This past week, I got into a huge fight with someone I love very much. You know the kind? When fighting with that person makes your heart drop into ice, insides liquify, and it feels like you are carrying lead around in your chest? It was awful. I wanted it to be over. I wanted it to be done. But I was so angry and so hurt by our interactions, I couldn’t find a way out of the dark basement of blame, and every interaction seemed to create a downward spiral.
I had a lot of trouble seeing how I could have avoided the situation to begin with and I was so upset, I took to searching for answers outside of our conflict. I searched within myself for my own responsibility for how the events unfolded and spoke with a therapist. I started reading and re-reading all my favorite self-help and spiritual books to try to understand how to let go, how to evolve, how to get out of pain from the interaction. Yes, they were all helpful, as always, but I still wasn’t sure how to move forward in a REAL and tangible way.
You want to know where my moment of realization came from? The big AHA?
I was watching Ellen and Anne Hathaway came on. For whatever reason, a lot people have a hard time with Anne Hathaway and despite her accomplishments, she receives a fair amount of vitriol.
Ellen broached the subject of a recent pain point for Anne Hathaway. The night after she won an Oscar for “Les Mis”, an article came out called “Why does everybody hate Anne Hathaway?” Oof. Ouch.
Ellen asked her how she was affected by the article.
“I listened at first,” she replied, “I couldn’t shut it off. And I realized the reason I couldn’t shut it off was because I hadn’t learned to love myself yet. I hadn’t gotten there yet.” She identified that article as the inciting catalyst for a huge internal growth spurt.
I talk a MEAN GAME about personal responsibility in my practice; standing fully in your truth, letting go of what you can’t control and taking the reigns of what you can. I coach my clients on taking responsibility for their own experience and releasing from needing to control other’s experiences. I tell them that everything can serve as a lesson for how to become more empowered and more at peace with themselves.
Well, it is easier to coach than to employ my own coaching. I’m still figuring that out.
I realized that my personal responsibility in this situation didn’t necessarily lie in how the argument started (the inciting incident), but in how I REACTED to it based on my own already existing “stuff” AND the dynamic between my loved one and myself (that of course, predated this argument). I was just as involved in the dynamics of our relationship (that weren’t working); that my constant self-protection and reaction were a crucial component for the creation of “the perfect storm.”
The argument rubbed up on my pre-existing self-judgments and it led me to REACT in a way that was totally unhelpful to the situation. And healing those wounds is my own responsibility at this point, not my loved one’s. Learning to love all of my highly imperfect humanity and choosing to act with compassion and love towards the people I love is my responsibility, (no matter what arrows are thrown) if I’m truly committed to those relationships.
On some level, the reason I was so affected is because I believed everything that was being said. Because I hadn’t really accepted these parts of myself or healed the wounds around those self-judgments, I was reacting like a wounded animal, and causing more pain and more hurt. Reactions are just as much to blame as actions. In fact, it can be said that all actions are reactions of some sort.
The personal responsibility lay in how I was REACTING as a result of my own problems with myself and in how FAST I felt it necessary to respond to defend those wounds. I’ve heard it said that defending yourself is the first act of war, and never had it made more sense to me that in this argument. The reason I needed to defend that part of myself is because it hurt so much when it got poked. It wasn’t the person’s words that killed me, it was my own words that I was protecting myself against.
“The more we feel flawed and unloveable, the more desperately we run from the clutches of our shadow. Whenever we reject a part of ourselves, we are confirming our fundamental unworthiness…Like being stuck in quicksand, our fundamental efforts to get away from our badness sink us deeper.” ~Tara Brach
What if instead of REACTING, I had just accepted what they were saying about me as a part of their experience, and let it fall to the floor, instead of gathering my ammunition and my case against them? How much pain could have been spared?
After watching this Ellen episode, suddenly my favorite self-help books (yes I am a self-help junkie, and it works for me), were 10X more helpful. Thank you Anne Hathaway.
In one of my now favorite books, Radical Acceptance the author talks about the sacred pause.
In the moment of emotional upheaval, we can take a breath, a moment, a pause to step out of ourselves and see what is really happening. We can observe ourselves, the pain traveling through our bodies, how our jaw is tensing and our heart feels like it is burning, how our thought process and how it is creating more pain for us. We can start to the see the origin of the pain, and realize it started LONG before the latest catalyst. We can surrender control and not “do anything” at all but be totally present to the human experience we are having and let it move through us. This ability to step out of ourselves has EVERYTHING to do with meditation and practiced mindfulness. It is hard at first, and is a continued practice but this ability to “step away” can profoundly affect our relationships and how we move through our lives with conscious intention, rather than reaction.
After taking time (seconds, minutes, hours, days, seasons), we can then choose how we continue to move forward; to speak or not speak, to stay in the situation/relationship/circumstance or to leave, to send or not to “send” on the inflammatory email, to choose the chocolate and enjoy it fully or to put it down. We are no longer a victim or our own emotional state or whatever trance we are having trouble waking up from. We can connect to our own inner-parent and guide and make proactive, empowered and enlightened choices based on what we truly want instead of self-protection.
It’s ironic because I had been describing the sacred pause for YEARS in my emotional eating programs as being HUGE for cultivating self-awareness and for breaking deep-seated behavioral patterns, but in this situation, I was a bit blinded. It never occurred to me to use it!
So, FYI, things are on the mend…once I saw had these realizations, I could have more compassion for myself, and funnily enough, for my loved one. We were able to let go, and create a plan of communication moving forward.
There were so many things I took from this situation, but the biggest of all, is how to take the SACRED PAUSE, how to take space to investigate why I react the way I do and choose to act consciously, instead of reacting. Also, that I’m still figuring out how to love myself. Yes, I may help others learn to love themselves, their bodies and their lives, but I am also a work in progress. I’m not sure the journey will ever be totally over. I’m complicated y’all and so are you! I have a feeling the journey investigating ourselves never ends, and that is kind of the cool part.
So, what are you taking from this post and how can you start to utilize the sacred pause in your life?
Thanks for reading!
Rock On & Be Well,