Strength as a Stumbling Block

Is love like a muscle? When we don’t use it, does it weaken? Do we lose the ability to love and be loved in return?

This thought struck me over the holidays. I had gone to stay with my mother’s parents for a nice long visit since my family doesn’t really have a “home base” anymore. On Christmas Eve, a particularly challenging day for me, I found myself in the comfort of my grandma’s loving arms and I felt like I was in a foreign place.

What made this so strange? Since losing my mom, have I forgotten what nurturing love feels like? I realize that no one’s love can replace the love she had for me, but how do I deal with that reality?

Last year I wrote a blog about strength and now I sit here and question if this strength has now become a stumbling block for my life. Has it prevented me from feeling love in other areas of my life beyond that nurturing parental love? Or has the lack of the love I most desire forced me to build up my strength as a defense mechanism? Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

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That night at my grandma’s house, when her love seemed so strange to me, it brought on another feeling. Relief. For someone who wants to be strong, I have to admit that I will gladly welcome the moment when I can give my pillar of strength persona a break. Let’s face it, it feels good to be loved.

What about fear? The fear of becoming accustomed to that relief, just to have it disappear. Abandoned. I sometimes worry that these fears have caused me to make quick decisions in order to preserve my sense of strength. There have been times when others have gotten too close and I didn’t just back away slowly, I sprinted. I might have been preserved, but the others were left to deal with the results of my reckless and hasty decisions. The damage these decisions cause can be extensive and leave you to wonder if relationships can ever be restored or if you cost yourself a future.

Part of loving others and letting them love you is denying a portion of yourself. I will admit I believe my strength has made me selfish. I cling to this selfish strength in order to maintain my balance in life. However, thinking about it now, how balanced is a selfish lifestyle?

I doubt I’m the only one with this issue. We all have our own stumbling blocks when it comes to connecting with and loving others. But my question is, are you ok with this? I know it is difficult to change and you often can’t do it alone. I encourage you to take that first step, have that conversation with yourself or someone close to you! Remember, stumbling blocks won’t move on their own.

Emotion vs. Logic

Do you leave the job because you’re unhappy without finding another one first?

Do you up and move halfway across the country away from family and friends just because it feels like what you should do?

Do jump into that relationship regardless of any red flags because you just can’t deny that special connection?

The confusion between emotions and logic can be oh so overwhelming and cause both the head and heart to ache.

Some of us tend to have one or the other dominate our decision making. Which way do you go? Very rarely do we take both sides into consideration. It is interesting to me that we always pin these two against each other. It’s always one or the other.  Usually we must completely “turn off’ the other in order to make a decision.

So often we allow our decision making habits to define us. I’m a thinker, or at least I try to be. I was raised to use my head. However the over the years, I must admit I have developed an emotional awareness, too. At times I find myself in an internal battle.  I want to trust my logic because that is what I know and trust, but sometimes the emotional side is so appealing.

Is it too risky to pass up on the emotional decision? By trusting logic are we playing it safe? Aren’t our brains just as much a part of us as our feelings? So why is it often labeled as the “bad guy”? What about those who are not in touch with their emotions and cannot identify or deal with them? Can you trust something so alien to you with your life decisions?

Like I said before, I’m a thinker. I want logic to be the deciding factor. During my constant internal conversation, I convince myself how to feel. Every move and decision I make needs to get approval from that rational side of me. This can be a difficult process, and some may arguably tell me I’m wrong, but I trust this process. It makes sense to me.

So what are the implications of us deciding our head over our heart or vice versa? I don’t know if I can answer that. I’m sure there are many psychological and neurological studies out there to give their correlations, Tgraphs and statistics on this subject matter. I honestly don’t know what to take away from this little conversation. Maybe we need to pick a side, stick to it and always act accordingly, or maybe we should take the risks and let our hearts be our guides. On the other hand, perhaps we just need to think about it for a while.

Wallowing

We all have our moments of sadness. During these times it’s hard not to become overwhelmed with emotion and self-pity.  As my very best friend Emily tells me, “Sometimes you just need a moment to wallow.”

I tend to agree with her. Sometimes we can’t help but wallow like a pig in the mud. However, I would almost rather be the pig. They enjoy their wallowings. For humans, it is not so enjoyable.

Right now, as I sit on my couch, I am what I would call the upward climb from one of these “moments”.

What acts as the catalyst for these emotional lows? Of course it’s different for every person.

For me, I believe it’s the overwhelming amount of emotional baggage. Things were piling up and I collapsed. Bah. Have you ever felt that way? As miserable as I have felt the past week or weeks, I am actually glad that I have gone/am going through this. When I crack, I heal. It’s like building muscle. In order to build it up, you must first break it down. I guess you could say these wallows are, in way, a workout for your emotions.

I realize that this is a very positive outlook. (I might be faking a little or maybe it’s just wishful thinking.)  The point I’m trying to make is that maybe we need these emotional dips to show us what we are really made of. To get back to that place we consider to be our emotional normal, we need to put on our “big girl/boy panties” and work for it. That’s right it’s work. I literally had a conversation with myself today about how I was done with feeling so down. I told myself “Rachel, You need to be done with this wallowing business and get back to life.”

Happiness. Now there is a concept. I have asked several people, including my Twitter following, if happiness is a choice. Most said yes, but I don’t completely agree. I’m not saying that the world decides how we feel and we just go with it, but I think that the word choice just doesn’t do the process of becoming happy justice. Like I said above, it takes work.

Maybe a better name for this progression would be a “laboring effort”.

It’s a rigorous process of learning to be content with where and who you are. On the flip side, if you realize that there are things in your life that are getting in the way of you being content, you should probably make the decision to change. Do something about it. Make a list. Make a plan. Tell a friend.

Do not be complacent and allow yourself to be stuck in the depths of despair. I stick to my guns that wallowing can be healthy, but too much time gets you nowhere but stuck in the mud.

Side note: If you do need help getting out of your wallowing hole, ask for it! Remember you don’t have to do this alone.

Expectations

I’ve been spending the past few months thinking a lot and only blogging a little. The crazy of the summer is now over, giving me more time to sit and get my thoughts and words in order. Most of these ponderings have been focused around relationships. Not just romantic relationships (although, as a single gal in her mid-twenties, the topic has come up a time or two) but also friendships and that good old family bond.

For my own reasons, I kept coming back to how we disappoint each other. We hurt and cause the ones who are closest to us pain. Why? How?

The “aha!” moment came to me one day as I was helping one of camp’s counselors work through some of their ever-present camp drama. We get hurt because we have expectations. Expectations of how others will treat us and behave in our relationships with them. We assume our friends will call us on our birthday, our significant others will hold our hands when we need to be comforted, our parents will tell us that they are proud of us when we accomplish some great feat, and the list goes on…

Is it so wrong to expect these things of people in our lives? I would consider these relatively normal parts of being in relationship with others. So how do these expectations hurt us? The pain comes when our expectations are not met. Your parent doesn’t tell you they are proud, your friend forgets your birthday, and your significant other does not reach for your hand in that moment of need. Let down.

This begs a question: how do people know what we expect of them? To some of us these roles seem to be commonsense and of course, we tell ourselves that if we were in the other person’s shoes, no doubt we would have held their hand in attempt to comfort. But if there is something I am learning more and more each day, it is that some don’t know or understand these “given” expectations. They need to be told. (and the same goes for the not-so-given expectations)

Communication. If we took the time to let people know what we wanted and expected from them, I believe our relationships would be a lot more meaningful. I’m not saying relationships are all about one person’s desires. It has to be a two way street; you both need to share your expectations of the other. When you are connected to another, you most likely care about them, right? And you wouldn’t want to let them down or cause them pain, yes? (If you answered no, we need to talk.)

This whole communicating expectations thing can be a scary business. What if we share what we need/want from a person and they decide we aren’t worth the effort to stick around? Or by making ourselves so vulnerable, we are hurt with the harsh reality that the person just might not care enough to meet the expectations we have for them? We obviously want the person in our lives, otherwise why would we have these expectations? I’m not one to devalue another person, but maybe if someone doesn’t want to work to meet your expectations, they aren’t deserving of you. You can still care about them, but is it healthy to invest so much of yourself in them? (in a marriage it is a different story… and let’s not get into that just now, ok? good.)

Like I said, scary business, but unless we begin communicating with people in our lives about what we need from them, how can we expect things to change.

So I challenge you, cut the crap and start talking about your expectations with those you love. Take a deep breath. You can do it! Share those expectations with your wife, husband, significant other, friends, your coworker, or whomever. Maybe they have never thought about it and would welcome the conversation. You never know if you don’t try!

Control

Over the past few months I have been absent from the blogger world. I have started several posts on some interesting topics like empathy, crisis, regression, and emotional relapses, but for some reason or another I didn’t finish them.

I would like to say that this gap in blogging is because I have not been doing any digging and that I have everything together. Nope. Definitely not the case.

I feel very out of control. Control of what? My personal life, family life, emotional life, work life, love life… basically life in general.

Control is such an interesting concept. We all desire it, run away from it, feel anxious if we have it or don’t.

Just a few months ago my boss might have dropped a hint that he thinks I like being in control. What? ME?!! Ok, maybe… sometimes… most of the time. The idea of not being in control or being able to control things in my environment does give me a just little twinge of anxiety.

My biggest struggle is when I come to realize that I cannot control everything or everyone. I want to fix situations so that there is order and definite answers. I want to tell my friend how to feel in order to fix their life problems. I want to tell my coworkers how to do their job to get things done. I want a cookie cutter life put in place according to my standards.

Of course, this is impossible. First of all, everything isn’t about me and what I want. I promise I know that the world doesn’t revolve around me and what I want. (My brothers and sister might laugh when/if they read that because they remember a time when that might not have been so true.) Also, I really can’t tell people what to do with their lives because I get it wrong with my own so often. And telling people how to live their life is just a terrible idea a lot of the times because you don’t know why they decide to do what they do. Their motivations are their own.

The life lesson here is pretty simple. We can’t (and shouldn’t) control everything. Simple to say, harder to get for those of us desiring control.

What about you?

 

 

Questions

People ask questions. Every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or anyone who is around small children can recognize that time when kids become inquisitors. I read somewhere (probably a quote on Pinterest) that the average four-year-old asks 800 some odd questions a day, which seriously makes me think twice about ever having children of my own…

Our questions don’t stop when we get older. We are more resourceful in finding answers than when we were younger. We know where to look and whom to ask, but our questions also get more complex, and often times there are questions that no one seems to really be able to answer. If you look through my past posts, you’ll see that I usually ask about fifteen questions in as little as three or four paragraphs.

I was talking to a very dear friend whose mother is fighting cancer. Just thinking about what she is going through, having experienced a very similar situation, makes my insides hurt. It gets close to that “CUT DEEP” area of losing my own mother.

She and I were talking about things recently and she asked a familiar question, a question that I have asked myself during my own mother’s illness.  It is a very common question of people who experience loss. “Why?”

That’s a good question. Why? Why do we have to lose the people we love? Why are all our thoughts, dreams, expectations, and desires ripped apart and torn to shreds in weeks, days, even hours?

When my friend asked me this question I didn’t have an answer for her. I did try to say something comforting and insightful, but of course my answer wasn’t good enough. I knew it wouldn’t be. You can’t tell a heart why it is breaking. I think our Why’s of desperation and heartache are best left unanswered until we are ready to answer them ourselves. The answers we find ourselves (sometimes with the guidance and encouragement of others) in the grieving process can be the ones that are most helpful to us.

Others can help guide us in a loving manner, but be cautious as you attempt this. Don’t tell someone how to process or answer their own questions. We don’t know what is happening in someones head or heart. We can help with love and understanding.

Of course, hugs help, too.

What if…

Let’s play a game. It’s a dangerous, risky game that many of us tend to avoid, or we spend too much time playing it. What game is this? The infamous What If game.

How to play: Think of a moment in time that changed your life. It might not be just one moment it could be a whole line of moments that altered your future.

What’s your moment? Was it that person who meant the world to you admitting that they didn’t feel the same about you, watching someone you love slip away from this world, deciding on following a career instead of a person, or insert life-changing moment/decision here?

Next imagine your life as if that didn’t happen. This is a take two on life. That loved one is still alive, the ex didn’t crush you, you decided that your life was just fine the way it was, etc. It’s a vision of what your life would be like had x not occurred.

How would you be a different person?

Chances are you wouldn’t be the you reading this blog. Those big life events change us, build character and force us to evaluate who we are, who we want to be and how/where we want to go.

This might be common sense. We’ve read the cliché quotes about this on Facebook and Pinterest, but have you ever really thought about it in the context of your own life? And in thinking about it, what were your conclusions? Were you really satisfied with your conclusion and were you content with who you have become?

If you’re not happy with the way you have allowed yourself to be molded by life events, what are you going to do about it?

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In playing this game using the example of losing my mom to cancer, I can’t even imagine who I would be if she was still alive, or maybe I don’t want myself to be allowed to really think of life with Mom in it again.

I would be happier and probably feel more loved. My family would be closer with less conflict, or at least not as much of this new conflict. I wouldn’t have moved so many times. I might not have entered my previous relationship and I doubt I would be in my current job.

All of these things have shaped me. At this point in time I can honestly say I like who I am. I don’t like all the things I do, but I genuinely like myself.

There was a time when I didn’t like me because of the way I was reacting to change. I can’t pinpoint a moment when I miraculously said “Ah ha! I love me.” It was more me finding my value in something besides my actions and others judgments.

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The What If game can be dangerous. We can play it too often and it brings up old feelings and perhaps feelings of regret. We can get stuck thinking that things would be better if certain things hadn’t happened to us. In reality we know that we can’t go changing the past so we might as well accept it and just keep moving forward to make the best of our situation. Appreciate your experiences no matter how scarring they can be. You don’t have to love that they happened or be overjoyed at the pain they have caused, but know that they have given you opportunity to grow.

Think about it.

Emotional Hangover

People have been asking about why I wasn’t blogging and when I would be posting next. So now I feel the need to blog.

It’s not like I don’t have things to discuss. I actually have a list of topics that I would like to evaluate. The truth is I’ve been preoccupied with something the past few weeks that has distracted me. I was doing some Emotional Backpacking.

So, why am I not writing about it or the revelations I’ve had? I asked myself this question today and the first thing that came to mind was because I’m tired.

Do you ever get to a point where you feel so exhausted emotionally? Not an overwhelming exhaustion brought on by having too much emotion at once, but more like an emotional hangover. You’ve spent a lot of time focusing on certain emotions, identifying them and going through the steps to deal with them, and then you get to a point where you just stop. You don’t stop because it’s too painful to keep going, but you stop because the topic is exhausting. You’ve gone over it in your head and talked it over with friends and now it’s time to be done.

Have you ever felt this way? I would argue that this is a productive feeling. It’s a feeling of growth and healing, of moving on and closure. I’m not saying the situation won’t come back to haunt later on, but it’s good to know that you’ve identified, worked through, and now are sending your emotion off to college (hoping that it makes good grades and doesn’t end up back on your doorstep in shambles… ).

What do you do when you find yourself in this hungover state? I would suggest focusing on other things. Give attention to relationships and other things in life that might have been neglected while you were spending time dealing.

I don’t know where exactly things will go from here, but I am excited to continue on this emotional journey with somewhat of a new perspective.

If any of you have suggestions of topics you would like to see appear in this journey, please let me know!

Strength

“Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.” – Anonymous

I have been in a work- related travel coma and needed some inspiration so I turned to one of the deepest thinkers within my acquaintance- Brad. He made the suggestion that I write about strength because it’s something that often comes up in our conversations.

People tell me I am strong. I tell them it’s because I have to be. Or do I?

Strength according to my personal dictionary (Jon) is a person’s ability to “perform physical or mental repetitions effectively”.

What jumps out at me in his definition is the word repetition. Strength isn’t a one-time thing. It’s something that happens consistently over and over.

What creates such a pattern? Where do we learn how to be strong?

The example set by parents, guardians, siblings, etc. of course has an affect on us. But how do we decide which model to follow? The emotionally distant parent?  The aunt who just can’t seem to keep it together? The sibling who acts like nothing is ever wrong? In uncovering my own mystery, I am still trying to decide whose example I follow, but I would like to think the credit goes to my mom. She was a prime example of a strong woman.

I was looking back at some of my journals from when my mom was close to death, and I was amazed at what I was telling myself. I had a whole page in my own writing telling myself to “Hold it in… Don’t show emotions… be STRONG”. The word strong was repeated at least 8 times in a page and a half. Was I really being strong or was I scared?

Is fear the opposite of strength or does fear feed strength? Is putting off that awkward and potentially hurtful conversation with that person motivated by fear or strength? What about that family member who has changed so much to the point you can barely recognize them anymore.

I agree with my friend Steve, that some people use strength as a defense mechanism. I use it as a defense mechanism.

Is this healthy? If it gets us through, should we even question it? What happens when this repetition becomes more than just a way to get through? What if the cycle doesn’t end and becomes a part of our every day life?

Maybe we should confront the fear, allow ourselves to be weak in some of these situations where we feel the need to flex our emotional muscles. It could perhaps lead to a moment of truth, honesty, and growth. In the words of my high school cross country coach it could “build character” and you can never have too much of that.

Unhealthy Dealings

Warning: things are going to get real.

My junior year of college I found out that my mom had cancer… for the third time. Big news. Not the type of information a 21-year-old expects to hear or knows how to handle.

How did I deal? At this point in time I had yet to begin my emotional revolution. I wasn’t as self-aware as I am now.

I went to a Christian University and was surrounded by people who would have been there for me 100% had I simply asked. I could have talked to my friends, roommates, professors, the school counselor, campus pastor, and probably even the president of our university! All would have been happy to lend an ear or a shoulder to help me in my time of need.

You think I would have taken advantage of this extensive support network.  Did I? Nope. I kept them informed event-wise and there were some friends that I allowed myself to be open and honest with, but overall I kept things inside. I refused to talk about things because to say things  out loud meant things were real. Repression and denial were my new best friends. As some of us know, when we give in to ignoring our feelings we still need an outlet; release. What were my temporary fixes? Men and alcohol.

It’s so cliche, but it is what was available to me and it’s something I could rationalize. I mean, come on! I was in college- young and free to do what I wanted. Right?

*side note* Let me just say that I don’t look down on the American College experience, that time of irresponsibility can teach us some valuable lessons. Of course this is all within reason. Don’t become a slut and don’t go through college drunk all the time.

I drank with friends. I made out with quite a few guys while drunk… and sometimes while sober… to feel good. The affirmation from boys made me feel good. They covered up my negative feelings, filled the void for a short time.

But the morning after my evening of debauchery or locking lips with boy #17, the void-filler was gone. I was left empty once again with some added guilt and perhaps a slight headache (should have said no to that last tequila shot).

I used the vices of alcohol and physicality to try to help me ignore my reality. I didn’t want to think about how my mom might not be there to see me finally decide on my “big dream”.

Things could have been worse. I didn’t get too carried away with boys and the drinking. Compared to some people’s college experiences, I was still pretty tame. However, it was still unhealthy and damage was done. Damage beyond my liver. I risked not being able to cope or deal with emotions in the future. Unhealthy emotional habits are hard to break.

The law of diminishing returns also needs to be considered. Eventually those two drinks aren’t going to be enough. Simply sneaking away for an arousing game of tonsil hockey won’t make the feelings go away… what then? What would you turn to when your temporary fix stops “fixing”?

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I’d say that I have grown out of this pleasure-void-filling phase, but sometimes I find myself wanting to drift back to my old ways, almost like an addiction. When life gets tough, I am slightly drawn to the possibility of being “that girl”. What stops me? The empty feeling. The sadness. The regret. I know that by going back to who I was I will undo all the work I’ve been doing to get my life and emotions together. I would not like the me I would become.

What are your temporary fixes? What are things you would turn to instead of focusing on your emotions and reality? Have you tried to stop? Think about it. If you are comfortable with sharing, please comment. This is a safe place for conversation. Let’s talk!