Category Archives: Be The Change

The Ability to Flow Through Hard Times

A friend of mine reached out to me in despair after being dumped by his girlfriend of 7 years. Worried she was seeing someone else, his life suddenly went from successful world-famous dancer to “I want to quit everything and move far away.” He suddenly lost all focus on his upcoming dance competition and drank himself to oblivion every night for several months. His nights were filled with hatred and bitterness, suddenly painting an evil picture of the woman he had loved for so long. In his mind, she was a monster. Underneath all that pain and anger, we all knew, was sadness for the loss and pain from disappointment. He said it was easier to drink away his sadness than to deal with the pain of being left by the woman he loved so much. He called a few months later and said he realized he was an alcoholic and needed help. I suggested therapy and recommended an amazing AA group in the area. He went a few times, but he quit because the work it took to heal was exactly that- WORK. I do love my friend dearly, and sadly, sometimes inner work isn’t for everyone. He suffers even to this day. Drowning his sorrow in distractions, anger, and alcohol. This story is far too common, and it breaks my heart to see my loved ones suffer so much.

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Flowing through hard times is hard, and the reason it is so hard is because our instinct is to run from pain. No one wants to feel pain. An angry tiger coming after us is certainly a realistic fear of possible pain. To not run from that would be insanity. But what does the pain from heartbreak feel like? Does it tear into our skin and make us bleed to death? Does it sever limbs from our body as we lie helplessly on the ground? While in a moment of emotional distress, we may be convinced that that is definitely what it feels like, in reality if we really took an honest inventory of the actual pain from heartbreak, it is (fortunately) much less physically painful than being torn to shreds by an angry tiger.

Unfortunately, however, our mind perceives heartbreak (or potential heartbreak) the same way it perceives a vicious lion attack: DANGEROUS!! We are so afraid that the feelings that come with heartbreak will literally KILL us that we run as quickly and as far away from it as possible (and sometimes we even turn around and attack those that we feel are breaking our heart). Instead of processing our feelings, we stuff, drown in addictive behaviors, deflect and deny all those feelings of sadness, loss, grief, and unrequited love, burying them deep inside a dark pocket called “unforgiveness” thinking that we have escaped the threat of pain. In reality, packed up inside our hearts, it slowly eats away at our hope, joy, trust, and inner peace. Whenever we sense those feelings of loss, sadness, or anger creeping up, we repeat the process: drown, deny, deflect. These unattended feelings and emotions end up making us weaker and less able to handle “hard times”, eventually killing us slowly over time. Instead of getting stronger, better, happier, we get weaker. To put it bluntly, it’s a self-inflicted wound.

Now, I can’t speak for everyone out there, but the thought of me being the main cause of my suffering is very unsettling. Who wakes up in the morning and says, “Ya know, today is a great day to suffer. I think I’ll  make myself suffer just a little more today than yesterday!” But we all do it, and it comes so naturally, because to do the inner work it takes, to hold the pain and unwanted feelings from being hurt by another, is inconvenience, uncomfortable, and undesirable. It doesn’t give us the immediate satisfaction and sense of accomplishment like counterblaming, deflecting, or distraction. This is where delayed gratification is so important. We can either put off our immediate need to escape discomfort for the sake of obtaining inner peace and lasting joy, or we can take immediate gratification by pointing the blame and hating, but suffering long-term consequences, which typically include heavy emotional burdens and a negative energy that permeates your body and soul and follows you around in all your relationships (professional and personal). It’s all a choice.

So instead of thinking, “is this person deserving of my forgiveness?” think, “how do I want to demonstrate inner strength in handling my own life?” Think, “do I want to prove how resilient I am, demonstrating my skills in flowing through  all kinds of life situations? Or do I want to allow  all the worst parts of life to take up a large portion of my livelihood, clouding my sense of happiness and purpose in life, causing me much emotional baggage that will end up pouring over into all of my relationships?

The truth is, you can cope with a  lot more than you think you can, so long as you resolve to. You have the capacity to handle all kinds of situations. Be brave. Someone once told me: “The degree to which you have forsaken your own drama is the degree to which you are available to others.” So be the change you so desperately want to see in this world. How is anyone going to learn how to overcome life struggles if no one is willing to model it?

So flow… it’s the best gift you can give yourself and others. It takes work, but it takes so much less work than the alternative.

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Sending Love…Instead of Hate

I came to realize that when I held negative feelings or thoughts toward another person, I began to suffer. I felt pain. Heartbreak. Sadness.

Yet nothing inside me wanted to feeling anything more than that, toward the person that had hurt me the most.

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So the longer I held on to those negative feelings, the deeper they grew inside me. The sadder I felt. The lonelier I felt. But what was worse, was that his behavior never got better. In fact, it got worse. And the worse he got, the more bitter I got (you can see where this goes, right? Nowhere.)

I began to take a step back from my own personal experience and thoughts toward this person and tried to put myself in his shoes. This man was clearly suffering. Yes, I too, was clearly suffering. That meant we had something in common. If we were both suffering, was I contributing to his suffering in any way? I definitely could identify how he was contributing to my suffering. What I hadn’t realized was that a lot of my suffering from his actions was the beliefs I had about them. I thought they were personal.

What would happen if, instead of seeing his behavior as personal, saw it as a “lack of skill in dealing with his suffering”? What would happen if, instead of muttering hateful words about him, I said a small prayer for him? Dear God, bless his heart. May he know peace, kindness, compassion…

It didn’t take away the fact that he was responsible for dealing with his suffering in a more skillful way. It didn’t justify his behavior or make it “ok”. What it did was to help me take it less personal.

If I were him, with all his experiences in life, would I make the same choices? Would I feel the same? I don’t know, and that is a fact. All I did know was that he was dealing with it the only way he knew how.

Why do we do the things we do? Why do we choose the way we choose? I believe it’s because all of us, no matter how good or “bad” we are, simply don’t want to suffer. So we make choices daily, hourly, and sometimes by the second to avoid suffering in search for joy.

Sometimes our choices hurt others. Sometimes our escape from suffering comes at the cost of other’s pain. We, too, are just as guilt of causing others pain.

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We will never have the ability to make people change, or learn better coping mechanisms so that they can stop doing what we don’t like (and if you try, you will constantly subject yourself to more suffering, which is insanity), but what we can do, and where our power lies is directly in how much negative energy we put into ourselves and onto others based on circumstances that are completely out of our control.

When it is raining, you can curse the sky, but the rain doesn’t care. It still rains. How you feel about it and what you choose to do in the rain is your choice.

Life Sucks…But Not All The Time.

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“Life Sucks…” was my initial thought after a few months after I made the decision to stay married to my sex addict husband. The idea of staying committed to a man that was psychologically incapable of refraining from infidelity sounded like insanity.

Learning of the endless betrayals, it is tempting to make some serious judgments about him, leading me to a great amount of bitterness, hatred, resentment, and thinking he is the lowest piece of scum on this planet. When I go “there”, there is no one (in my mind) who could be more sick, delusional, disgusting and mean than my husband.

Nearly three years into this insanity, however, I’d have to admit there have been more good times than bad, more laughter than tears, and more kind words than bad. But when it gets bad, it is baaaaaaaad, and in those moments, it feels like the level of badness far outweighs the level of goodness.

There’s this truth about life, however, that will always remain so long as we are humans on this Earth, and that is that although we make every effort to pursue and obtain a life of happiness, peace, and drama-free days, life is always changing, full of disappointments, loss, pain, and betrayal. It doesn’t matter who you are with. And while we can pick and choose who we spend our lives with (yes, we always have the choice and freedom to leave any relationship), we will always be presented with problems.

That’s life. And yeah, it sucks sometimes.

It’s easy to forget, though, that it doesn’t suck all the time.

Being married to an addict sucks (I don’t think there’s a soul in the world who would disagree with me), but that doesn’t mean my life sucks. What I’m coming to learn is that assuming life will always present challenges, how we grow through those challenges ultimately results in our strengthened ability to navigate through those challenges. I’ve learned more and grown more (spiritually, mentally and in so many other aspects) being married to my husband than at any other point in my life. Admittedly, when things are going great, I don’t grow at all. It’s very comfortable and I like to go to auto-pilot mode.

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I was in my ladies bible study last night. We had discussed the issue of lying and how lying was seen by God as equal to all other sins (I’m not trying to bring up a discussion on this, so please don’t tell me this is not true. I get that enough from my husband). I had told them how my husband kept lying and excused himself saying “at least I’m not doing really bad things like killing people”. I thought that if he saw that lying was not insignificant but actually very bad, he would stop lying (or at least try to be less dishonest).

One of the ladies stopped me and asked me about my own sin and how that compared to his. Ouch… That was like a slap in the face to reality. If I am saying that all sin is equal in the eyes of God, how can I complain that my husband’s sin is greater than that of my own? Am I saying that I am sin-free? I want to say that I am, but we all know that isn’t true. If all sin is equal, who am I to put the spotlight on his sin and off of my own? I wanted to say “well, at least I don’t repeat my sin like he does!” but it all goes back to “Who’s inventory am I taking here?”

Addiction is no joke. It’s got some serious consequences and it hurts people in so many ways. He’s got a ton of issues that he has to work on. But part of my “sin” (in addition to being super judgmental and holding an attitude of superiority) is me trying to act like God. When he sins, I feel justified in intervening, insisting on sharing my “insightful wisdom”. After all, his behavior does directly affect me, our marriage, and our family. That’s my excuse- my rationale for keeping the spotlight on him and off myself.

If I do put the spotlight on myself, I realize that although he makes choices that do hurt us, that doesn’t mean that I can’t work on my own issues and support him while he works through his. Maybe he can even support me as I work through mine. It’s no fun, for sure. Saying it sucks is far from being an understatement.

I have to remind myself often, “this is not personal…this is not personal…” even though it feels VERY personal. Oh how life sucks…sometimes…

But, not all the time. Assuming challenges never go away so long as we are human beings on this Earth, it is important to make the most of it. Some prefer pissing and moaning about the transgressions of another, because they are either too blind or self-righteous (like me) to believe they have issues to work on themselves, or they are Jesus/Buddha/Muhammad. I’m willing to put all my money it’s the former.

Yes, life can suck. Really, really suck… But serenity comes when we accept the things that we cannot change (and unfortunately, my husband and his behavior falls into that category). What I have learned is that, although I am perfectly justified to leave, since I have chosen to stay (for now) I have two options on how to make the most of my time. I can use this limited time on earth to focus on the transgressions of others, searching, controlling, and manipulating them to be, act, and say things the way I think they should (guaranteeing I will forever be disappointed, sad, angry, bitter, hurt, living in fear, insecurity, and darkness. There is no end.) OR I can spend this limited amount of time on earth focusing on my own issues (i.e., how I can be a better person, a better mother, better friend, a better driver, a better pet owner, a better money-spender, more honest, more authentic, more sensitive, etc.,) there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. There is a sense of hope. Faith. Happiness. I feel like progress is being made (even if it’s just me). There is healing. There is freedom. There is life.

Shame: When We Feel Unworthy of Love Only Because We Don’t Feel Loved

Shame: How has it impacted your life?

That was the question on my homework for one of the classes I was taking. When I first started the class (specifically focused on shame) I have to admit I was always angered at the word. I had no shame. Shame was bad. My husband, yes! He must have a ton of shame! But not me…

And then I began really working on myself. Shame took on a whole new meaning. I couldn’t identify it still, but shame slowly started to show itself to me in small things like, “how could I have been so stupid to not know he was cheating and lying to me for so long!?” to “I am a horrible mother for allowing this person in mine and my children’s lives.” I started seeing shame in my value as a person. Maybe I’m not sexy enough? I’m not fun enough. I’m not pretty. Do I smell? Am I too bossy? Do I expect too much from him? Am I a control freak? Maybe I caused this? Maybe I pushed him away. I should try harder. I don’t do enough for our family. I don’t appreciate him enough. I don’t make him feel loved enough. I need to change…”

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And every time I changed to meet his needs, he stayed the same. More acting out. More lies. I would tell myself, “I must have not tried hard enough.” So I would knock down every healthy boundary possible, ‘hoping that this time he would change. He would stop cheating and lying. He would get better in his addictions. And the more boundaries went down, the more acting out occurred. I nearly went mad to the point of extreme hypervigilance.

That’s when I hit rock bottom. I knew I was full of shame. I was embarrassed. I was humiliated. It all happened when he left me and the kids. I knew he was acting out and I was set on stopping him. I sent texts to all his friends, family, Facebook, even the police. I tried exposing him for the sick person he was… And then it hit me… If he is sick, what does that make me?

I spent 3 whole days desperately trying to locate him so that I could get him to come back home, thinking that I could somehow convince him how wrong he was and how much he needed to change.

It didn’t happen.

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What started out as 3 days missing turned into two and a half months of separation – and two and a half months of me getting enough space from the insanity to clear my head and focus on what the real issue was: Me.

But not “me” in the shameful sense I had before – thinking that I was flawed or not good enough, but surprisingly realizing that I had subconsciously tried to take on the role of “God”. All my step work – all that powerless stuff, turning my will over to God…all of it never made sense until that moment.

My life, I realized, was perfect. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was perfect. I realized that “perfect” didn’t mean “to my liking” but “according to God’s will”. As I slowly started to release my tightly clenched fists from the outcomes of my husband’s choices and opened my hands, mind, and heart to my “higher power” I finally felt a sense of peace.

Instead of manipulation, passive aggressive communication, and threats, I used prayer. As I began developing a relationship with my Higher Power, I came to realize I was worthy. I was good enough. I deserved the best.

I also realized that I didn’t need my husband to prove I was worthy of love. I had all the love I needed, in so many forms, in so many ways, and from so many people. And although it would be ideal to have my husband be the man I wanted him to be, he is perfectly the man he is.

I’ve learned that shame leads us down a dark path of constantly hurting ourselves and others. Shame leaves us feeling lonely and desperate. Shame leaves us confused about who we are, and rips from us our identity. It leaves us grabbing desperately for anything to fill our emptiness.

My husband reaches out sexually. My parents turned to drugs and alcohol. I reached out for external things like…my husband, codependent behaviors, and hypervigilance/control.

I came to understand that we are not our behaviors and what happens to us does not define us, nor does it put a value on us in anyway. God is working in my life, in my husband’s life, in everyone’s lives, perfectly. We make mistakes. We alter our direction. But the moment I try to steal the wheel from God’s hands, I know I’ve fallen back into my codependent behaviors.

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“Shame” is creeping up again telling me I need to fill an emptiness by forcing someone else to make me feel better about myself. Realizing I am whole, valuable, and loved helped me let go of the false notion that someone had to do or be something or someone I wanted them to be in order for me to be happy.

Has my husband changed? Nope! But I have! And my happy days far outnumber my sad days now.

How to Deal With Shame: Identify it. Own it. Process it. Let it Go.

Playing Bad Cards

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We are all dealt our own unique cards in life. Some people get a good hand. Some get a crappy hand. But in the end, when the game is over, we all end up in the same place (dead). So how do I want to spend my time until then? I.e., how do I win with the crappy cards I was given?

Pissing and moaning about the dealer? Holding resentment towards those that seem to have gotten the better hand? Steal their cards? Cheat? Drink myself to oblivion or dive into other addictions so I don’t have to feel as bad about my crappy hand?

What if I have fun and play my best, no matter how crappy it may seem? I might not beat the others by wiping them out but I will win by finding joy that AT LEAST I can play.

I might find joy in the game simply by learning, growing, making friends, sharing our “secrets” to the joy-finding approach.

IN the end, I might even realize it wasn’t a game of me vs you or even me vs the cards. Maybe it wasn’t even a game.

Some people like to stay sitting at the table, hoping for a better hand. I admit, I was one of those people thinking that if I stayed in the game long enough, maybe my luck would change. Now I’m starting to realize there was only one player at the table and it was me! Life is too short to stay there!

Who is making all these rules anyway? Who assigned the value of the cards? Who decides if the cards in your hand are even crappy or not?

It’s time to live!

Forgiveness is a Process

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Forgiveness isn’t something you do. It’s a process you actually have to go through. Sometimes the process is short and can end with a simple “I’m sorry”, and sometimes it takes a long time.

Give yourself a break. If you are struggling with forgiveness, you don’t have to feel bad. Even paper cuts take time to heal. If you’ve been stabbed in the back, of course it’s going to take a lot longer to heal that one.

Daily Reminder: Forgiveness is a process.

Who am I?

It’s going on 2 months since our separation. There were times he would come visit the baby hungover. Sometimes he would come home in the middle of the night drunk, and then he would disappear again. Who was he with? What was he doing? How could he live like this? Doesn’t he know it’s a horrible example for the kids and most certainly hurtful to me…?

I can’t sleep at night because I keep thinking of how my husband isn’t the kind of husband, person, boss, worker, family member, father, and friend I think he should be. The thought bothers me so much I spend night after night ruminating on all the times he doesn’t do what he is supposed to do and all the times he makes bad choices or hurts me.

My original obsessive thoughts were, “What kind of father does he want to be? What kind of husband does he want to be? Is he happy living this way?” And then it hit me… Maybe he hasn’t given any thought to that. Maybe he IS happy living that way. Maybe it was me who was confused…

After several weeks of no sleep and reaching the point of physical and emotional burnout, it was only then that I finally realized something very painful… I was a hypocrite. I wasn’t even being the woman I thought I should be, the wife I should be, the mother I should be… Of course I could justify myself by saying, “well, his actions are horrible compared to mine…” But so what? Even if that were the case, that doesn’t change anything. It can’t change him and it hasn’t gotten me any closer to feeling better, happier, more confident, or more loved.

So I asked myself: What kind of mother do I want to be? What kind of friend do I want to be? What kind of wife do I want to be? What kind of employee do I want to be?  I realized I don’t have the energy to be the person I want to be when I spend all my energy thinking about how he isn’t being who he should be and do what he should do, and when I ruminate on all the things he did that he shouldn’t have done, all my energy gets sucked away from me so forcefully and quickly that I can’t even begin to consider where to start on my own stuff.

Every single moment of every single day, I have the opportunity to be the exact person I want to be in that moment. When I am driving, I am Driver. When I am cooking dinner, I am Cooker. When I am walking my dogs, I am Dog Walker. When I am with my children, I am Mommy. When I am at work, I am Worker. If I can focus on being the best version of me in that moment I am whatever role I am, I will have fulfilled my purpose in that moment. I will have been the best and perfect person I can be. When my energy is spent on that moment, I have no energy for anything else, and my energy and time will have been spent well. It will have been a very successful day.

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Sometimes we are in situations in which we cannot easily identify “who we are” in that moment. For example, last night  my husband (although we are still separate) took us to a friend’s barbecue. At first it was hard to enjoy myself as I didn’t know anyone and couldn’t understand anything (everyone spoke Spanish). My mind started going to a negative place, and I almost found myself criticizing my husband for bringing us there and leaving us to fend for ourselves… To make matters worse, the host of the party was one of my husband’s “friends” that has on several occasions lied to me about my husband and her “dealings.” I was starting to feel a strong sensation of anger coming on and began contemplating all the things I wanted to tell her to realize how wrong she was to lie to me. The night could have been a complete disaster! Trying to stay focused on “who I am”, I didn’t know if I should be “Mommy” and focus on the children (at the risk of isolating myself from the group), or “Wife” and pretend that my marriage was wonderful when it obviously was not… All I knew was that I didn’t want to be “resentful, angry, and revenge-seeking.” And then I realized who I was: I was Guest! It was easy then to be a great guest! I made sure I enjoyed myself in whatever way I felt I needed to. I was the guest, and I did a great job of being a guest. And then, as a guest, I left when I was done being a guest. As I was playing the role of Guest, I was also able to successfully pull off being Mommy and Wife flawlessly and without effort.  It was simple. In the end, I was able to be exactly who I wanted to be, how I wanted to be, and the night ended well. No regrets.

In each moment, in the role I am playing I can be fully present and engaged, and it is by playing my role fully that I am able to be in that moment and give all of myself in that moment. It is then, and only then, that I am able to be the best I can be.

Not perfect, but perfectly me.

I’d like to think I know what people should be doing and how they should be behaving, but when it doesn’t happen the result is complete sadness and disappointment. Interestingly, the only one walking away butt-hurt is myself. But when I think of who I want to be and what I should be doing, every moment is an empowering choice to be exactly who I want to be and live according to how I believe I should live. The ironic thing is that when I am living the way I think I should be, and doing what I think I should, nothing else seems to matter.

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Fear and Insecurity- How It Lead Me to Being Fearless and Less Insecure

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When I was six years old, I remember getting the training wheels off my Rainbow Bright bicycle and riding alone for the first time. The feeling was exhilarating and the fact that my bike was Rainbow Bright made it magical. What a glorious moment for a six-year old. I was fearless.

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Needless to say, the bike apparently wasn’t that magical as I fell off and scraped my knee. My father ran to me, scooped me up, and took me to the house. Although I was hurt, I hadn’t cried until I looked down and saw the blood. The blood horrified me. Just the look of it made the pain grow exponentially. “The blood! The blood!” I screamed. The pain, not from falling, but from seeing the blood, was unbearable. My father never let me live that down…

Now I’m 34 years old and still sensitive to the sight of blood, but it doesn’t intensify the pain. I’ve since learned that neither blood or riding a bike equals pain. I can enjoy a bike ride without fear of falling off. I can see blood and not feel immense pain.

But when we are traumatized with other horrific events, such as being betrayed by a spouse’s infidelity, everything that is connected with the infidelity becomes the “blood” that intensifies our fear. Now, whenever I pass a massage parlor, I feel pain. My emotional pain increases and I experience tension, anxiety, fear, sadness…(the list could go on). Whenever I hear my husband’s phone go off, I experience the same feelings. Whenever I am triggered (my triggers are numerous!) I fall into great despair. My emotions go into a downward negative spiral and my creativity peaks as I start envisioning all the times he acted out and was unfaithful. I create stories that may have never even happened, and somehow manage to make it the worst possible scenario imaginable. I then relive those events in my mind and heart, over and over. While the betrayal was real, and the emotional turmoil and trauma I experienced was real, the pain wasn’t something I needed to hold on to. It is natural to grieve and feel “broken-hearted”. All those feelings are natural and should be appreciated. You’ve been hurt! Hurt hurts! It’s supposed to! But it doesn’t have to last, and it doesn’t have to be recreated or tightly held on to. Even now, as we pick up the pieces of a shattered dream, there are days when I feel paralyzed by my fear of him acting out again, of being betrayed again.. and I am totally justified to feel that fear. I could even let that fear control my entire day.

It’s fear. Fear of the unknown.
Fear of ambiguity.
Fear of being hurt again.
It is insecurity.

The feeling is real, for sure.
But it doesn’t have to affect me unless I let it.

I could have decided, at six years old, that considering the pain involved, riding a bike was way too risky and not worth the effort, but I didn’t. My desire to experience life and all it had to offer- especially on an awesome Rainbow Bright bike (did I mention the rainbow streamers on the handle bars?) with the wind blowing through my hair as I rode down the street- was stronger than the fear of experiencing that pain ever again.

It took me a while to finally understand that massage parlors, prostitutes, other women, porn, and sex were not my enemy. They were doing what they were supposed to do. They were doing their job. It’s a reality I could not fight. To deny their existence would be a battle I was sure to lose, every single time. Every time I tried to fight that battle, I would feel more pain and more fear.

What I did learn was that not even my husband was my enemy. He was just doing what he does. He was “doing his job” too. That was his reality at the time, on his path in his life. It was his choice and there was nothing I could do to prevent that from happening, and nothing I can do to prevent it from happening in the future. In fact, even if I decided to get a new husband, lover, or partner, there’s still nothing I can do to prevent it from happening again. People will make their choices whether or not I like them, because that is reality.

Emotional and physical pain sucks. Betrayal sucks. Infidelity sucks. Lies suck. Liars suck. Reality can really suck. But in the end, it’s still reality and whether or not I fear all of that, it’s still a reality.  I can choose to remain resentful, mad, angry, sad, depressed, insecure and fearful, but the crappiest reality about that is that it will only affect me in the end. Me staying resentful, mad or angry and depressed won’t affect anyone else but me. And why would I want that? Life will still play out in unpredictable ways. It will bring joy and it will bring sadness.

Since then, I’ve had a lot of bikes and I’ve fallen down a lot as well. I chose to ride again, despite the numerous crashes. I’ve learned that some falls I could learn from and take certain measures to prevent similar crashes. But there were other falls that were completely out of my control.

I can let that insecurity ruin my day, month, year, and even life. Or, I can let it go.

I’m  not saying don’t feel your pain. I’m not saying don’t process your pain or deny your pain. I’m saying don’t dwell on it.

Feel it, acknowledge it, AND…MOVE…ON.

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Taking Things Personally When It’s Personal – How Relationships Suffer Through Differences in Reality

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One of the greatest sources of suffering in a relationship is our refusal to accept our differences. I’d be willing to bet the fastest way to end any relationship is to determine in our mind that our reality is either better or correct compared to another. The fact is, sometimes people do things that hurt us. Sometimes it is physical, and sometimes it is emotional. While the pain we may have experienced is real, however, rather than focus on what harm the other has caused us, I believe what is really important is the intention behind it.

How do we know the intention was to cause some kind of pain? Maybe they did it to make themselves feel better, bigger, stronger, more powerful, less scared, more secure, smarter, or maybe it was even done for something more complicated, like addiction or some other mental health issue. Maybe it was an accident. Who knows?

Where we often get stuck is when we decide that we know what their real intentions were, but until we develop some serious ESP powers, there is no human alive that can know what another person’s true intentions are. That is why we have to communicate in order to find out. That means having an open mind and calming down just enough to get ego and emotions out of the way. Communication doesn’t happen- in fact it CAN’T happen- when either of the parties is either flaming mad or already decided that he/she is right and the other is wrong. Maybe they are, but maybe they aren’t. That’s what this communication thing is for. The goal isn’t to determine who is right and who is wrong, but respecting how both are right in their own way, and how to move forward with the differences.

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Ironically, however, it’s important to acknowledge that whether you know it or not, you have hurt people in some way as well, and for as long as you may live, you will continue to hurt people even if you don’t mean to. That is the nature of our existence as humans. We may not have done it on purpose but conflict is the natural result of living in a world with someone other than ourselves, and in a world of so much diversity. You simply cannot exist without having some kind of impact (good or bad) on another living being, and the conflict (or love) that arises out of it is simply two different things bumping into one another. The result is either an attraction or avoidance.

Unfortunately, on Earth, difference is unavoidable, and it is good! Just like light and darkness, warmth and cold, polarities all serve a very important purpose in the world. Remember though: while we may have a number of differences, we also share a number of similarities (good and bad).

In our relations with other living beings we also have a polarity of intentions. Either we have good/loving/caring intentions or bad/hateful/harming intentions (and sometimes no intentions at all). I would like to believe I always have good intentions, but the truth is sometimes I don’t, and I doubt I’m the only one.

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Understanding intentions can be really hard. Sometimes our emotions or ego can scream so loudly that we can’t hear what’s truly going on behind our actions. But if we can get ourselves back to that calm state of mind and identify what our intentions are, we can make better decisions on how to move forward by taking an honest inventory of our own intentions. I recently had a big fight with my partner and the old me would have threatened everything, blindly believing that my threat was my way of expressing my feelings, stating my bottom line, and saying “NO!” to inappropriate behavior. “I am being assertive!” I would proudly convince myself. In reality, my intention was to get him to stop doing what he was doing. My intention was to change him so that I could have what I wanted (and to remind him of how right I was and how wrong he was).

In the moment of intense emotions, and when ego steps in, our ability to connect with our true intentions (and feelings) is completely destroyed. Identifying our intentions means being excruciatingly honest with ourselves and others and that means putting all those hurt feelings aside and looking at the situation from a different perspective. Impossible? No. But definitely a challenge. And if it’s hard for us to identify our intentions right away, it most certainly is for others as well. That said, when you do get offended or hurt, don’t jump to conclusions about what the other person was trying to do or say.

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If we were to break it all down, basically when we end up bumping into our contrasting parts (i.e., any other living thing), the biggest problem is that we look at the other person’s behavior as either a complement to our goals or an interruption, and naturally end up taking it personally. If they did something that helped you, or made you feel good, you saw them in a positive light. If they did something that was unhelpful, disappointing, or set you back, you saw it in a negative light. But if they did something great, can you call them great? Then when they fail, are they no longer great? Keep in mind, even when people do awesome things for us, we still should not take it personally. That’s right, even when they treat you like a queen/king, unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that you are one.

But what if their action was personal? What if they intentionally did or said something to you that was meant to hurt you? Well, first of all, how do you know? Did they say directly to you that their intention was to hurt you, demean you, and cause you some kind of pain? If they knew that they were hurting you, would they do that?

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I remember a quote by Don Miguel Ruiz about taking things personally:

“Taking things personally is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that the whole world is all about ME.”

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Even if the other person’s action was an intentional attack upon you, it has absolutely nothing to do with you. While they have no right to try and change you, similarly, you have no right to change them. The only right you have is to assertively and kindly express your reality and leave it at that.

To put so much power onto another person by allowing their behavior to affect you, you have put all your trust into something outside of yourself. In a sense, you are saying, “my reality is determined by what you do or say to me.”

I’ll be the first to admit, it’s not easy to just let something go, especially when the person you are at odds with is someone you love very deeply. We don’t want to end the relationship. Nor do we want to continue feeling so sad from the result of our loved one’s actions. So what do you do when you aren’t in danger and you don’t necessarily want to end the relationship?

Boundaries

Boundaries.

Creating healthy boundaries is only something you can do and can actually be a gift to the other person (even if at first they don’t like it). When you make clear what you are willing and not willing to live with, you have given the other person the gift of clearly knowing what you need in order to maintain that relationship. Then they get to choose if they can live with that boundary. If they choose to deny those boundaries, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It means they have chosen to end the relationship.

Boundaries aren’t demands that state what the other person can and cannot do, and your boundaries aren’t for them- They are for you.

Boundaries are like traffic lights that tell you when you need to stop, be cautious, or go forward. Others aren’t responsible for your boundaries. Only you are. Just like driving a car, you are the driver of your life. It’s your job to identify the boundaries you need and maintain them.

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After that, whatever happens is up to you. And that’s a good thing. Because it means that you are choosing all of this for yourself (freedom from, or acceptance of a given situation that was caused as a natural result of living around other living things). You are not a victim. You are not entitled to anything. Nor are you right and the other wrong. After establishing your boundaries, if you choose to run an obvious red light, the end result is on you.

In the end, all you can ethically and realistically do, if you have created and kept your healthy boundaries, and the other person still failed to acknowledge or respect them, is stop complaining and walk away from that person completely. It really is that simple.

Now That They’re Set, When to Bend on Your Personal Boundaries

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Boundaries are comforting. They can make us feel safe. But as much as we love comfort, there comes a time when we can and should bend on our personal boundaries. We often knowingly and unknowingly set boundaries with strangers to keep us safe from the unknown. As we get to know the person, however, we may feel more comfortable with them and feel we can trust the person with our physical and/or emotional safety. In those instances, we often ease up on the boundary we originally set.

There are two kinds of boundaries though: Firm/Unchanging and Flexible, and the meaning behind them is pretty self-explanatory: you don’t bend on the firm/unchanging ones (e.g., don’t get into the car if the driver is drunk no matter how much you like them or trust them), but you can be more flexible on the flexible ones (don’t share all the dirty details of your whole life story with a person you just met). Being flexible, however, doesn’t mean completely removing or letting up on the boundaries. It just means you are “flexible”. Try not to go from one extreme to another (It’s really easy to do this. I’ve caught myself doing it unknowingly far too many times…)

What makes a firm boundary different from a flexible one?

Distinguishing between the two boundaries is a personal decision only you can and must make, and if you’re not careful, you might mistake an unchanging boundary for a flexible one. As long as you can distinguish between the two, however, bending on the flexible boundaries (only when you’re ready!) becomes easier (even if it’s scary).

Just like there are two kinds of boundaries, there are two kinds of people: People who care about your well-being and people who do NOT care about your well-being. In determining the flexibility of your boundaries, it is important to determine what kind of person you are trying to be flexible with. If you are trying to be flexible with a person who doesn’t care about your well-being, you are setting yourself up for great pain and disappointment. If you are not sure if the person has your well-being in mind, a wise choice would be to remain from compromising that boundary yet. If you are confident the person DOES have your best interest at heart (because their actions- NOT THEIR WORDS- show it), then you can move forward on determining how to be more flexible (if that is what you want to do).

The rule of thumb in bending boundaries is to ask yourself if by bending, will you be jeopardizing your own integrity? Will it threaten your safety? Will you have your self-respect in tact?

Human relationships are pretty malleable. That means that they can change their form from one moment to the next. When determining the flexibility of your boundary, you need to determine if the person or relationship of which boundary is in question has changed to a point in which you feel confident about that person’s personal integrity, motivations, and character. In other words, do you trust this person enough to bend at this point? If not, that’s ok. That’s why the boundary is there in the first place- to protect your safety.

If you feel your relationship is at a point where you can ease up a bit (i.e., you feel a little more safe), you need to ask yourself WHY you feel that way. This is the most important piece of the puzzle. Really sit down and write it out if you have to. What has this person done to make you feel more safe? What has changed from then until now?

IMPORTANT: If you are bending on your boundary because you just “feel” like it’s safe now, think again. Trusting is important, but after a large betrayal, for example, trust must be earned back through changed behavior. It is not possible for even the healthiest and smartest of individuals to just “know” if another person is a good person or not. We simply don’t have the ability or capacity as human beings to make that decision and it is exactly because of that false belief that we got ourself into this mess (unhealthy relationships) in the first place. That doesn’t mean that we have to go around assuming everyone is evil and out to harm us (that would be going to an extreme). It simply means that personal boundaries are the foundation from which all healthy relationships form.

That said, if you are at a point where you feel you can ease up on, or be more flexible with certain boundaries, make the decision based on facts and actions – not a hunch. I don’t know how they do it, but the people that don’t have your well-being in mind tend to be people that are experts at false impressions and manipulation. In my experience, as bad as these people truly are, they are also experts at making the rest of the world believe they are really great people. Your boundaries are the key to your safety, always.

  • IMPORTANT: Just because a person may have some great traits doesn’t make them a great person. E.g., A really smart person doesn’t always equal a really kind person.

Boundaries are created to protect what is important to us. For me, honesty and accountability in a relationship is one of the most important keys to telling me if I can be more flexible or not.

I was in a relationship in which my partner was unable to be honest to me about both big things and little things. My partner was habitually unfaithful and I had no idea it was happening because he was so good at lying about where he was and what he was doing. For me, the determining factor of whether I could trust this person wasn’t if he told me the truth about his past affairs and swore he’d never do it again (Hello?! That better be a given!), but if he could continue to tell me the truth about small things. Small things like, “What time are you coming home?”, “Where did you go last night?”, and “How many beers did you get with the guys?” as well as reliability questions like if he says he is going to do something, does he actually do it? Does he make excuses for why he couldn’t? In that relationship, although he wasn’t acting out anymore, I could tell he was clearly still struggling to live an honest and transparent life. I knew I couldn’t count on him to be completely honest so I had to maintain several of my personal boundaries until I felt we were at a place I could trust his honesty.

Specifically, if a person is continuing to violate your boundaries or trust, unfortunately that means that he/she doesn’t respect you or your boundaries. Ending that relationship is usually the best way to go. If someone disregards small boundaries, they will disregard the bigger ones and the disregard will only get worse. If the person has identified your boundaries (because you made them clear and adequately maintained them) and was able to respect them completely, you now know you can be more flexible on certain flexible boundaries (and because relationships are always changing, you have the right to reinforce the previous boundaries if the person has slipped and violated them again or has proven untrustworthy). If, for this specific person, he/she continuously violates this boundary, then for this specific person, this specific boundary now becomes a PERMANENT boundary. This is why the boundaries are so important and why they serve as a key to both your sanity, health, and happiness.