Category Archives: compassion

21Apr/16

Vulnerability feels like Sh*t!!

theajolly.com-2

 

Last week I had a meltdown. A perfectionist, beat-myself-up, my-life-is-doomed type of meltdown. It wasn’t pretty.  I said horrible things about myself that I’ve never ever said in front of my children. I kicked and threw things around the kitchen, slammed doors, shouted and ranted about the house like a spoilt brat.

It was triggered by a sudden, intense vulnerability hangover, and compounded by my tiredness and inability to effectively deal with the shame and anger that came with it.  Under the force of my shame-ridden ego I crumbled and allowed it to run amok through myself and my family.

You might be wondering what a vulnerability hangover is and why it can cause such a reaction?

A vulnerability hangover is Brené Brown’s term for that strong feeling of shame and fear that completely envelops you after you have been brave and vulnerable and open and honest and shown yourself to the world.

Brené Brown describes it as:

“the feeling that sweeps over us after we feel the need to connect… and we share something deeply meaningful. Minutes, hours, or days later, we begin to feel regret sweep over us like a warm wave of nausea.”

Watch Brené discuss her own vulnerability hangover here with Oprah.

In my case I had just sent out a personalised email to 15 women from my network who I admired and respected, many of them friends.  I had offered them ‘first-dibs’ on a new pilot coaching programme I am creating which is to be the first step in my (very meaningful to me) life’s mission of spreading compassion around the world – starting with helping women create a strong inner trust and confidence in themselves.

I wanted to connect with these women. I was sharing ideas that were important and incredibly meaningful to me. And due to the nature of email, I had no immediate feedback on how (or if) these women would respond.

So a few hours later the wave of nausea swept over me and fear kicked in.  My whole body was screaming: ‘What the hell have you done!?’

And my ego took over.  My poor, terrified, protective ego decided it needed to defend itself against this attack on it’s identity and existence.

But because you can’t attack shame without putting it under a very big spotlight and talking about it to others, my ego started attacking everyone within shooting distance: me and my children, and later my husband.

My ego fought as if it was fighting for it’s life – that’s the power of shame. Shame threatens to cut us off from others. It threatens disconnection. We are programmed to seek connection and belonging, so much so, it is now becoming understood that disconnection and even the fear of disconnection are the drivers of addiction and mental illness.

It is possible to practice shame resilience and get better at dealing with these vulnerability hangovers and ego hijackings.  And I was somewhat practiced myself at doing this.  However, I had recently come back from a 2 week family holiday and was still feeling jet lagged, out of my routine and generally not strong enough emotionally to deal with a massive shame attack.

So instead I succumbed.  What was I ashamed of?  Of being judged, of those wonderful women thinking that I thought they needed help from me, of asking for money, of daring to dream of a world where everyone was kind to themselves and kind to each other. Who the hell did I think I was!???

And what made it worse was the anger that came with it.  This anger, sparked by fear, crashed through our house like a storm.  It was unexpected and shocking.  It allowed all this bad stuff, these bad, cruel, vicious words to stream from my mouth with such ease, without a care for their affect on my children. Even though I had heard those words before – when previously I had felt these things – I had NEVER said them out loud.  I had never let my children hear those words of self-hatred and doom that I used to feel so often. Why did they come out now?   I don’t know exactly, but some of the reason could be that I have recently had my marina coil taken out, and have stopped taking antidepressants – so my hormones have free reign!  Ha! Is it worse to have a cocktail of chemicals running  amok inside me, or my own unique blend of hormones having a party?  Ask me in 12 months when my hormones have (hopefully) settled down whether this is the ‘real me’ or just the withdrawal symptoms of stopping chemicals that mess with my body, brain and mood.

But what I do know is that as shocking as this meltdown was, it made me realise that these occasions don’t occur with regularity anymore (and with such ferocity) because I’ve trained myself to be more mindful and conscious of my emotions and triggers.  Four or five years ago this was more common, and I used to call it Falling into my Black Hole of Doom.

Yes, I’m more hormonal now, but I was also physically and emotionally tired, and due to our holiday was out of the practice of nourishing myself so I could withstand the onslaught of these emotional attacks.

Another thing that has changed is the speed with which I recovered from this ‘episode’.

During it I alternated between resisting the anger and accepting it.  I was attached to the emotions – I totally believed that I was shit and my life was completely doomed – but also the next second was aware that if I just let the emotions pass through me everything would feel better tomorrow.  It was a new and weird feeling to me because during my previous meltdowns I was never aware of what was going on. I was completely on board with all the emotions, believing them completely. There were THE TRUTH.  This time I got glimpses that there are not the truth and so I didn’t need to resist them so strongly.  They could not harm me because they were not true.

That evening I watched 6 hours of Jane Austen.  This is how I know I was in a bad place. Jane Austen productions are my go-to escapism when I’m in my Black Hole of Doom – like Brené and her Downton Abbey marathon.

So, why am I sharing all the gory details with you?  What’s the point of this story?  Well the main thing is that although vulnerability – being brave and open – feels like shit, it is so worth it.  It is what makes us grow. Despite the fear of disconnection, vulnerability is actually what connects us deeper to others.  It is what makes us human. It signifies that we are daring greatly, prepared to take risks to follow our dreams, or to be the person we are, to be seen, to do the things that are deeply meaningful us – and that enables us to have deep meaningful connections with others, which is what we all long for.

That’s why it’s important to share this.  I don’t want you to like me (shit, yes I do, but that’s obviously not my motivation for sharing my flaws).  You might even judge me for having no self-control and shouting at myself in front of my children.  But the important thing is to be honest and talk about shame, because shame can’t survive out in the open.  We all suffer from shame, and we need to talk about it.  Shame resilience needs to be part of our vocabulary.

So, here’s one woman doing just that.  Care to join me?  If so, please comment below, or, if the vulnerability is too much email me to share how this resonated with you.  Create those connections, put the spotlight on shame so it can’t survive.

Thank you for reading.

 

p.s. Here’s a video I made after my vulnerability hangover/shame attack.

 

26Jan/16

5 Ways to Connect to Your Inner Joy

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I am happy.

My heart is light and full of joy. Everything around me is beautiful and my life feels truly blessed. I feel deeply connected to my true self, to the people around me, to nature and to the Universe (whatever that means).

As my previous blogs show, this is not always the case.  To be brutally honest, it was not often the case over most of my life.  Yes, of course I had many happy moments, joyful days, blissful times – but rarely were they just there for no particular reason. You know, just there happening during a normal day, with nothing specific to trigger them except an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for being alive in this moment; for this life that I’m blessed with. The joyful moments usually happened because I felt I had ‘achieved’ something. This joy for nothing particular is not normal to me.

This year though, I’m experiencing this lovely, loving state much more easily.  It’s like I can take a deep breath and step into it, like stepping into a sunbeam streaming through the window.  This ‘skill’, ‘ability’, ‘gift’, ‘talent’ whatever it is, seems like it has just appeared overnight, like a present bestowed on a small child after she spent a year wishing to the stars for it.  It feels wondrous, miraculous yet also so normal and easy.   A small voice in my head is asking: ‘Why haven’t I been able to do this before?

But it didn’t just happen.  It has come from a life of striving, of searching for my own truth.  It’s something I’ve been working on for years and years and years.  My diaries when I was 13 were full of soul searching, and have been ever since. This soul searching has brought me to my knees several times when I’ve been in dark pits of despair because I knew that there was this truth out there for me to reach, but I just didn’t know how to. All this soul-searching was eventually soul-destroying.

Because when it comes down to it that’s what I’ve been searching for. My soul. My truth. Myself. Me. The ‘true’ me.

And I could never give up.  I could never settle for a ‘normal’ life, and do what was expected. I had to keep searching for my soul because it was dropping clues that I needed to live life and love life my way, that I should follow this dream forever.

However, because my ego has been in charge all of my life, I never befriended my soul.   I kept searching and longing to find it inside me, but I could never really get it to stay around long enough to recognise it. My ego would always come in threatening this new friendship and persuading that this sparkly new life was too dangerous. So although I occasionally I got to dance with my soul, my ego always put it back in a cage where it was protected by layers of armour and heavy chains.

Just in case.

Just in case it got out and people would see it.

Now, though it seems like I have found it.  We have yet to get to know each other well, but we are friends.  What have I done differently to finally be reunited with my soul?  (Wow! – it feels a bit weird to write that. A bit woo woo. But what else do you call that inner part of you that is really you, untainted by the demands of ego?)   Over the last 6 months I have done 5 things that have helped me to reconnect to my inner self.  I didn’t know at the time that these were the answer, rather I knew that it was a case of ‘I’ve tried everything else, this is really my only choice now.

Here’s what I did.

I Let Go

I finally let go of who I thought I should be. This shadow self who has been with me for as long as I can remember. I had to say goodbye and release this wonderful woman who has been almost in my grasp for over 30 years. I fought it til the end, resisting, resisting, resisting but deep inside (my soul) knew it was the right time. So I took off my armour and showed my naked self to the world.  No, I don’t have a business. No, I’m not ‘doing’ anything at the moment’ (apart from the not-so-small job of looking after 3 children), ‘No, I’m not sure what I’m going to do‘  ‘I’m a mum‘. This is me and I am proud of myself. This is me, and I’m OK.

I had to admit to the world that this was me. I am a mum and a wife. And that is all.

Sounds simple doesn’t it, but it was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  And I am very proud of myself for doing  it.  Finally. About bloody time, Thea!

 

I Started REALLY Writing.

I have been writing on and off since I was 13.   Getting things out onto paper really helps me make a sense of my world.  It’s the way I express myself.  I’m an introvert who thinks a lot and words are my love, my drug, my medicine, my enduring pleasure.

Last September on my birthday I decided to start writing everyday.   I chose to write Morning Pages, as recommended by my coach Joanna Martin and by legendary writer Julia Cameron. And boy did it open me up!  That 30-60 minutes everyday grounded me and showed me to myself as nothing has ever done before.  I felt connected to myself and the peace (though often fleeting) that came with is was manna from heaven.  Essentially it woke me up.

 

I Used my Mindfulness Skills

Did I mention that letting go of who I thought I was meant to be was hard?  Yes? It was.  Because my ego came out to play big time since this shadow self was it’s biggest weapon, and it definitely didn’t want to say goodbye to it.  Any time it felt threatened it just had to wheel out this ‘perfect Thea’ and off I’d go into self-hatred and Should Land.  So I battled my ego with awareness and kindness.  I allowed myself to be scared and imperfect and to be me, by showing myself compassion and completely leaving judgement outside the door. Judgement has been my constant companion, like, forever, so I was quite happy to see the back of him. I never judge other people, so why did I give myself such a hard time?

Being mindful of what I was feeling, and why these feelings and thoughts came up, while also being non-judgemental and compassionate is the core of mindfulness. I used these skills to get me through the resistance, vulnerability and nakedness of freeing my true self from it’s heavy armour.

 

I Got Outside in Nature with Music

I chose to be more active this year.  I stay in my house too much so I made myself go outside. I take my headphones and music and go walk outside.  It’s been nothing short of amazing for me.  It loads me up with inspiration and connects me to the world, to Mother Nature, even the Universe.   It has made me feel like I’m not alone, but instead have a gournded link to the earth through my footsteps, but also a strong link of light up into the trees, the sky and whatever energies are beyond.  This is where I feel like I can channel joy and energy and motivation. This is where I feel it.  It’s becoming like a temple for me. I haven’t been out today and I’m getting ‘itchy feet’ so to speak.

 

I Said Thank-You, Thank-You, Thank-You

I have long believed that Gratitude is the foundation of happiness, because happiness cannot be accessed without it. (I am giving it a capital G on purpose!) Writing gratitude journals is a great habit to have because it does get you in the habit of noticing what you are grateful for each day. But this year I’ve stepped things up a little.  I’ve said Thank You out loud when good things happen.  I’ve danced around the kitchen table with my arms in the air saying Thank You to what ever is ‘out there’ (if anything at all) for providing me with such wonderful things, feelings, experiences and people. I have smiled and laughed with gratitude and I have been humbled by it too, especially when it comes from my children.  I lie in bed at the end of the day saying Thank You to whoever and whatever is listening.

 

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Written: In my office in the garden with a hot water bottle warming my feet, listening to Muse: Aftermath, The Globalist, Drones and Follow Me on repeat.

 

 

09Jan/16

How Could a Mother do That!?

The view from the doorway

The view from the doorway

 

I’m standing in the wooden doorway of my youngest son’s bedroom.  It’s a small bedroom – him being the third child – only just big enough to fit a smaller-than-standard high bunk bed and a thin, tall but still too small chest of drawers.  Piles of his stuff and toys sit on the homemade, wonky shelves underneath the bed –  I keep tidying them but I can never get rid of the sense that the room is in a perpetual state of unloved disarray.  It is one of the resentments that Zach has about being the youngest child. But that’s another story.

Today we are arguing about bedtime. Again.

He is standing halfway up his small ladder, his boyish face full of undisguised anger toward me.  In that moment the feeling is mutual. I have a battle going on in my head between two voices, two instincts, two different views of the world.  And I can feel my body too: tense, scared, pumping adrenalin, getting ready to fight.

I hate this place. I hate it with a passion, and with a fear that I cannot seem to get away from, get over or control.  I visit this place often in my parenting life and it is the root cause of all my feelings of shame and unworthiness.

This is because being in this emotional place scares me into not loving my child.

In this emotional place I choose to protect myself rather than my child. My love for him cannot speak in this space, it’s like I cut it off, just to save myself.   What makes me do that?  I’m a mother for goodness sake – aren’t we meant to protect our children to the death?

What makes me do that?    What am I so scared of?   These questions have been on my mind for a while now. For years and years, in various forms.  Through the ups and downs, and through depression.  Long enough for me to now be really curious about the answer rather than mulling over it as a way of beating myself up.  Long enough for me to have extended enough love and compassion to myself despite acting like this, despite feeling I don’t deserve it.  Long enough to begin to forgive myself for this treacherous, unmotherly vice.

So we fight.  But this time I notice what I’m thinking and feeling. I desperately want to get to the bottom of these questions, which means I have to be mindful. I have to notice.

Here’s what I notice: I hate feeling so out of control, because it makes me act in mean and horrible ways.  I’m also feeling ashamed because I can’t control an 8 year old, and that triggers the shame of being a failure and a bad mum. I’m ashamed that I react so emotionally to such a normal parenting problem. So I’m angry at myself, but I’m also angry with him because he is spoiling everything.   It’s all his fault because he doesn’t need to be this unreasonable, this mean, this angry – it’s entirely unnecessary.  Why can’t we all love each other and be nice to each other?   Then I notice that I’m wracking my brains trying to work out what to do (not easy when you are so emotionally triggered). And this not knowing what to do is the ‘caught in the headlights’ moment.  Do I fight or flee?  My brain senses that I probably don’t need to do either – being calm and kind would probably solve the situation best of all, but that is impossible given the adrenalin already pumping through my veins. It ain’t gonna happen – unless I walk away and calm down.  I think about this for a second, then my ego steps in and shouts in my ear:  But HOW DARE HE?  So I’m back in with my boxing gloves on.  How dare he ignore what I say, and speak to me like that? In my own house, when I sacrifice EVERYTHING for him! How bloody dare he!?

So all this is going on in my head as I stand in his doorway unable to love him like a mother.

I don’t remember what happened in this instance, and I hope that I walked away.  But I probably didn’t because is has ended very badly many times. I’ve screamed at him until my throat is hoarse.  Or in an ice cold rage I’ve stood holding his door shut while he’s been crying inside. I’ve even turned his light off and held the door while he is screaming in fright. My little baby, begging me not to be mean to him.  Why and how could a mother do that? Because she needs to protect herself. Now can you see why I hate being out of control?  It’s all about the emotions ‘making’ me do things I wouldn’t normally do. Being who I am not. Except I must be, because this is me acting like this.

So why and how can a mother act like that?  I’m only trying to protect myself, like an animal caught in the headlights. Believe me, I know how weak that sounds.  But here’s the worst thing. Here’s the completely fucked up thing that is going on.

I’m trying to protect myself because I’m scared.  But the very thing I’m scared of is the thing I do when I’m scared. So being scared makes what I’m scared of happen.

So my fear is really a fear of the fear.  Which makes the fear come true.  That’s so messed up.

How on earth have I got myself in this situation?  Another question for me to answer.

After mindfully noticing what was going on on the threshold of Zach’s room, I began contemplating why I was so scared in the first place.

Firstly I concluded that there must be some trauma from my childhood embedded in my psyche for me to be so scared of negative emotions. True my parents weren’t a whole lot emotional, but I can never remember being aware consciously that emotions were bad.  Maybe somewhere inside me I was damaged and I needed to find out exactly what had happened so that I could heal myself and move on with life without getting so triggered by my uncomfortable emotions.

Next I read a book by Miriam Greenspan called Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The wisdom of grief, fear, and despair, and I understood that these emotions come along because we are human, and not necessarily because anything specific happened when we were children. It might have done, actually the probabilities are high, but either way we’re going to feel fear, grief and despair in our lives whoever we are.  It’s actually the fear and attempted avoidance of the fear, grief and despair that makes things seem so much worse. She even argues that it’s only by accepting and working through fear, grief and despair that we can really experience and enjoy gratitude, faith and joy. Brene Brown also argues that we cannot selectively numb; when we numb pain we also numb joy.

Then I thought about how my ego might be involved with all of this? My ego: that protective, monkey-like, child-like, scared, cheeky and rightious, easily humiliated, legacy part of my evolved human brain.  How big a part was it playing in all this fear and fear of fear?  Well probably quite a lot, mainly because I’ve allowed it to.  I sometimes think my ego is really me, and it’s voice is really my voice. So I listen when it says ‘How dare he?‘ and I agree, ‘yes, how dare he!‘ and I let my emotions whip up again.  And I listen when it says ‘if you let him speak to you like that, you are the biggest failure as a parent that the world has ever known! Loser!‘  And I say, ‘yes, you’re right. We can’t let that happen.  Better make him know his place. Better make him sorry.’  (Note: this never works…it only makes children and adults want REVENGE.)   And I listen when it says, ‘if you walk away now, he’ll have won. And then you’ll never be able to control him because you are conditioning him to act like this. Ramp it up baby! Ramp it up!‘  And, sadly, we all know how that ends.

So I realised that this wasn’t me being an awful, terrible mother. This was me being human.  And probably (I dared to hypothesise) it was all actually pretty normal, and not particularly unique to me. Please let it be so.

Here’s my current theory about what’s going on.  Long ago I established some reliable coping mechanisms to deal with negative emotions.  I took on the role as peacemaker, an emotional-smoother-overer, trying to make sure everyone was OK. And I suppose it worked a lot of the time. I could create harmony out of impending chaos or collaboration out of potential arguments. It felt good, so I did it more.  However it doesn’t work all of the time – and nor should it – emotions are there for a reason.  So my increasing failure to keep or create harmony when bringing up my family meant that each time a potential emotional situation reared its ugly head my fear ratcheted up a bit more, because the stakes were raised. The threat was higher, because defeat was more probable. So then the fear went up some more and so on until I find myself screaming at my 8 year old  – my gorgeous sensitive loving 8 year old – for getting out of bed. All because my coping mechanisms from years ago don’t work any more and I’m getting carried away by fear induced hormones that trigger my inbuilt flight or fight mode.  All the while aided and abetted by a very loud and unchecked ego.

Mmmm. What now?

My challenge is to work with my fear.  My fear of my fear of being a horrible mother.

First step – more noticing what is going on when fear visits.

Second step – more saying no to my ego and the stories it tells me.

Third step – more walking away when I feel triggered by fear and/or my ego.

Forth step – I don’t know.  That’s another blog post I imagine!

Let’s see what happens.

Wish me luck!

 

 

Written:  At home, on the table in my bedroom overlooking the garden.

 

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13Oct/15

Hello!

The Lilypa

 

It’s always difficult to know what to say in the first blogpost.  I’ve introduced myself (and my ego) in the About section. I’ll just briefly say that this is a blog about me discovering myself, unpeeling the layers of armour, insecurities, fears and beliefs that I’ve collected through my 43 years of life, so I can be who I am, rather than trying to be someone I think I should be.

Sometimes it will just be musings about me and my life.  Sometimes I’ll be talking specifically about my ego.  I’m going to feel self-indulgent writing this – useless navel gazing some people would say – but I know that it’s a deep need inside me to not only understand myself and the world, but to share what I learn with others who are also on the self-knowledge journey towards peace and happiness.

I’d love you to join me.

Thanks,

Thea