Tag Archives: ego

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.

 

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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11Dec/15

The Meaning of Life

existingwithmeaning

 

This last weekend was a hard one.  Or rather, I seemed to find it hard.

Things could be ticking along all fine and dandy one minute, then the next I would become emotionally overwhelmed or red-hot angry.  On Saturday night I got so angry with my husband, for being mildly irritated by something I said, that I could only speak monosyllabically to him for the rest of the evening – which is so unlike me. I usually react immediately and get over it quickly.

At one point on Sunday I was suddenly hit with a such deep and intensive despair that I had to take myself off to bed for over an hour. It was as if my body commanded me to, in order to survive. I lay in the same curled up position for the whole time, slowly allowing myself to recharge and regain my equilibrium, trying to have faith in the whole damn emotional process.

It was not a nice place to be. But I’m learning that it’s an OK place to be. It’s a necessary part of life and mindfully attending to these moments or episodes and accepting them is the only way to learn about and heal ourselves.  Emotions like anger and despair are useful because they are usually telling us something important.  They act as a wake up call for us to examine our lives and attend to what needs to be attended to.

In my case, my anger was telling me I was upset that I hadn’t seen my husband all week due to his work, and all day due to him taking our youngest son to a rugby match in London.  My (ego’s) anger was triggered by him being irritated with me when he should be happy to be spending time with me after so long (!). But the real reason behind it was that I didn’t like not seeing him all week – again! Fucking again! And then you can’t even discuss minor parenting decisions without getting irritated with me! ‘Fuck this shit!’ said my ego, egged on by the clarity of alcohol.

The despair on Sunday was linked to this: it was a sense of hopelessness that nothing will change, and that I didn’t think I could bare the burden of being the only parent to our children during the week any longer. I can do it – and I do it well – but not in the way I could if I had a partner around to support me, and not without the cost of wearing myself out constantly. And not without the cost of not being true to myself, even burying myself.  I recognised the despair as the regular call from my heart saying: ‘We are not meant to live like this” And my anger was saying “We are not meant to FUCKING live like this!”

It is all to do with creating meaning. Of being fulfilled – which comes from living with purpose and meaning.  If I had a reason to live like this it would be OK.  For both of us to work hard in our separate ways in order to achieve our family dream, business dream, or sense of personal fulfilment would be OK.  We might not choose it, but we might, if the costs and rewards weighed up.   But for me, there is no clear meaning to our crazy, separate, stressful life.  This was confirmed to me in bright lights when I read the following passage on Sunday evening.

 

Meaning-making is a defining charactoristic of what it is to be human. As we need food in order to survive and grow, so too we humans seem to need a sense of meaning in order to thrive and to avert despair.  According to the psychiatrist Victor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau, the search for meaning is the primary motivational force in human beings.  Existing without purpose or meaning, for humans, is like existing without air.  You can only go for so long before you choke. A life without meaning chokes the soul. Spiritual suffocation is the bedrock of the emotion we call despair – and a major reason for its pervasiveness in a spiritually and morally vacuous culture.

 

So it seems that I need to work on making my life more meaningful and fulfilling. I can do this with my husband and my children but I must also do it for myself. What is meaningful to me?  What will make me get up everyday and get to it with energy, enthusiasm, and excitement?  What ingredients does my life need to have in it daily, weekly, monthly, and in the future to make me feel fulfilled? What needs to be in my life to counter the hard work and seperateness of our life now? What changes do I need to make?  What boundaries do I need to put in place?  And  how can I cultivate my gratitude and appreciation of life rather than focusing on the negatives?

I do have meaning in my life already of course.  I have 3 amazing children who I have chosen to bring into this world and to look after personally.  I have an understanding, loving husband and a community of family and friends who I love. What is missing is my own personal purpose.  And a joint life plan with Chris – my amazing, dynamic, creative husband. I just need to make it happen.  Not everybody needs this. But I do.  I need clarity and meaning otherwise my ego starts getting angry at people I love, or I find myself folding into the fetal position to make it through the day.

 

 

Written: Started at home, finished in the cafe at Southwater County Park, Horsham.

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