But keep going even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard, because that’s how you grow up.
January 2, 2022
If I told you that my default is to think about running away when I’m frustrated, that would be true. But you wouldn’t begin to understand the depth of feeling that I want to convey.
When I’m triggered, I quickly devolve to the emotional maturity of a ten-year-old who was powerless over the authority figures in her life. The problem, of course, is that on the outside, I still appear to be a grown-up.
But inside is a different story. Inside I’m screaming, “Listen to me! Hear me! See me! I’m afraid! I don’t want to move anywhere in the middle of the night!” But since you can’t see that little girl, or hear her cries, you’ll probably be put off by a grown woman reacting with such intensity to something that appears almost inconsequential on the surface.
As a grown-up in training, I’m working on healing those unhealed childhood wounds that ooze and fester and overflow into my most important relationships. I’m not parent-bashing. No parent on the planet has met every need of their child.
We all have developmental stages that got short shrift, not because parents didn’t want or try to be perfect. But because parents are human — they don’t know everything. So, unless they carry us around in their pockets all day and night, they can’t protect us from everything.
Most parents work from what they learned during their own childhoods. And since it probably didn’t occur to them to spend every waking moment unlearning the unhelpful stuff, they left us with some wounds.
Never Give Up
I’ve learned that the trick with healing unhealed wounds is not to give up. EVER. To take one hundred percent responsibility for healing and recovering ourselves. To keep growing, even if growth is slow as molasses. To keep growing when it’s painful and embarrassing to start again over and over.
That doesn’t mean we do it alone. We get help, and we use tools. We see a therapist or a trusted confidant who’ll give us objective input. We journal. We get back in touch with our bodies through exercise, yoga, or any form of body movement. We take care of ourselves in any way that feels nurturing, empowering, and dignified.
Once we’re aware of a wound, everything begins and ends with the practice of the Pause.
I’ve come to believe there is nothing I can’t manage if I remember to Pause, breathe all the way out, and soften my body. The Pause allows me to come back to myself, often saving me from a blurt that can wreck an entire day or even an entire relationship.
Without the Pause, we’re likely spending much of our life on autopilot. Because, unfortunately, when triggered, we respond with defenses we adopted as children. And we can end up forever jumping through hoops that take us nowhere we want to be.
The use of the Pause as a tool has come and gone in my life. Sometimes I have it mastered, and then I forget.
Focus for 2022
My focus for 2022 is to keep going in my relationships, even when it’s hard — especially when it’s hard.
Accomplishing a behavior change starts with identifying a problem, setting an intention to deal with the problem, and creating a concrete plan to achieve a change.
Consider picking one thing you’d like to change and give these ideas a shot.
Here’s an example of a problem, intention, and plan:
The Problem: I respond reactively and thoughtlessly when triggered or hooked by someone else’s behavior or words.
The Intention: To practice new behaviors in my relationships when I’m triggered.
The Plan: Identify the behaviors I want to embody. List them on an index card. Read them every morning as though they are a meditation or a mindfulness practice to bring me back to myself in a healthy rather than self-absorbed way.
As an aside, reminding myself of how I want to behave, rather than focusing on what I don’t like, is critical to creating positive change. If all I focus on is what I’ve been doing wrong, I’m exhausted and shamed. That saps my energy and makes it difficult for me to create change.
Here’s a sample index card:
- Practice the Pause every time I breathe out.
- Be an active listener. Listen without interrupting and then clarify what I think I heard.
- Think before I speak. Or let you know that I’m thinking out loud.
- Recognize when I’m triggered and communicate that I might need a moment to collect my thoughts. (I know I’m triggered when my body is tight, ready to fight, freeze, or flee.)
- Speak calmly, thoughtfully, and respectfully, even when I’m triggered. (The way I’d like to be spoken to.)
- Stay on topic.
- When I’ve finished speaking, pause and wait for your response.
- Summarize and share final thoughts rather than walking away, rolling my eyes, or huffing with frustration, even if we haven’t reached an agreement.
That’s my relationship plan for 2022 using the steps outlined previously: Identify a problem, set an intention to address it, create a plan to accomplish a change, and practice the new behavior till the cows come home.
A reminder: You will forget and need to start over, again and again. There’s no shame in forgetting. The only shame is in ignoring. You can’t mend what you are unable or unwilling to see. So, look at yourself through kind eyes and gently allow yourself to begin again.
Because whether the relationships last forever or not, you will stop making the same mistakes in new relationships. You will come to see that taking one hundred percent responsibility for your emotional life calms every relationship you have. And you will keep growing into the most expansive version of yourself you can be.