloom.

What emerges as I sit with this tenderness is a desire for collaboration and the interwining of resources. What would it look like to develop relationships in which both my goals and the other person’s were clearly stated and considered valid? What would it feel like to foster each other’s strivings equally? To build each other up? I’ve had this at times but it can turn so quickly into me hiding my needs, both because I do not trust the other person to honor or meet them, and because of their actions that I interpret as betraying the idea that they are really just in it for themselves.

What I want most in terms of an in-person friendship is someone who is artistic and who is working on a project like I am working on mine, where we can both hold each other accountable and build up each other’s confidence and enjoyment. What feels withered and what feels emerging in your life? What goals do you want to achieve and how much support do you have for doing so? To what extent do you put aside your own dreams to help others succeed?

Just Out of Reach (In the Cards)

I drew the Shimmer card from my In an Open Hand deck today. The focus of this card is on creating internal safety and a welcoming environment for parts of self that might feel abandoned or lost. In order to achieve this, I’ll be spending some time in this post considering adjustments that might be needed in my inner world.

What springs to mind immediately is the amount of time I allot to various aspects of my identity and sense of self. I think that I dwell in my thoughts, trying to anticipate, reason and respond in a mature way to what life gives me, but I do not dedicate as much energy to processing my emotions. My connection to my body is much stronger than it used to be in that I can actually feel my heart beating faster when I am scared or angry and notice the tension in my muscles after a stressor, but I’m not certain that I always take the next step of labeling my emotions after I feel them. Doing so might help me to interact more directly with the parts of self that carry the weight of certain emotional states.

In addition to how I spend my “inner world” time, I also believe that there is room for growth in my level of self-acceptance. I often become angry or upset with myself if I’ve failed to act in a way that aligns perfectly with my values, rather than viewing it from a developmental framework in which I track my progress over time. I know I’ve changed but I don’t necessarily feel better because of it. I want all the parts of who I am to feel loved and embraced, so I hope I can respond more gently and with greater encouragement to myself with time. What is the state of your inner world? How can you create an increased sense of safety there?

People Who Inspire (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

My Daily Remembrance cards are designed to get me thinking about the past in a way that promotes healing and acceptance. For today’s prompt, I focused on someone who had a positive influence on my life. The individual, let’s call her Susan, was a middle-aged single neighbor of mine growing up. She lived by herself in a nearby apartment and allowed me to come over on occasion to chat.

What endeared Susan to me was that on one of my birthdays, she gave me a gift a day for every year of my age. I was a child most people overlooked because I was extremely quiet and shy. I was painfully self-conscious and lacked the social skills needed to make good conversation. To have someone not only see me, but see me enough to care and to go out of her way for me, meant the world to me.

I kept each of her gifts and felt a sense of connection whenever I saw them. One of my favorites was a series of piggy-banks in bright colors and shapes. (I loved anything rainbow as a child, so discovering I was part of the queer community felt only natural!). I unfortunately lost the physical objects when I had to cut ties with my family of origin, but the memory of those excited moments of wondering what treasure I would get the next day has stuck with me.

I tried to pass on the good feelings with a similar process of gift-giving to a friend of mine after a loss, but it wasn’t well-received (complicated story). I think it isn’t the exact specifications of gift-giving that matter so much, but rather the spirit of generosity and thoughtfulness from which I want to learn. Who gave you a gift that really meant something to you? Who have you known personally who has inspired you?