Candlelight

I am like a candle. My role as the wick is to stand tall and shine my light to all within my corner of the world, my sphere of influence. One candle doesn’t light up an entire room—much less an entire house—but it can light other candles, and has infinite potential if it just keeps burning. These lit candles have potential to reach the whole world, like the Olympic torch. 

The candle needs a few things in order to burn:

– First of all, it needs to be lit. It can’t start on its own volition. The spark comes from somewhere outside it. Our flame can be lit from other candles—when we’re inspired by people in our lives; or straight from the lighter—when our inspiration comes from God, our higher power. We must be close enough to—intimate with—others and God to catch the flame: we cannot be on the other side of the room.

– Second, it needs a fuel source: the wax, which must be continually pooled around the wick. The wax supports the wick and allows it to stand on its own rather than falling over. My wick draws consistently on this fuel source as it burns. I need to be constantly connected with people who fuel and support me. I receive what they freely give, and then I am enabled to give my light and heat to the world. The larger the circumference of the wick, the larger the flame, but the more fuel it needs.

– Third, a candle needs oxygen. If you put a lid over a jar candle, it’ll keep burning for just a second, then flicker and die. Oxygen can’t be seen but it’s constantly surrounding our flame and we feed on it, unless we cut ourselves off—which doesn’t mean it is gone, but that we can’t access it. The oxygen is spirit, God’s power, and the energy of the universe.

– Fourth, a candle needs to be trimmed. Sometimes parts of the wick get used up and must be removed. If not, the candle can still burn, but the flame flickers a lot rather than providing a steady glow, and the flame leans sideways. Trimming our wick is removing limiting beliefs and anything else that no longer serves us. The candle must be extinguished while the wick is trimmed, but can be immediately re-lit for a better effect. We have to take the time and effort to clean ourselves up and examine how we can be more effective.

Can you think of any other ways you may be like a candle?

 

Healing the Divide

A house divided against itself cannot stand. –Abraham Lincoln

What is really going on when you beat yourself up? In an assault situation, there’s a perpetrator, a victim, and sometimes a witness. When you assault yourself, you have divided yourself into these different parts. And you rationalize the beating by saying that the victim, which is yourself, deserved it somehow for being wrong or bad, or needs the “motivation” to straighten up and fly right. Have you ever heard these excuses given in response to a civil assault? The result is outrage. Where is the outrage when you abuse yourself in this way? And why is your “witness” part standing idly by and watching this all play out?

Last night I was listening over and over to “Halfway Right,” one of the last songs Chester Bennington of Linkin Park wrote before he took his own life.* The lyrics illustrate this dynamic perfectly. The verses allude to some cryptic, horrible mistake he made while high behind the wheel one night, and then comes the chorus:

I scream at myself when there’s nobody else to fight
I don’t lose, I don’t win, if I’m wrong, then I’m halfway right
I know what I want, but It feels like I’m paralyzed
I don’t lose, I don’t win, if I’m wrong, then I’m halfway right

What a heartbreaking choice for someone to make. I know, because I’ve been there, many times. I’m sure many of you can relate as well. We’re socialized to look for someone or something to BLAME for everything we see as “wrong.” When we recognize the object of blame, we lash out at it, because we really think that’s how to “fix” it. But when there is no outside entity clearly at fault, we determine that it must be ourself which is to blame, and play out the same pattern of violence by lashing out on the inside.

So who “wins” in this scenario? Let’s say the violent part “wins” by beating the blamed part into submission, which then is seen as “losing.” Or let’s say the blamed part “wins” by withstanding the abuse and not being “defeated” by the violent part. Either way, you end up feeling “halfway right” (and halfway wrong) because you neither lose nor win entirely. I would submit that in this scenario, it’s always a total loss for you. Not only do you FEEL paralyzed, but you actually are, because of your inability to take any kind of productive action, nor have you really learned anything of value or grown because of your experience. It also feels like paralysis because we get really good at numbing out the painful emotions this pattern inevitably brings.

Some may argue that beating themselves up actually does bring them positive results, and that by keeping themselves whipped, they accomplish their goals. But at what cost? Slavery did produce results by way of huge profits for plantation owners in the South, but it came at the steep price of the wounded hearts of both slave and slave-driver.

Kristin Neff, the pioneering researcher in the field of Self-Compassion, has done dozens of studies which show that beating ourselves up is actually the opposite of helpful. Think about it. If you beat yourself up every time you make a mistake, how likely are you going to be to pick yourself up and try again, or attempt something new or difficult? You probably wouldn’t; you’d shut down, in fear of the possibility of a beating. Also, think of a parent berating a child who brings home a poor report card. Is this action likely to bring the child’s grades up? Or would it be more motivating to sit down with the child and come up with an improvement plan, all while encouraging him that you know he’s capable of more and that you love him regardless?

By being kind and loving to ourselves, our capacity expands exponentially. Because loving ourselves results in a “whole” person, we become much more attuned to our true purpose, and our authentic goals unfold before us. We courageously strive, even when the chance of failure is huge, quickly forgiving and learning from our own mistakes and moving on. Our life manifests an abundant cycle of accepting and loving, giving and receiving, instead of the downward vortex of blaming and shaming, taking and losing.

Choosing to be wholehearted, to be merciful and kind to myself, is an ongoing journey that has brought me so much joy and peace. Stopping the cycle of self-blame and learning to love myself has also radiated outward and improved my relationships by helping me accept and love every person in my life as well. If you would like some support on your own journey, I can give you some tools that for me have proved invaluable. Please reach out! The wholehearted life is worth every effort, and it’s never too late to turn these patterns around!

 

*Disclaimer: I don’t presume to know the reasons behind Chester’s suicide. I am merely trying to show that he clearly understood this pattern well enough to portray it in such a way. The person who wrote these lyrics knows how it feels to be divided against himself, whether or not this led to suicide.

The Power of Identity

“The strongest force in the human psyche is the need to remain consistent with our own definition of ourselves—our identity. In other words, once we decide who we are as a person, then we will give ourselves no choice but to find a way to be consistent with that perception. However, many of us settle for an identity that is less than our true capability, so our job as leaders is to help others raise and expand their identity.” – Tony Robbins
 
The kind of person we believe we are determines everything that we do. So if you want to change your behavior, don’t focus on that. First, work on shifting your beliefs about yourself. Believe that you already are the person you want to be, and you will start to think, speak, and act that way until you become that.
 
When I was a teenager, I was insecure, shy, and fearful about talking to people I didn’t know well, especially adults. It was incapacitating at times, and I didn’t have the kind of relationships I wanted. After graduating from high school, I decided to become a new person: outgoing, fun, confident, social. I was headed to BYU where nobody knew me yet, which made it easier to shift this. It wasn’t “natural,” but it worked, and I had a great time in college. Plus, I never would have met my husband nor entered the teaching profession had I stayed my “old self.”
 
I’m still working on being more natural in interacting with people. The old fears and insecurities still creep up, but I’m usually able to ignore those and be intentional in how I show up. I’m loving how interesting and FUN it is to meet people and get to know them!
 
If you struggle with holding yourself to the identity you desire, get a mentor. He or she can hold that standard for you until you believe it, and help you remove what’s stopping you. It’s so worth it. There is so much joy to be found in loving who you are! How do YOU want to start showing up in the world?

The Parable of the Omelet

Did you know that at Golden Corral, you can ask for a whole-egg omelet instead of having them use that pre-prepped egg mixture? Not many people must request this. I watched, both fascinated and appalled, as one girl smacked a raw egg against the edge of the bowl about a dozen times before finally letting the innards slide into the bowl. Then she’d peer in and pick out all the shards of eggshell one at a time and throw them away. I assumed that with the second egg, she’d alter her method, but no. CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK. PICK-PICK-PICK-PICK-PICK-PICK-PICK. As she did the same thing all over again with the third egg, my mouth was literally hanging wide open. WHY would she smash each egg to smithereens, if she knew she’d have to pains-takingly extract each tiny piece of shell after?

As an expert egg-cracker myself, I know that you only have to gently strike a raw egg against a hard edge ONCE and then pull the two halves apart, and you don’t get any shell pieces in with your egg. It really doesn’t seem like an advanced concept. But maybe she never had her mother show her a better way to do it. Maybe she never really thought about optimizing her method and just assumed that everyone has to pick half the shell out of the slippery mess every time.

I’ve been thinking about how often we beat ourselves up for every perceived failing, thinking that we must be hard on ourselves in order to “force ourselves” to get the results we want in life. Our society teaches us that shame is an effective motivator, and we may not even realize that better methods are available. In my life, I’ve found that being kind and gentle with myself produces a much more favorable outcome. Not only do I feel comforted, loved, and soothed, but my results are better too. I naturally behave more skillfully in the areas that I once shamed myself for, as well as relating with more compassion and love to others, because I have started with myself.

This process has been slow, but I’ve made several shifts in the way I talk to myself. Instead of saying, “You’re so stupid! I can’t believe you said that! You ruin everything. When will you ever learn?” (CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK) I say gently to myself, “It’s okay. You didn’t realize. Everything’s going to be fine. You’re doing the best you can. I love you.” I still “learn my lesson” and make the changes I need to make, but this way, there’s no sharp eggshells in my omelet. I don’t have to go back through and tediously repair the damage I’ve done by contriving to build myself up when I need to have confidence in moving forward with my goals.

I’m far from perfect and often fall back into old shaming habits, both with myself and my family members, but I’m becoming self-aware enough to realize when I’m doing it and make a shift. I’ve learned several tools for self-compassion as I’ve studied this topic, which have revolutionized the way I treat myself, and it’s starting to positively impact all my relationships.

I hope that you will start seeing yourself in a new light, shifting from a critical, judgmental eye to seeing the beauty and greatness that God and others already see in you. If I can support you in some way, please comment or message me. I would love to be your guide on this beautiful and important journey.

The Silver Lining–Pure Gold

What if there is NOTHING WRONG with anyone? Could it be that every perceived flaw, failure, weakness, or limitation points toward our highest gifts and qualities? What if every hangup we have is the very energy of our life’s purpose trying to express itself?

I was privileged to gain this insight from the wise Gary Acevedo a week ago that completely turned upside-down my view of other people and myself. Although he expressed it so much better, I feel compelled to share it.

If you take some time to reflect on every upset you’ve had in your life, you will recognize some common threads woven throughout each. This just may be the key to recognizing your message in this life, your gift to the world, your mission. Every victory and defeat you experience will revolve around your message. Have you ever noticed how little difference there is between your successes and “failures?” It all comes down to mere perspective and whether or not our expectations were met.

Take any negative or limiting label we give ourselves and others and try to see it in a new way. Can you see how the noble energy of the person’s life message may have been turned inward or somehow warped by the circumstances of life?

– A depressed person may have shut down inside because they’ve thrown out the old meanings in life and the new meanings just haven’t shown up yet.

– A shy person may possess incredible clarity and insight, but may be hesitant to let that be seen.

– An overweight person may be wanting more from life and just hasn’t found it in the right place yet.

– An anxious person may possess great power to accomplish, but fears have shut down their ability to access this power.

– An emotionally sensitive person may be keenly perceptive and sensitive to other people and their feelings, but without opportunities to safely express this, it has turned in on themselves and become magnified.

– A critical or demanding person may hold to higher standards than anyone else and may be the best equipped to optimize processes.

– One who harbors self-doubt may hold the greatest insight to their true self but have been caught in emotional “black holes.”

– Those with abandonment issues may be the very ones who will never leave you.

– Those who think they’re stupid may be the most brilliant in the room.

– Those who think they’re unloved may be the most lovable in room.

Are you willing to look beyond the limitations of people’s personalities, successes, and failures to see the higher self shining through? With this higher vision, can you discern the message and purpose underlying every person’s choices? It is all there, waiting on a silver platter, if we only open our eyes and see.

“I Saw You Suffering”

Am I the only one who has kind of a morbid fascination with suicide? Well, with not the act of suicide itself, but the mindset of someone who would make this kind of drastic and irreversible choice; the factors and environment and thought processes leading someone to no longer want to exist on the planet anymore. In college I did a lot of research on suicide in literature. And whenever there are public suicides reported in the news, I haven’t been able to resist being drawn in.

Last week was another case of a well-known and successful person choosing suicide: 52-year-old Chris Cornell, best known for fronting the rock groups Soundgarden and Audioslave. I’ve immersed myself in his music for days, ever since I first heard about him taking his life by hanging. I recognize in him the soul of a poet–a deep thinker, a deep feeler.

“Choosing suicide” has been called into question by Cornell’s widow, Vicky, whom he called his “soulmate.” She insists that he never would have intentionally committed suicide, and that he wasn’t himself that night after taking too many prescription anxiety pills, which the shy loner needed in order to perform in front of large crowds. If that really was the case, it adds another heartbreaking dimension to this tragedy, and goes to show to extent to which drugs, even legal and prescription, can alter one’s mind and personality. But that’s a topic for another time.

It’s common for people to look for suicide messages in everything the victim had said or done before the death, or in this case wrote and sung about. I certainly saw some things in his music that can be read that way, such as this portion of “Worried Moon:”

Yeah if it all goes wrong
And I’m a heart without a home
Maybe you can talk me out
Of doing myself in

But since we all have our moments of depression, heartbreak, and despair, I decided to look for other kinds of messages he may have been trying to convey. Because he produced dozens of albums and hundreds of songs with four different groups, I’ve decided to limit myself to just his most recent solo work: Higher Truth. (Just the album name itself conveys importance and meaning.)

To start, enjoy the lyrics to his song “Misery Chain:”

Won’t you take one link, from this misery chain?
Keep it to remind you of a long-forgotten time or a place,
So that you recognize its shape, when it’s near,
Any time or place this misery chain should appear.

Take the locks and shackles, and melt all of it down.
Shine a light upon every shadow, every acre of ground.
The hidden corners on it all around,
Any way you feel this misery chain should be found.

When we’re gone, and it’s all said and done,
What will we leave?
Stories told, will they speak of us, when God only knows
What those words will be.

And if I should fall, from the top of the world
To the depths below, so far below where our belief could exist,
Down further still will be the one who hides the key.
And there to try to put these misery chains on me.

Won’t you take one link, from this misery chain.
Keep it to remind you, of a long-forgotten time or a place.
So that you recognize it, ’till it’s understood
That every trace of this misery chain is gone for good.
‘Til every trace of this misery chain is gone for good.

There’s a lot of meaning here, but what I took was that we need to hold on to just a small piece of the painful experiences in our lives. Not enough to cause us to relive the pain over and over again, but to be a reminder of it, so that we can learn from it and avoid going through something like that again. This allows us to “shine a light upon every shadow” and see things as they really are. We don’t want to hold on to the whole chain, because it’s too heavy and would enslave us in misery, but just one little link of that chain, in order to be equipped to rid ourselves of any future misery chains.

I also love the idea in the chorus of this song: “When we’re gone, and it’s all said and done, What will we leave?” It’s so empowering to think about the mark we’re making on the world because most of us are typically more focused on the daily trivialities of life. But we must all depart eventually, so hopefully by that time, we leave the world better off for us having lived. Also, it’s only God who knows the full story of our lives. We may think we know enough of certain people to speak of them and tell their stories, but our view is limited.

Here’s a portion of another song along similar lines: “Before We Disappear:”

Time ain’t nothing if it ain’t fast,
Taking everything that you ever had,
And giving nothing in return
But a cold bed in a quiet earth.
If there’s a door to every cell
A pearl inside of every shell then
How hard can it be
To share your love with me?
How hard can it be
To rise with me each morning?
I know that it feels like
We will live forever,
But I fear
That time will hide the years.
Life ain’t nothing if it ain’t hard,

It’ll show you who you truly are,
Knock you down when you get too tall
Till you’re spun around in a free fall.

But somewhere out there past the storm
Lies the shelter of your heart.

I know that it feels like
We will live forever,
But I fear
That time can hide the years
Like we were never here,
So hold on tightly my dear
Before we disappear.

He was clearly thinking a lot about his mortality and the short time we have to be alive. There’s a sense of urgency in the title “before we disappear.” Sometimes we lose touch with just how temporary our mortal existence is, and we waste time because “it feels like we will live forever.” But this song speaks to me of the importance and necessity of our relationships. Are we letting time steal the years we have, “like we were never here,” or are we making the effort to truly love each other?
This life is far from easy. In fact, it’s meant to be hard, to “show you who you truly are,” and to keep us humble. If it were easy, we’d gain nothing from it. It’s such a blessing that through it all, our loved ones can give us much-needed shelter from the storm.
Along similar lines to these songs is the chorus to “Our Time in the Universe:”
Save the dying arms of midnight
For the patience of the lapse of light
Cuz it’s our time in the universe
Well I don’t mind
If we’re blessed or cursed
And it’s our time in the universe
Yours and mine
Just being here and alive is something to be celebrated. At times we may consider ourselves either “blessed or cursed,” but that’s only a matter of perspective. Our existence here must eventually come to an end, so seize the day! As another lyric in this song goes: “So don’t worry on what tomorrow holds for you,” but live in the present moment.
The lyrics that resonate with me the most come from these selections of “Through The Window:”

I saw you suffering
Through a foggy window in the rain
When you thought no one was watching,
Going through your memories
Like so many prisons to escape
And become someone else,
With another face
And another name
No more suffering…
I saw you suffering
Through the cracked and dirty window pane
I was ashamed that I was watching,
Going through your imagination
Looking for a life you could create
And become somebody else,
With another face
With another name
No more suffering

…spit the ashes from our mouths
And put the grey back in the clouds
And send them packing with our bags
Of old regrets and sorrows
‘Cause they don’t do a thing but drag us down
So far down
The past is like a braided rope
Each moment tightly coiled inside

I saw you suffering
Through the yellow window of a train
With everybody watching,
Too tired for imagining
That you could ever love somebody else
From somewhere far away
From another time
And another place
With another life
And another face
And another name
No more suffering.

So many around us are suffering. Do we see them, through those foggy, cracked, dirty, or yellowed windows? They may think that no one’s watching. Do they know that you are there for them? Or are you too ashamed that you were watching them in their pain? Our culture teaches us to value independence above all, so we hide our pain and struggle from others, and assume that they want to hide their pain and struggle from us. When someone is “caught” looking, it can seem like a humiliating thing, for both parties. But is it really? There’s something so vulnerable about seeing through those windows into the pain of another. Anything vulnerable can seem scary, because our culture teaches us that in order to be strong and safe, we must keep our shields and defenses up. But is this really so? What if true strength is found in being ourselves and connecting with one other’s hearts?
What causes our suffering? It almost always results from being removed from the present moment. You may be stuck in the past, “Going through your memories, Like so many prisons to escape.” Or you may be living in the future, “Going through your imagination, Looking for a life you could create.” Either way, you will suffer. Memories and imagination serve important purposes, but they’re abstractions, and when we spend too long there, we become removed from what’s real and productive: right now. Anytime we want to be something other than we are, in another place than that which we’re in, or yearn to have another life or place or name, we are going to suffer.

I love the idea of sending “old regrets and sorrows” packing. Other than the little bit of the “misery chain” that is constructive to hold on to, these regrets and sorrows “don’t do a thing but drag us down.” The braided rope of the past, containing each moment that has gone before, is a heavy thing to drag around. When we can let it go–relinquish, move on, surrender, forgive–that’s when there will be “no more suffering.”
Since I’m currently reading the book Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, I can’t help but read into this song a perspective of seeing ourselves suffering. Even if no one else can see through those windows, we can see it in ourselves. We can comfort and soothe our own pain. When we can do this, everything becomes so much clearer and we’re equipped meet our own needs so that we can let go of that “braided rope” of the past that’s dragging us down. And once we’ve seen our own suffering, we will see so much clearer in order to be aware of it in others. Sometimes just knowing that we’re seen is all we need.
Although it’s so tragic that Chris Cornell is no longer among the living, I’m grateful for the impact his music has had on my life. I fully consider this recent delving into his Higher Truth album to have been a mentoring experience, and I hope that you have found some gold nuggets here as well!

You Created It–Label It!

I love the way the sun goes down each night and comes up again each morning. It provides predictable breaks in the flow of time, creating the manageable, bite-sized periods of life that we call “days.” Can you imagine how it would be to not have days, but just a free-flowing expanse of time? Without the contrast, without the natural endings and beginnings provided by day and night? I literally cannot imagine it. But sometimes, in my mind, I operate as though this were the case. Maybe you do too.

Do you sometimes feel like each of your days bleeds into the ones before and after until they become meshed together in one blob? Do you ever wake up in the morning already feeling burdened and overwhelmed by Yesterday rather than energized and eager to begin a fresh new Today? Does it ever seem like Tomorrow never really comes because you just keep living Yesterday all over again Today? In this post I will provide you with a very simple tool to help you leave the past where it belongs–in the past–so that you’re free to create each new day the way you wish. Sound good?

Most humans spend around 95% of their time in the land of “Has Been.” Our minds like to dwell on what has already happened in the past, because it’s concrete, certain, and we have evidence to show what happened and why and how. It seems more real than the land of “Will Be.” A lot of the time, when we think our minds are focused on Tomorrow and all the things we need to do and what’s coming up in life, we’re actually still in “Has Been” land because it’s all generally the same stuff we did Yesterday.

It is uncomfortable to truly spend time in the land of “Will Be” because it’s uncertain, we have no concrete evidence for how things will work out, we don’t have control over it, and it seems almost fake. Our brains don’t like this unpredictability, but our spirits love it and crave it. That’s because our spirits yearn to Create, and you can’t create in the land of Has Been. Everything we have yet to create is in the land of Will Be. And the only time we can ever create in is Today.

I don’t know about you, but I have ruined so many Todays by letting them become polluted by the mistakes and failures of Yesterday. I think things like, “That was such a stupid thing to do!” “I can’t believe I said that.” “What did I even do all day?” “If only I had ______ then things would be so much better.” “Why don’t I ever learn?” These thoughts, which are all from the land of “Has Been,” are so burdensome that the energy needed to accomplish my goals ends up going towards re-creating Yesterday’s failures. But with a new mindset, you can free yourself from this tyrrany.

The tool is simply this: at the end of each day (or first thing the next day if you forget), label that day with just one word, and write it down somewhere. You can write it in a journal, on a calendar, on a document on your computer, or use the Notes app on your phone (which is what I do). That’s it. Just one word for the day. It only takes a few seconds! You can always write more, and I usually do, but I can feel successful even if the one word is all I write. This tool is so simple and easy that you will probably think it can’t possibly be powerful. But give it a try and see what it does for your mind. I learned it at a training ten days ago, put it into practice, and have already seen my mindset improve, which has created more energy, less stress, and better results in my life!

Try to settle on the label that best encapsulates most of the day, or something significant from the day. And please be more creative than just the words “Good” or “Bad.” Those labels have little meaning. I love positive labels, such as Amazing, Accomplished, Connected, Powerful, Peaceful, Fun, Vibrant, Decisive, Inspiring, Treasured, Relaxing, Clarity, Fulfilling, Generous, Influential,  Reverent, Meaningful, Growth, etc. If the day wasn’t so great, you can use a negative label, for example: Frustrating, Disappointing, Lonely, Blah, Hopeless, Exhausting, Loss, Despondent, Confusing, Dramatic, Tired, Strange, Indolent, Flurried, Complacent, etc. Neutral labels can be useful too, like Quiet, Independent, Unbelievable, Interesting, Wow, Unexpected, Busy, Nostalgic, Extreme, Low-key, Alert, or Unforgettable. (It’s not easy to think of neutral ones, but I like how they can go either way. Please comment with more that I and other readers can use!)

So why does this work? Giving names to things makes them real in our minds. It’s hard for us to even think about things until they have a label, or name, or category of some kind. If it has a label, suddenly it Exists as Something. (You might argue that each day already has a name, such as Sunday, April 30, but dates are arbitrary and not personally meaningful in and of themselves.) Giving a label to the day separates it as distinct in your mind from other days that have gone before, and makes it feel “finished.” You don’t have to worry about it or dwell on it anymore because its creation has been completed. Those days with negative labels can be put behind you and filed away along with the lessons you learned. The days with positive labels can be celebrated as a great accomplishment and an example for future tomorrows. And the other days…well, they’ll count for whatever meaning they held for you, instead of just disappearing into oblivion forever.

Since I’ve started doing this, I automatically start out each morning thinking about what kind of day I want to create, rather than just letting the day “happen to” me. This makes it more likely that I will consciously and intentionally take the actions needed to get my desired results. Labeling each day causes our minds to become more aware all day long of what we are creating, and that awareness multiplies the choices in front of us about how we show up in each moment. If the way I’m showing up isn’t aligned with what I’m wanting to create, I can course-correct and salvage the rest of the day.

Recently in church we studied the account of the Creation in the book of Genesis and other scripture, and I noticed that the principle of labeling or naming what you create is an important part of the process of creation. God exemplified it first. He calls each segment in the creation of the Earth “The First Day,” “The Second Day,” and so on through “The Sixth Day.” And He also looks at what He created and says that it was good. Do we do this? Do we acknowledge that what we put forth effort to create is good? I think that one reason we don’t is because we don’t want to seem boasting or prideful. But we need to acknowledge, celebrate even, the good things we create and accomplish! In that acknowledgment we find closure for that particular creation and gain the accomplishment energy to go on to what we’ll create next. It’s a beautiful upward spiral.

So I challenge you to try labeling each day! It really is so easy to do. Just set an alarm on your phone if you think you might forget to do it. Make note in the comment section if you’re committed, to add some accountability. Also come back here and let me and the other readers know what your results are with this so we can celebrate with you! Or just comment with some awesome words that would make good labels. Let’s get a dialogue going!

(photo credit: David Swindler, Action Photo Tours)

From Victim to Victor (Drama Triangle series, part 3)

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

– Charlotte Brontë in Jane Eyre

I hope that becoming aware of the dreaded drama triangle (part 1 of this series) and learning that you can shift out of the drama into the more empowering creator mode (part 2 of this series) has had a positive impact on your life. I have two objectives with this third part: First, to denounce the “victim-shaming” approach common in the personal development field, and second, to provide you with some questions to ask yourself when you’re ready to make the shift from the anxiety-based victim mindset into the passion-based creator stance.

Self-Empathy

I cannot stress enough that the #1 most important part of the process of change & growth is to be kind to yourself. Most people who are striving to improve themselves–which includes you, the audience of this particular blog–beat themselves up continually for every perceived failing. They think that this will motivate them to change. However, no good, no lasting positive effect, ever results from an atmosphere of shame. Unfortunately, our society has conditioned us to believe that shaming has a purpose and can be productive. Even the personal development field is rife with attitudes of putting victims down (under the guise of trying to help “motivate” them) and condemning them for choosing such an unskillful mindset. I hear you saying, “But victimhood IS an unskillful mindset!” I do believe this is so, as described in my previous two posts, and that there is a better way to live, but what I’m NOT saying is that people are wrong and bad for taking on the role of the victim.

Every time someone chooses to go into victim mode, it is because a deeper need is going unmet. It is those needs that deserve attention, not the victim behavior, which is only the symptom of the problem. When a baby is crying, telling him to stop crying does no good. We don’t turn up our noses at the child and say, “He’s making the choice to be a victim” and lecture him on why he should adopt a more positive outlook. That would be ridiculous. Nor do we punish him and tell him that he’s bad. No, we just try to figure out what the baby needs and then meet that need, because he can’t meet it on his own. We all are like that little baby sometimes when we have an unmet need and don’t know how to get it met. We may pout, sulk, throw tantrums, or lash out. When we see that we are reacting in these less-skillful ways, let that be a red flag to alert us to the fact that we have an unmet need, so that we can take the proper steps to get that need met.

This looking for our own unmet needs and trying to meet them in loving, constructive ways is self-empathy or self-compassion. We are so often told to love others, to be empathetic and compassionate to them. But our first responsibility is to ourselves. We cannot be of much help to others when we are broken inside and in need ourselves. Every time we take a flight, we are told that in the event of a depressurized cabin, we are to attach our own oxygen mask first before attempting to help others. Same principle. Love yourself. Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can. Check back on this site for future blog posts about core human needs and some tools you can use to cultivate self-empathy and to demonstrate compassion to yourself at the times when you need it most.

That being said…Moving on!

The Three Vital Questions

When you recognize that you’ve been playing the victim, and you’re ready to make the shift to a more skillful inner state, asking yourself these questions can help:

  1. Where am I putting my focus? Ask yourself, “Am I focusing on problems or outcomes?” Whenever there is drama in my marriage, it’s usually because I’m overly-focused on the problem. For example, I say things like, “You’re not spending enough time with me; I feel ignored and unloved; I wish we had a closer relationship;” etc. These comments usually make things worse because they activate shame and drive us apart. When I’m outcome-focused, however, I can communicate the same concerns in a more constructive way that actually leads to solving the problem. “Can we set aside 15 minutes to talk after the kids go to bed each night?” or “I’d like for us to start going out on weekly dates” or “When you’re finished watching the game, would you please help me clean up the kitchen?” This approach usually elicits a more positive response, free of drama.
  2. How am I relating–to others, to my life experiences, and to myself? We have a relationship with every person, including ourselves, and with every situation we’ve ever been in. Are these relationships constructive or destructive, positive or negative? Ask yourself, “Is the way I’m relating to others perpetuating drama, or empowering others?”
  3. What actions am I taking? Ask yourself, “Am I just reacting to the problem of the moment, or taking deliberate action? Are my actions helping to solve my problems and contributing to the outcomes I desire? Am I spending more time planning my steps than actually taking them?” If you find yourself paralyzed into inaction by the enormity of the tasks ahead of you, look out to next thirty days rather than over the next year, or out to the next day or week rather than month. You don’t have to have it all figured out before you start. After all, the Wright Brothers experimented with different ideas and didn’t have a set plan in place, and yet they were able to achieve their dream of giving mankind the gift of flight.

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I like this graphic (from David Emerald) because it shows how these questions each build on one another. If we’re focused on problems, we’ll probably be predisposed towards anxiety when looking at how we are relating and the actions we’re taking. And actions is the last question because relationships trump them. No action is independent of a relationship of some kind.

An even more basic question to start with when you want to shift out of drama is, “What do I want?” Obviously, I don’t want a marriage full of issues and problems, but if that’s what I’m focused on, that’s exactly what I get. Instead, if I focus on what I DO want–a marriage of connection, passion, harmony, fun, and trust–I’m more likely to attract those things instead. Also, your mind notices more of what you focus on. The problems and issues may still be present in my marriage. But if my mind is focused on the positive aspects instead, I will notice those more than I would have, and notice the problems less, thus creating a happier relationship.

Other great questions to ask yourself in shifting into Creator mode are: “Why am I experiencing this? (Not asking with the intent of generating pity!) What is there to learn? How can I grow?” 

You may have already seen the following graphic in the previous post, but I’m adding it here for reference for the following section. Sometimes we may have already made the shift from victim to creator ourselves, but we need to shift out of being a part of someone else’s drama triangle. Asking yourself some other vital questions can help with that.

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From Persecutor to Challenger

If you find yourself commonly perceived by someone else as a Persecutor, it’s time for some introspection. The vital question in this case is, “What is my intention here?” Is it to be right or take charge or look good, or is it to support others’ growth and learning? Basically, are you focused on elevating yourself, or on helping them? When you’re focused on yourself, it’s no wonder they view you as a Persecutor. If you really do want what’s best for them, and they still see you as Persecutor, look at how you can improve the way you have been relating to them, or whether it’s even appropriate for you to attempt to be their Challenger in the first place. If the person really does need you to be a Challenger for them, if you are their boss or parent for example, remain firm, but be fair. Preferably with their input, set some boundaries and outline the consequences of their actions with them, all with the intent of helping them learn and grow.

From Rescuer to Coach

If people are often turning to you to rescue them from their problems, remember that this does them and you more harm than good in the long run. Ask yourself: How am I viewing this person (that I’m wanting to support)? Do you see them as needing to be fixed or needing someone to take care of them? If so, you are probably viewing them as a Victim and yourself as their Rescuer. Instead of reinforcing their powerlessness, make the shift of seeing them as a creator in their own right. See them as responsible for their own choices and actions. Then you will have made the shift to being a Coach.

A Coach asks questions and helps someone clarify their vision rather than merely tells them what to do or solves their problems for them. Some questions you can ask the person are:

  • “What do you want?”
  • “What’s your current reality?”
  • “What are the possible baby steps you can take toward what you want?”
  • “What support can I offer you?

Choose Choice

The key point I’m trying to make with all of this is to choose choice. Having the ability to choose brings limitless power. Be aware of how you’re relating. Think the thoughts, say the words, and take the actions that will enable you and others to make choices rather than limiting choice. If you haven’t been skillful at this, no shame. Take it easy on yourself and go forward with a new mindset.

I’ll leave you with a powerful declaration that you can say out loud when you feel stuck in drama: “As a creator, I own my capacity to respond to my life experiences, even when I feel victimized.”

I love you all. Choose choice.

 

 

 

The Empowerment Dynamic (Drama Triangle part 2)

Who’s ready to be done with drama, forever? It’s possible! Simple, too. Not necessarily easy, but simple, and anyone can do it, no matter what your circumstances may be.

In my last post, I taught about the dreaded Drama Triangle, and how victims take that role on themselves when they blame villains, or persecutors, for their problems. They see themselves as helpless and powerless, and look to a rescuer to make things better. I explained how these rescuers unwittingly keep victims down by reinforcing their sense of powerlessness.

Sometimes simply being aware of these three players in the situations that arise in your life is enough to cause you to shift your perspective and make different choices. The feedback I received in response to the previous post confirmed that to be true. But there’s an even more powerful way to rise above drama. Instead of merely trying to avoid and/or stop drama, you focus on what it is that you DO want to create. This is where the Empowerment Dynamic comes in. This is the antidote to the Drama Triangle, and it is glorious!

Before diving headfirst into that, it’s important to draw a distinction between victimization and victimhood:

Victimization happens when one’s dream or desire is being denied or thwarted by another person or circumstance. If you think about it, you can be victimized quite often throughout the day, whether it’s a traffic jam that makes you late for work, or your economic situation that isn’t allowing you to take your kids to Disneyland, or more serious incidences which cause you pain and suffering. You can find 10-point scales out there ranking different incidences in terms of severity. First-world problems (or the “cruise-world problems” I wrote about in this satirical post) would be 1-3 on the scale, with more life-altering situations such as job loss or illness in the middle of the ranking, and disasters such as those which make news headlines in the 8-10 extreme. As varied as our experiences may be, victimization is a part of life in this fallen world for every one of us.

Victimhood, on the other hand, is a source of identity, an orientation, a way of being in the world, in response to victimization. Victimhood is distinct from victimization in that an external event is being given power to define one’s very identity. When we say things like “This always happens to me,” or “I can never catch a break,” etc., it’s an indication that we’ve taken on victimhood orientation. Here’s the important part: even though we may be victimized, we can always choose whether or not to take on victimhood. Without putting our head in the sand, we can acknowledge the reality of victimization, while choosing our attitude and actions in response to it. The stories we tell ourselves are very powerful.

The key is where we put our focus. Are we focusing on problems or outcomes? Instead of looking for someone to blame, or someone to rescue you, think instead about the choices you have available to you and about what your ultimate end goal is. It feels a lot more comfortable in the moment to lounge in victimhood and point fingers outward rather than take responsibility for moving forward. But I promise you, when you live your life primarily as a creator, you will find joy and satisfaction far surpassing the momentary pleasure and comfort one may find in victimhood.

Okay, so here’s David Emerald’s diagram of the Empowerment triangle, placed over the Drama triangle. Each of the three players in the Drama triangle has an antidote counterpart in the Empowerment triangle, and I’ll go into those in a minute.

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Just as you choose to put yourself into the Drama Triangle by focusing on problems, you also choose to put yourself into the Empowerment Triangle (aka TED: The Empowerment Dynamic) by focusing on outcomes–what you want to create, contribute to, have, do, become, see happening, etc. It’s as simple as a shift in perspective and can be done in the snap of the fingers.

The drama triangle operates through anxiety, whereas the Empowerment Dynamic is fueled by passion. I’ll talk more about passion in a future post, but it actually means “to suffer.” Being passionate about something means we are willing to suffer for it, which probably won’t be pleasant or comfortable, but the rewards of peace, fulfillment, love and joy come through the creation process and in no other way. When we’re passionate about the positive outcomes we intend to produce, we become creators, generating growth and progress for ourselves, others, and the whole world!

Persecutors or Villains are still operating in the Empowerment Dynamic, making things difficult and causing situations that we’d rather not be in. That’s just always going to be the case. The difference is, in Creator mode, we label them Challengers. Nothing about them changes except our perception of them. Instead of viewing them as persecuting us, we view them as challenging us to rise up and be our best selves, to spur our growth and development. In this way, we hold onto our own power over ourselves, and those former villains do nothing more dastardly than “red-flag” our weaknesses or become catalysts for our growth. If nothing else, Challengers help us develop patience and resilience, which can’t be brought about any other way than by going through challenges.

Can you imagine how boring it would be if everyone was perfect and behaved exactly as we expected and wanted them to? If every situation went exactly according to our plans? When we recognize and celebrate our differences from one person to the next, and the randomness of life, it becomes so much richer and more vibrant. Think about that the next time you want to wish away your particular Challengers.

Rescuers or Saviors still come into play as well, but we view them instead as Coaches or Mentors. We no longer give away our power to them, but allow them to guide and instruct us. We retain our power over our own lives by taking personal responsibility for our own results, and then that power grows.We turn to coaches and mentors not to get out of a challenging situation, as we would with a rescuer, but for support and guidance through our challenges. A real coach or mentor doesn’t take credit for our successes, but is more like a teammate and supporter, sharing in and celebrating our successes with us.

A coach or mentor can even be someone we’ve never met, but who we’ve learned from or whose example we follow, such as Christ, the Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln, Justin Timberlake, etc. Nor does a coach even have to be a person. I believe animals also support us and can be examples to us, and that we can find great strength just from being in nature. There are also habits and routines that support us, as well as physical objects which we particularly love.

Is all of this making sense? Please ask away if you have any questions, and feel free to share your experiences in the comment section. I’ve planned one more installment in this series, in which I will be giving you powerful questions to ask yourself to help you shift out of the lower triangle and into the upper.

Remember, the choice is yours. Are you going to give away your power, operate under anxiety, and worry constantly about problems? Or are you going to retain and grow your power, live with passion, and make your dreams come true? It’s up to YOU!

 

The Drama Triangle (part 1)

Six months ago I learned about a framework called the Drama Triangle. It’s been on my mind ever since, and now I see it everywhere. Those who I’ve taught about it have found value in the way it conceptualizes the victim mentality. It’s simple, yet profound at the same time, as all the truest things are. 🙂 I knew I had to share it on this blog. And since there’s a wealth of ways to extend and apply this framework to different aspects of life, I’m breaking it up into 2 or 3 separate posts. Be excited–there’s more to come!

Before diving into the content, I wanted to add context about my own ongoing journey from victim to victor. As a child and into young adulthood, I didn’t think I had much of a choice about the way my life unfolded. I thought that things just happened to me and that I didn’t have much control over my feelings and reactions. I was fearful around most people because I saw them as having power and myself as helpless. Either that or, with those I considered myself already having power over, such as my younger brothers, I’d manipulate and control them to make sure I kept the upper hand and got what I wanted. Even when people did nice things for me, I would suspiciously wonder what selfish motives underlay their actions rather than attributing it to love. I didn’t see others as REAL people with their own thoughts, feelings and perspectives. They were more like objects that were either roadblocks, saviors, or non-entities, because I only viewed them in relation to myself.

Although I cringe to look back on how I used to be, I have to give myself a break, for not really knowing better. Looking back at how I was raised, I don’t recall much instruction in emotional intelligence or social skills, either at school or home. The little bit I did get came from church, although the concrete tools taught were limited and seemed to only apply in isolated situations. So, I was largely left alone to navigate the complex worlds of emotions and of social relationships through trial and error.

The most difficult relationship of my youth was between me and my dad. Because we just couldn’t understand each other and kept triggering each other every time we tried to communicate, things were broken between us for a long time. For something like eight years, I neither hugged him nor told him I loved him. Although we have a good relationship now, I still feel sad about my part in the disconnect and to have missed out on what might have been.

I’ll come back to that story. First, here’s the Drama Triangle framework, which was first conceptualized in the 1960s by Dr. Stephen Karpman. David Emerald precedes it with “Dreaded” in order to acronym it D.D.T.–like the poison–because it’s toxic to relationships and to peace and happiness.

At the bottom point of the triangle, VICTIM is player #1. A person assigns himself or herself the role of Victim. We step into this mindset through the disempowering stories we tell ourselves and meanings we attach to others’ behavior and the experiences of life. Victims don’t see their own thoughts and actions as contributing to their circumstances. They see other people and situations as having the power over their lives. Because they don’t take responsibility for a given situation, they don’t take action to change it and just wait for others to change it for them, or manipulate them into it. Wherever there is drama, there’s always a victim.

PERSECUTOR is player #2. A persecutor inflicts their will on another person, usually in a dominating or blaming way. A persecutor can also be nonhuman, such as an event that creates a problem; for example, a recession or natural disaster. A persecutor is either real or perceived, from the point of view of the victim. (I don’t minimize the fact that real abuse happens in the world. There are actual persecutors out there; not simply perceived. And yet, it is possible to be actually persecuted without necessarily stepping into the Victim role or blaming yourself.) Although our society likes to blame persecutors for any drama that exists, I’m learning more and more that the persecutor doesn’t really have much to do with it. Stay with me here and read on.

RESCUER is player #3. The rescuer is any person, thing, or experience that the victim turns to to solve their problem or temporarily distract them from or numb their pain. The victim believes the rescuer can make the persecutor go away. A rescuer may not always be present or apparent in every situation, but the victim is constantly looking for it, yearning to be rescued somehow. Rescuers can show up in many forms–a friend who takes pity on you or gets indignant on your behalf; a parent, spouse or coworker who goes after and takes down your persecutor; distracting addictions such as shopping, eating, gaming, social media, substances, etc.; “feel good” literature designed to soothe and excuse–to name a few.

You may look at these three players and think: “Well, if I’ve gotta be one, I think I’ll be the rescuer. I’m a nice person and I like to help people, especially underdogs.” But know that nowhere in this dreaded drama triangle is a place you want to be. All three roles are disempowering and toxic by nature. Rescuers actually do more harm than good. Rescuers keep victims stuck in their own victimhood by reinforcing their sense of powerlessness. They say things like, “Oh, you poor thing! How awful!” or “I can’t believe he did that to you! What a jerk. I’d like to throttle him!” or “It wasn’t your fault. There was nothing else you could have done.” Although these may seem like nice things to say, all it really does is elevate the rescuer, making them feel important and needed, and keeps the victim stuck in their low place.

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What I’ve learned about the roles of victim, persecutor and rescuer has helped me understand why things went wrong with my dad. Whenever he treated me “unfairly,” which I perceived as happening often, I saw him as my all-powerful persecutor and myself as a helpless, innocent victim. We had arguments when I wanted to spend time with my friends and he thought once a week was too frequent, or if I invited people to our house before making sure it was clean. I didn’t think I had any real choices besides reacting to his authority through yelling, crying, resisting, pleading, retaliating, etc. And despite my dad’s efforts to “teach” me through doling out severe consequences when I behaved in such ways, I didn’t see the connection between my own behavior and the way I was being treated. I viewed his “teaching” only as further persecution, so I defended against it rather than taking the opportunity to learn and grow.

If my dad was my persecutor, my sweet mother was my rescuer. I would give her sob stories about how unfair my dad was being, and she would try, usually unsuccessfully, to intercede on my behalf. I would listen to them argue with my ear pressed up against their closed bedroom door and feel a twisted sense of satisfaction that my mom was taking a stand for me. I had been pleased that I had an ally and that she loved me enough to take my side, but it made me sick inside to see what the contention was doing to their marriage. I felt guilty about being the thing that came between them and thereby weakened our entire family. But those guilty feelings weren’t enough for me to change the dynamic. And I hate to admit it, but I didn’t respect my mom very much when she was my rescuer. I didn’t see her as a real person with feelings, only concerning myself with how she could help me get what I wanted.

So the years went by. I convinced myself that I didn’t want or care about having a relationship with my dad. I had stacked up so much evidence of all the wrongs against me, and of my innocence and entitlement, that even when my dad wrote apology letters and left them on my pillow, I wouldn’t budge an inch from my victim stance. The letters pulled at my heart when I would first read them, but then I’d convince myself that he was just trying to manipulate me. In fact, I took on the persecutor role against him many, many times because I thought that that was the only way to avoid being the trodden-under victim. I was not myself. And I was so, so sad.

I took the victim mentality with me into other relationships, including my early marriage, and I remained sad and felt trapped. It was only when it finally sunk in that I am always at choice, no matter how other people act, that I started to change my thinking and behavior patterns. I feel so much more empowered now as I strive to take responsibility for my own part in the situations that arise. I still have a long way to go, but the peace I feel tells me I’m on the right track.

Friends, the drama triangle is never a place we want to be. The good news is, we can choose to step out of it and into more empowering roles. We can shift our focus away from problems and onto what we want to build and create. Part 2, my next blog post, will be about the Empowerment Triangle, and how the situations and relationships in our lives can help us grow and get us closer to our goals. Watch for it within the next few weeks. This information has blessed my life and I know it will bless yours as well. (*High five* if you actually stuck with this clear to the end!!!)