I’ve been thinking a lot lately about mastery, and what it takes to become fully differentiated, fully self-soothed, fully capable of resting in the presence of another’s upset, fully able to stand on one’s own two feet in the midst of any storm.
Time and again, with clients, friends, and in myself, I find our struggles come down to this simple distinction I learned early on in peer counseling: “Me. Not me.” And the subsequent question of how on earth to remember “Me” in the face of “You.”
Yet what often keeps us tangled, and re-entangled, and tangled yet again in our Me/You messiness is not that you are truly stepping on my foot (although true stepping/hurting/abusing *does* happen), but that You remind me of some thought inside of Me.
Thus, as far as I push you, no matter how I disown and cut cords and clear throat and sacral chakras that are pissed in their various colors of light at you, you ultimately said or did something that reminds me of a thought inside of me that I can’t get away from.
It’s this thought inside of me that I can’t escape, not you.
This is where the beauty of NVC comes in. NVC invites us to remember that our emotions are the product of our needs and of our thinking, not the other person’s actions. (Side note: the former lawyer in me wants to argue about the distinction between proximate vs. “but for” causation. Suffice it to say, NVC invites us to look for the places where we have agency, such as in our thinking, even if it's not the only cause.)
For example, as many of you know, one of my personal frequent mental flyers in this life has been shame, and so anytime someone close to me expresses upset, and especially if they have the slightest bit of point in any of their fingers in my direction, while I may consciously know and state my needs for gentleness, love, kindness, etc., inside, there is a little voice that says, “You deserve to be punished.”
And it’s this voice – this little, quiet, deep-down-in-the-cave voice - that holds the reigns to my happiness. For when the other person is upset, it *must* be my fault. And when they have the slightest bit of point in my direction, I *must* be to blame. And then it’s a war not between me and them, but my desire for love and this belief that I deserve to be punished.
Of course, I don’t tell you that. Oh no, I tell you, “You’re making me feel bad!” Because I feel *so* disempowered around this voice, this age-old belief that I deserve to be harmed, I find my only power in pointing the finger back outward – at You.
Freedom comes in recognizing these quiet voices. The voices that collude with others’ upset. That find evidence for our wrongness, stupidity, and worthlessness in all things and all situations.
Freedom comes in saying, “I see you, Little Voice. I hear you, Thought. Thank you for trying to help me, and I’m going to try something else now.”
That something else might sound like, “You are here to be cherished.” Or, “You are deeply loved.” Or, “You are naturally brilliant. You can trust your knowing.”
You’ll know when you find your “something else,” because it’ll likely bring a sigh to your chest, a flutter to your lips, a slowing and calming down to your mind.
Here's a practice when you’ve gotten "hooked" in the Me/You tangle.
1) Notice you’re triggered
2) Stop and take 3 big ol’ breaths (even if it means dismissing yourself to go to the restroom, going to walk the dog, etc.)
3) Humbly ask: “What story am I believing about myself that this other person’s words/actions remind me of?”
4) Humbly open: “What might another story sound like?” (That’s your something else.)
So often, part of what we criticize ourselves for is our lack of openness to the other. We *should* be more compassionate, more loving, more good-hearted, yadda, yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah.
The irony – and the greatest intelligence of this universe – of course, is that it’s in opening to ourselves that we open – naturally, without forcing – to the other.
When I can stand in my renewed and reclaimed truth of my cherishability, when I know this to be true in my bones, in my breath, in my tender eyes looking out at you, so often, the “enemy” vanishes. The threat disappears. Because the threat, once again, was never really out there to begin with, but in here, just awaiting my gentle mercy.
Peace to you, my friends. May we dare to be our own loving allies.
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