How Do You Treat Yourself?

The last time that you made a mistake what was the first thing that you said to yourself? Was it “Oh well mistakes happen. I will do better next time.” Or was it more along the lines of “I’m such an idiot. I can’t believe that I did that.”? For the majority of us we are more closely aligned with the second statement. It can be incredibly difficult to be kind to ourselves because it is generally not something that is taught at home. We are taught to be kind to the neighbors, the adults in our lives, to pets and even to inanimate objects like our toys and the furniture but rarely are we taught to be kind to ourselves. If you think about that it is no wonder that most adults have a hard time with intimacy. How can we practice forgiveness, kindness and acceptance in our friends and families if we are haven’t first perfected it within ourselves?

As a parent I strive to teach my daughter to be a good person, self assured and confidant but as we all know children learn more by osmosis then by the words I tell her. Sure I can tell her to love herself just the way she is but if I am constantly criticizing my hair or body she will learn to do the same. If I tell her that she is smart and can learn anything if she applies herself to the task but then I give up after the first attempt to put together her doll house she will think that its ok to quit when things get hard. If I tell her that is ok that she spilled her cereal all over the table because mistakes happen then when I spill my tea on the floor I call myself and idiot she will think that this type of self talk is the right way to go. If I loose my temper and raise my voice at her and hurt her feelings but don’t apologize to her once I have calmed down then I am teaching her that it is ok to take my frustrations out on other people without consequence or making amends.

I have also observed many people who are extremely hard on themselves when it comes to dealing with loss. It seems that the further outside of our control the loss is, the harder people are on themselves. The expectation is that we should be able to bounce back from being laid off, the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship within two to three weeks. When that grieving process actually can take months or years. Instead of treating ourselves with compassion and kindness we will often berate ourselves, heap on guilt and lots of negative self talk about how weak we are or how we should “be over it” already. The irony of this situation is that the more we berate ourselves instead of allowing ourselves to sit in the pain until it runs its course is that it will often extend the grieving process.

Once I began to recognize this pattern within myself and in those around me I devised a system to help me be kinder to myself so that others would be able to mirror the behavior.

Step 1: When I find myself using negative self talk I stop and reverse that statement. For example if I have missed a due date for a project at work instead of berating myself I say “I missed the mark there but I will do my best to hit the next target.” This allows me to acknowledge my misstep but encourage me to move forward.

Step 2: Recognize and acknowledge that I am human and that mistakes will happen. I make an effort to learn from the mistakes that I have made and I do my best to make better choices next time. Often times we will hold ourselves to much higher standards then we apply to other people, however the more we do this the more likely it is that our self talk will be negative and will lead to anger and irritation.

Step 3: If I have lost my temper with someone else or hurt their feelings, instead of ignoring the offense or trying to downplay it I go to them and acknowledge my poor behavior, extend a sincere apology and ask for their forgiveness. This step is something that must be done as soon as I realize that my behavior was unfair. I have found that the longer that I procrastinate with this step the more likely it will be that I won’t do it at all which will lead to more guilt and negative self talk.

While I would love to tell you that by following these three steps I have completely eliminated negative self talk and am living a completely joyous life, that is not the case. However what I can truthfully say is that these three steps have greatly reduced the frequency and duration of my negative self talk. I have also watched my daughter improve her self talk and watched her confidence in herself bloom as a result of her seeing me walk this process out and talk to her about these step. I have watched. Her practice these steps with her close friends and their friendships seem much stronger because of it. I have seen my personal and professional relationships deepen because of these process as well. I highly encourage you to implement these processes in your daily life in order to improve your self image and peace of mind.

Love In Flux: When Do You Call It Quits?

Love in flux

 

 

All things come to an end. Jobs, friendships, relationships, great parties and wonderful television series. Most things we can move on from fairly quickly like jobs we didn’t particularly enjoy, television series that reached a logical conclusion and friendships that gently drifted apart. There are other events in our lives that are much harder to let go of like the friendship that you seem to value more than the other person, so you end up feeling like a barnacle hanging on to someone who barely even knows you are there. A job you once loved but due to budget cuts you are relieved of your duties. The last and most challenging one is the relationship that is, for the most part fulfilling, but has no real future.

The relationship that has a lot of love, caring and sexual fulfillment but you both know won’t go any further is the hardest to shake. You both understand the other persons desires, encourage each other to be your best selves and share your fears, hopes and dreams. One might say that this is the perfect relationship, and, on the surface, it is. However, the reality is that when one person wants more of a commitment than the other person is willing or able to provide then it will never work. It will always be just enough of a relationship to get your immediate needs met but will never move beyond great evenings or weekends. It will never progress to co-mingling of holidays with the kids or vacations with friends. Once you have the revelation that this will be all that will ever be, what is next? Do you stay in the relationship due to comfort or fear of not finding another person who you are able to connect with as well? Do you end the relationship on a high note and reminisce fondly about the good times you were able to share? Or do you hold on tight to this connection until it dies a slow death of resentment and anger for years wasted?

There really is no one size fits all answer to this question. As much as we all like to think that we have the best advice for our friends and strangers on the internet, no one else is truly able to tell us how to live our lives. It would be amazing to be able to go to a trusted relationship guru who would hear your story, rub their chin then spit out an answer that would solve all of your problems. You would then be able to follow that advice with ease and no discomfort. The reality is that people are messy beings and because of this messiness relationships are messy and non-linear. You can fall in love at 15, marry your high school sweetheart and live happily ever after. You could meet the love of your life in your 70’s while your spouse of 30 years is in a coma. You could connect very deeply with someone who helps you heal from the pain of divorce, but they are unable to become your life partner.

In this age of instant dating, ghosting, missed connections and misdirection it can be a challenge to cultivate real connections with people who are looking for the same things. Many times, people will put their best foot forward during the initial dating process but after a few dates their true intentions begin to shine through. I have personally found the current dating landscape to be a bit desolate, at times, and only venture out into it in fits and starts. I have seen the same pattern repeat itself numerous times with men who are only trying to find a new bed partner or a new person to meet with immediately and if you are unable to meet these demands due to your work schedule, parenting duties or other life obligations then they become surly or disappear altogether. This makes the comfort of an unavailable yet understanding romantic partner so much more appealing and makes it less likely that one will put too much effort into being disappointed or frustrated with someone new. It can be tempting to drown ourselves in hobbies, work, our children or families rather than open ourselves up to pain but as I approach the age of forty I have found that the old adage is true, and it really is better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all. I will continue to live my life to the fullest and eventually I will meet a person who is traveling the same wave length and we will be able to comingle our lives and passions at the same time.

Is it possible to have positive relationships with toxic people?

toxic

At some point in our lives we all have encountered toxic people. Perhaps it has been a parent, best friend or romantic partner. It can be very difficult to maintain positive relationships with people who seem to go out of their way to make your life more difficult. How can you have a positive relationship with a parent who consistently makes cutting comments in the guise of preparing you for the real world when their comments only break your spirit? Is it possible to call a friend a true friend when they belittle you and don’t support your dreams? Can you trust the declarations of love from a romantic partner who goes out of their way to undermine your self-worth?

These are questions that I have been asking myself while navigating life as a divorced mother who must exist in the world with a co-parent who seems to delight in making things as challenging as possible. When my six-year-old looks me in the eye and asks me “why life has to be this way” after the latest purposeful disappointment from her father, I find myself attempting to explain to her that we can’t control other people’s behavior we can only continue to be kind even in the face of disappointments.  I see loved ones who are being taken advantage of by their parent’s then being quilted into relationships that I know will end with pain for them while their parents will continue to live guilt free lives. I have seen people betrayed by those that they considered to be close friends only to have those people use the inside information that they gained through the friendship to cause them harm.

Most people on the outside considering the above-mentioned situations would say the best thing that you could do for yourself would be to cut all ties to these people. However it is not always as simple as that. It is not easy to walk away from parents, close friends or romantic partners. Instead you have to define what those relationships will look like and how they will function. Based on my observations I have composed a toxic relationship checklist to help determine if a relationship can be maintained as is, improved or must be released.

I’ve seen people maintain relationships with toxic people out of obligation. Usually they will make excuses for accepting this subpar treatment or even blame themselves for the situation. These one-sided connections often lead to lowered self-esteem and expectations and can lead to a warped view of what is acceptable behavior and what they are willing to accept from other people.

Relationships can be improved if, and only if, the behaviors that have caused pain have been identified. Then an open and honest dialog needs to be had. That person then needs to acknowledge what has been said, apologize and make a real effort to not make the same mistakes. Then and only then can that relationship be maintained. Often it is better than it was before because communication and expectations have become clearer.

If the person who wronged you refuses to acknowledge the issues you have raised and instead chooses to deny or deflect then this relationship will need to be released. Once a person has recognized and identified toxic behavior and has attempted to reach out to the perpetrator but receives pushback and gas lighting, then it is a sign that this person has no real intention of being fully present in the relationship in a way that is mutually beneficial and that is not someone that you should maintain close ties with. As I have mentioned before it is not always easy to sever ties with people you have known for long periods of time or that you care for deeply. If you don’t want to completely sever ties with your mother, for example, it would be better to limit your contact with her. Modify the amount of time that you spend with her and in time you will find that it the peace that you feel away from that toxic relationship will far outweigh any thing else.

When it is all said and done we are in control of who we allow into our space. The world will try to overwhelm you with connections, opportunities, expectations and trials that we have very little control over. It is in our best interest to try limit our exposure to people who bring us more pain, anxiety and sadness than joy, peace and love. The choice is yours, choose wisely.

Do You Love With Your Whole Heart?

Love

True love. This phrase has been drilled into our heads by fairy-tales and movies with happy endings all of our lives. It conjures up thoughts of men on white horses charging in to save the day. Teenage boys standing in the rain with boomboxes overhead and one on one basketball games for the chance to win someone’s love and affections. However, the reality of love is much less newsworthy. Authentic love requires us to love with our whole heart. When I first encountered the concept of wholehearted love it was in Brené Brown’s book The Gifts Of Imperfection: Let Go Of Who You Think You’re Supposed To Be And Embrace Who You Are. As a qualitative researcher, she spends a lot of time collecting data on various topics and then following the truths revealed by that study. From the data she gathered regarding love she came up with a definition that I think is much more accurate than the vision we currently have.

Through the data she defines love this way:

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honour the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.

Love is not something that we give or get, it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each of them-We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal and the withholding of affection damages the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”

By this definition it is plain to see why many relationships do not thrive. Most people spend so much of their lives protecting their own feelings that they never truly open up and allow themselves to be vulnerable with anyone. I know that it has been a challenge for me to allow myself to be wholehearted with family, friends and romantic partners throughout my life and I believe that this inability to trust someone else with my feelings has crippled many of my connections. This fear of being hurt has led me to shallow friendships and uneven romantic partnerships because I found myself hustling for my worthiness instead of reveling in the fullness of who I am.

The first thing that I did to correct this imbalance was to learn to love myself by these standards. How can I expect to attract a romantic partner who exhibits these traits unless I first cultivate them in myself? How can I expect my friends and family to trust me with their inner most feelings if I am unable to trust myself with my own emotions? Loving myself, flaws and all was harder than I thought it would be and took a lot of work.  Heck I still need to remind myself to be respectful, kind and to show myself affection but I’ve gotten much better at it over the last couple of years. I’ve taught myself how to do manicures and some fun nail art, started working with a trainer to build strength, started taking better care of my skin and nutrition and when times get tough or I miss the mark I try to speak kindly to myself to get through the rough times.

During this process I also began to be more honest with my friends and family about my feelings and began to be more purposeful in communicating my feelings with them. I also began to be more open with my romantic partner about my feelings and desires for our relationship and this has created a wonderful safe space for us to explore what we mean to each other and how we want to shape our connection moving forward.  These types of interactions are still very new and nerve racking for me however I began trusting the people in my inner circle enough to share my feelings of love, appreciation, joy and thankfulness for our connection. To my surprise instead of them running from me, as has always been my fear, these connections have blossomed into deeper connections. I have also been able to extend this courage to the workplace and am now speaking up, offering suggestions and being more forthcoming with my concerns which has created new opportunities for me to advance my career within the company.

This process has shown me that there is an amazing strength in vulnerability. It takes courage to allow someone to have access to your feelings, however the reward of deeper connections far outweighs the fear of rejection. It has not been all roses during this journey. I have faced rejections, the pain of knowing that my feelings were not reciprocated or that some people do not want to form deeper bonds and I have learned that this is OK. Through this definition of love I have embraced the idea that “Love is not something that we give or get, it is something that we nurture and grow”. Thinking of love in this way has allowed me to have a sense of peace because I know that I am living and loving with my whole heart even if friendships end, family connections change or romantic partners leave and that is pretty amazing.

Meet Them Where They Are

meet in the middle

There have been times in my life when I have been hurt by someone that I care about. I am talking about small hurts like they don’t call when they say they will and large hurts like a broken friendship, a destroyed romantic relationship and broken familial ties. Over time these injuries add up and can make us timid in our relationships, overly cautious in romantic relationships and generally living in fear of pain.

Last year I read Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind To Yourself by Kristin Neff and in it she asked the question “What if instead of being disappointed in people for not living up to the potential that we believe them to have we treat them as if they are already doing the best that they can?” She said that she conducted a group therapy session with Pastors who do a lot of community outreach with people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol and they were expressing their frustration with people who keep having the same issues over and over again. They felt anger towards the people they were helping and were on the verge of giving up on them. When she posed this question to them by framing it as “If God told you that these people were doing the best that they could how would that change the way you continue your outreach?” She said that when they thought about it this way many of them broke down in tears because it changed their whole perspective of these people and they could no longer feel anger towards them because they were doing their best.

So, I started thinking of people who have harmed me emotionally and asked myself “What if this really is the best that they can do? What if they have reached their capacity for caring?” I must admit that I was also brought to tears because I could no longer hold on to my “righteous” anger. I could no longer hold them to standards that I had built for them in my mind that they, clearly, were not living up to. I thought about watching my child learn to walk and not getting angry with her because she constantly fell. Instead I treated her with compassion and encouraged her to keep trying and sure enough she learned to walk and has been running ever since.

I am not suggesting that we stand idly by and take emotional abuse from our family, friends or romantic partners but I am suggesting that we remove the burdens of our expectations for another person’s behavior. For example, if I know that my friend is not very good at initiating communication with me I shouldn’t be offended when I go months without hearing from her. She has demonstrated that this is not how she is wired. This doesn’t mean that she doesn’t care about me or our friendship it simply means that if I desire more frequent communication then I will need to reach out to her. If this is an untenable arrangement then it may be time to sever the relationship.  If my romantic partner prefers to do everything as a couple and this is not something that is comfortable to me I can either constantly argue with this person and deal with them feeling unloved when I want to be alone or I can find a new partner who doesn’t require constant connection to reaffirm the relationship.

If you find yourself constantly frustrated and/or disappointed in someone because you are expecting them to parent, communicate, love or strive in a direction that they are not currently going perhaps it is because you are seeing them as you wish they were instead of seeing them for who they are. It can be difficult to start treating them with compassion instead of disdain but it is not impossible if we change the way we think about their actions. I am no longer interacting with people as I hope, wish or pray they would be, instead I am interacting with them based on their actual behavior because that is who they really are. Now they are free to be themselves without my added pressure and I am free from constant disappointment and judgement.

Discovering Your Purpose

purpose

The most difficult question you will ever be asked or that you will ask yourself is “what do you want from life”? I know that I have struggled with this question for many years and I know that many of my friends and associates have as well. We often answer this question with what we think others want to hear, what is socially acceptable or what we know we can achieve without too much effort. The truth of the matter is that we will never find true contentment and joy in our comfort zones. The reason many of us shy away from our true desires is because they often lie in unknown territory surrounded by obstacles and the possibility of failure. No great achievement has ever been made from within our comfort zones. We don’t pump our fists and shout with glee when we complete a task that didn’t require much effort. I still remember the insane rush I felt when I finally solved a rubix cube and that was about 30 years ago. I can still vividly remember the elation I felt when I went up and then back down the Templo Del Sol in Mexico July 4, 1999 because I am terrified of heights but I climbed that pyramid and basically crawled back down because I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and I’m so glad that I did.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can fulfill my purpose in this life and the thoughts that kept coming back to me were all of the negative things that others have said to me over the years. Instead of dreams of helping women achieve their goals and become their best selves I was hearing the words of my ex-husband telling me that I was a failure, the words of well-meaning friends who tried to discourage me from stepping out and trying new things or I was imagining what other people would think of me if I tried something new. Our minds are wired to protect us at all times and at any cost from danger both real and imagined. This is great if you are trying to avoid being eaten by mountain lions but not so great if you are trying to figure out how to use your gifts and talents in ways foreign to you.

Many times we get bogged down by the idea that our purpose has to be something over the top or grandiose in order to be a worthwhile endeavor.  That is the kind of thinking that has held me back from pursuing my goal of building women. So many time we look at the super successful people that we admire and think to ourselves “Wow I’d love to have that type of success but I’m not as talented, pretty, well-spoken, connected, etc. as that person.” We also talk ourselves out of our purpose because we may have failed or had setbacks in our lives. Maybe we have failed at previous attempts to start a business, go back to school or maintain a romantic relationship and because of these perceived failures we deem our goals as unworthy of our efforts.

For me the switch flipped when I removed myself from the equation and instead thought about how much I could help others then my focus became clear and my fear began to recede. I began to focus more on how I could best be of service to others and that is when the path became clearer. I dipped my toe into my purpose by starting this blog to help readers learn from my life experiences as well as to, hopefully, inspire people to grow beyond their pain and see beauty in all of the things that happen to us. The positive feedback and encouragement from both friends and strangers reignited the flame of my purpose.

Now you may be saying “Well that’s all well and good for you Morena I have no idea how to get started discovering my purpose.” Here are some helpful tips that have worked for me.

Instead of thinking of it as a purpose think of it as your Why.

Why do you want to start that business? Why do you want that promotion? Why do you want to be a better husband? Why do you want to be a better mother?  Then grab a piece of paper and write down all of the reasons and you have found your purpose.

For example if you want a promotion your List of Why might look like this: To have more money =>To be more comfortable financially=>To be able to save for retirement=>To be able to travel more=>To have a good savings cushion. Once you have made your List of Why then you will have the fuel you need for the next step.

What are you willing to do to walk out this purpose?

Sure having more money sounds great but what are you willing to do to get it? Will it include lots of overtime? Will you need to talk to your boss about a raise? Will you need to find a new job? Will you need to go back to school? Write these things down as well.

Connect to a support system

Finally you will need a support system. Who in your circle can you talk to who is supportive and willing to brainstorm with you? Talk to that person and have them be your accountability partner. If you don’t have people in your life who are supportive of your efforts then now is a good time to find some like minded people. The internet has made it easier to find minded people via social media or by searching for local groups who are interested in the same things as you. Reach out to them and build your circle and start living your best life ever.

If you have found yourself struggling with your purpose or have been feeling unfulfilled in certain areas of your life I encourage you to sit down and follow these steps to help clarify your purpose. Don’t think that this exercise can only work for professional goals. I have found this process to be very helpful in both my professional as well as personal life. If you try this exercise I would love to hear how it has helped you. Feel free to leave feedback in the comments.

Happy Discovery!

Hustling for Worthiness

 

worthiness

 

On a recent trip I was staying in a fairly opulent hotel surrounded by business people who were innovators in their respective fields and I found myself hustling for my worthiness. Now I like to think that I have a healthy sense of self however it seemed that in this environment where Hermès is one of the many high end shopping options in the lobby I was conversing with people who own very lucrative businesses and multiple vacation homes I found myself comparing my accomplishments to theirs and in my head I came up lacking.

The author and qualitative psychologist Brené Brown defines worthiness as “an as is, here and now proposition.” By this definition, in order for us to feel worthy in our lives we must first accept and love ourselves “as is”. That can be a daunting task when we have our own internal mix tape of failures and missteps playing in the background constantly.  When you add external pressures from society as well as our family and friends then it is no wonder that many of us live shallow unfulfilled lives. Many of us wander through life with the appearance of having it all together but internally we are a mess. This is what began to happen in my head during this trip. I began to feel ashamed that I wasn’t further along in my career.  Hell I wasn’t even sure what exactly I wanted to do professionally. I was also feeling shame about being a divorced single mom who was barely holding it together financially and being surrounded by opulence was a reminder of that feeling.

When I feel shame I begin to hustle for my worthiness which leads to more shame which is a vicious endless cycle. This time around, however, I was able to name the feelings I was having and shed light on them.  Naming the feelings allowed me to acknowledge that I was not less than but I was in fact worthy of love, belonging and success in all of its iterations. That I had, in fact, come a very long way in the last two and a half years. I was able to acknowledge that I would find my path and I would one day have a stable relationship that would not just appear to be successful but would actually be fulfilling for both myself and my partner on our own terms.  For me shame can also manifest itself in other ways that are not very productive like ignoring important tasks like the dishes or budgeting, fatigue, loss of appetite, short temper and sadness.  Therapy and reading books by authors like Brené Brown, Desmond Tutu, the Dali Lama and others have really helped me to shorten the time it takes for me to rumble with these feelings. Now, instead of falling into a days or months long depression I am able to parse these feelings out, name them within hours and fully process them within a few days. For me that is tremendous progress.

Women of color are often taught to hold it together at all costs. To be strong and never show weakness. Phrases like “Never let them see you sweat” and fake it to you make it” are pervasive. The problem with this approach is that it forces us to wear the mask of strength but never take the time to fully embrace our weaknesses. Failing to acknowledge our weaknesses gives them strength and power over our thoughts and actions and that is the true danger of this worthiness hustle. If we are constantly fighting ourselves we will never be able to actually be our best selves in any of our relationships, personal or professional. I want to not just have the appearance of strength but I want to feel strong and capable.

Now before you start thinking that I didn’t enjoy this trip because I was in my head the whole time rumbling with myself you can rest assured that this was not the case. I had a great time meeting new people, trying new things and dancing into the wee hours. I returned home with a new fire to narrow down what path I wanted to take in my professional life and set my feet on the path towards my newly realized professional goals. To that end I have made new professional connections via a networking group in my field and began exploring other paths that I was interesting in pursuing in my current job. When I had a hard time visualizing my accomplishments my trusted circle enumerated the many ways I have overcome obstacles that, in their words, many people would not have been able to overcome in such a short amount of time. Being able to see myself though the eyes of people whom I love and respect was an eye opener for me that gave me the courage to truly believe that I am worthy.  Right where I am. These days I am walking with my head held higher with a renewed sense of purpose and for the first time in a long time I am excited.