DISCUSSION & SUPPORT GROUP
SUMMARY OF JAN 30, 2018
I wonder what my next thought will be.
– A mindful moment
A fairly small group again this week and that was just fine. One topic that came up was women with all brothers as siblings and the effect on their feelings about being female. Also, one regular member shared a triumphant moment with a parent. This member always seemed to have harsh conversations with this parent, full of judgment, and focus on things such as worry about her career and her life. However, this member drew on a wonderful inspiration – to take these kinds of discussions off the table and out of their relationship, at least for the time being. Her suggestion, instead, was to talk about other things and lo and behold, she and her parent found common ground and connection. I felt very appreciative of her efforts and her insight, and I am especially happy to see that it provided them the path they needed to connect. Wow! Stuff works!!
The shame of not working
When we need to stop working because of our illness some of us seem to end up in a world of shame. We feel guilty because we are not being a ‘productive member of society’. We feel ashamed that we can’t get out of bed or take a shower or wash the dishes. Why do we have such high expectations of ourselves when we really this as a time for rest and healing. I think maybe we need to look at our time off work as valuable time – for mourning and healing, for evaluating our lives and processing and finally for figuring out what we need to do next.
Perhaps what we need to do first, when having to take sick time, is to mourn our losses. Some of us may feel a real loss in not being able to work. Work might have given us some things which we now don’t have. A sense of routine, a sense of contribution to society, a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, a feeling of being ‘normal’ and acceptable. So, we might take this time to honour what we did get from working, from what we enjoyed, as well to re-evaluate what wasn’t working for us anymore, whether it was symptoms of our illness making it too difficult, or the work environment itself that was just not beneficial to us. And we might allow ourselves to feel the loss, feel the sadness that says we are in the process of letting go.
It seems that it is very easy to have a lot of shoulds when we are not working. If I am not working, then I should still be productive in some way. One member expressed it in terms of getting here sh*t together. However, I think this is the most harmful thing we can do to ourselves, especially when we are not feeling well already. To pile on the expectations – instead of looking at our limitations and how to work within them.
When we are doing something that we think we shouldn’t be doing (e.g., staying in bed all day, watching a lot of tv, spending hours on the computer … instead of being ‘productive’) it might help if we do two things.
- Look at the need(s) I am not meeting by doing the things I am currently doing. Should and shouldn’t seem to indicate that something I’m doing is bothering me. So, what is that need that I am not meeting by staying in bed all day, watching tv, etc.?
- THEN … look at the need(s) I am meeting by staying in bed or whatever. Maybe I have a need to simply rest and be comfortable, or recharge (maybe I’m exhausted). Maybe I need to think about things, about my life and what I really want and need. Or maybe I need to not think about these things, to take a break from my constant worry thinking and ruminating. So, I watch tv to distract myself. (Sometimes it works like a charm 😊)
- How can I meet BOTH needs? How can I get that down time and how can I start getting my sh*t together (and be specific about what that means)?
When we can recognize more clearly what we are doing, what we are missing and what we need to do, we can create a kinder relationship with ourselves. Paying attention to our needs is mindful, being in the present, and it is kind and loving. It’s also very empowering and liberating. We need to stop working for a reason. Something in us needs attention. Our sense of purpose now turns towards ourselves and we can ask ourselves “How best can I use this time away from work? How can I create a stronger relationship with myself so that I know how to meet my needs when they arise? What needs were not getting met at work and how can I change that in the future?”
Hopefully, having this perspective can help to remove the guilt and shame about not being able to work. In a sense, it’s such a waste to think this way, an unnecessary suffering caused by our judgments of our illness.
Another point of view – “The High Cost of Low Self-Compassion”
These notes from A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives by Thupten Jinpa.
As our culture moves us towards more independence, self-sufficiency, and less communal experiences we are being forced to make sense of our existence separately. ‘Since each of us now has to create his or her own meaning, we become obsessed with what we accomplish, to the point where we define our personal identity and evaluate our self-worth in terms of our work – hence the questions “What do you do?” Which has come to mean so much more than “What do you do for a living?”’
We need to move our focus away from ‘performance orientation’ which may be ‘unavoidable in any competitive environment’, and from the extremes that we take it to. ‘Performance obsession can lead to insensitivity, impatience, and even arrogance toward other people, especially when we perceive them to be not up to our standard.’
‘Many people believe that unless they are critical and demanding of themselves, they will be failures, unworthy of recognition and undeserving of love.’ And ‘When something good does happen, we may feel deep down that we don’t deserve it. We worry that we might somehow be forced to pay for it afterward. We’re terrified of letting go even a little, because we think we’ll lose control of our lives – something bad might happen, and we’ll blame ourselves. We’re afraid that if we were to be gentle and kind with ourselves, to relax our grip, we might not accomplish anything at all. So, we keep cracking our internal whip.’
READING: Elizabeth Gilbert, Self-Acceptance Summit, September 2017
Forgiving our past actions
[The most self-accepting response…] I would say to you, person who says, “I’m in a marriage that I know I need to leave, but I’m not leaving,” “I’m in a job that I know I need to leave and I’m not leaving,” “I’m in a situation I know I need to leave and I’m not leaving, what’s the matter with me?” I would say, clearly you do not yet know. You don’t know. And you can’t know until you know. You cannot know until you know, and you will know when you know, because then you’ll leave or you’ll stay. But as long as you’re staying in a situation, it’s because you don’t know yet. You don’t.
And I’ve had people say to me—I think there’s a shame spiral that happens around that, where people say, “I want to beat myself up, I stayed so much too long in X, Y, Z situation, and I knew, I knew seven years ago that marriage was over. I knew five months ago that this job move was the wrong move for me. I knew 20 years ago I didn’t want to live in this town.” And I always say to them, “No, you didn’t. No, you didn’t.” You think you did now, because now you have this extraordinary clarity of being in this moment, looking back with all the information that you’ve gathered over the last 20 years, seven years, five months, whatever it was. You have this incredibly privileged position in your life right now at this moment where you do know. And so it’s incredibly easy to go back and abuse yourself by saying, “I should’ve known, I did know.” You didn’t. You didn’t know until the moment that you did. And when that moment came, you took the action, and it was not too late. It was at exactly the right time.
And the most loving thing that you can do, if you’re beating yourself up about stuff you should’ve done and didn’t do at the right moment, is to really pause and take a look back at her or him, that person who you were seven years ago, at that moment that you’re beating yourself up for now. Take a look back and really go truth searching and look in that person’s face and say, “Could she have done anything different at that moment knowing what she knew at that moment?” And remembering that all she had was the information she had at that moment. She didn’t have the benefit of the entire history of the world that you now have. She only had who she was then, what her history was then, what culture was telling her then, what she was trying to be then. That’s all she had to work with. And weighing all of that out, she’s doing the best she could with what she knew, and she didn’t know anything other than to stay. And until that changes, that’s how it is.
That’s the basis of forgiveness for the past, which for me is always the most painful thing that I struggle with in my life, is learning how to forgive myself for the past. Could you have done anything differently then what you did at that moment? And the answer is always no. And you can ‘should have’ as much as you want, but it’s so cruel. It’s such a cruel thing to do to somebody who frankly didn’t have the wisdom you have now, who is younger than you are now, and didn’t have the benefit of all the years of experience that you’ve got now. You have to let her off the hook.
And I’ve also had people say to me, “Why should I say my best was good enough? Isn’t that just letting me off the hook?” And all I hear in their voice is somebody who has never once let herself off the hook. I’m like, “I am not worried about you letting yourself off the hook too much. Apparently you’ve never done it. I’m worried about the fact that you never let yourself off the hook. That’s the problem.”
May you (and all beings) be safe
May you (and all beings) be happy
May you (and all beings) be healthy
May you (and all beings) live with ease