Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

Have you ever been subject to unkind words, insensitive comments, or criticism? Have you ever felt that something you did or said was misunderstood, misconstrued, or picked apart by others? Have you ever invested your time and energies into something meaningful to you, something that you cared about dearly, only to learn that your efforts would be met with negative feedback? Has there ever been a time where you invited dialog from others, hoping for help and constructive suggestions, and instead received messages about what you have done wrong with no mention of alternative solutions? Have you ever felt judged unfairly or labeled because of a single trait, decision, or characteristic of yours? Have you ever felt that you were, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t”?

I am willing to bet that you have. It seems that each and everyone one of us can relate to these feelings. We have all been criticized, fairly or not. Therefore, we are all familiar with the sting of harsh words. We all know that criticism can hurt.

Criticism can hurt, not just because people disagree with us or because there are people that do not prefer us. It is hurtful not only because it points out our mistakes, faults, and imperfections. Rather, criticism seems to be most painful because it leaves us feeling misunderstood, mistranslated, misconstrued. It leaves us feeling short-changed, judged, and undervalued. Quite often we feel frustrated, picked apart, ganged up on. Criticism often leads to self-doubt, insecurity, and self-consciousness. Criticism is deflating. It is discouraging. Disheartening.

And yet, criticism serves a purpose. When delivered with care, criticism can be eye-opening. It can lead to growth, self-discovery, and awareness. Criticism, when constructive, can lead to much better outcomes for ourselves and others. It can help us learn, overcome difficulty, and master our skills. Criticism is necessary for objectivity, critical thinking, and honest feedback. At its best, criticism allows us to better understand ourselves and strive for improvement. At its worst, however, criticism is damaging and destructive.

So how do we handle criticism, if it is such a necessary part of communication and understanding? How do we tell someone something negative, knowing that such a message has the potential to hurt them? Do we tiptoe and skirt around sensitive issues, forgoing such honesty? Do we avoid an opportunity to help someone because it might be uncomfortable for them?

No, we do not. Instead, we ensure that our messages, if they are necessary at all, are delivered with compassion, empathy, understanding, and balance. We give careful consideration so that we are helpful, constructive, and supportive. We may even consider offering suggestions and alternative solutions, ideas, and perspectives and providing an explanation of the rationale behind them. Additionally, we make certain that we understand what it is that we are discussing, and we take into account the perspectives and experiences of the people involved.

So how then, might we better receive such criticism, especially when it is not delivered with care? Do we take offense, particularly if we are insulted? Do we disregard everything we heard about ourselves that we do not agree with? Conversely, do we internalize any and all criticism and assume it to be true? Do we allow it to alter our self-image or our belief in ourselves? Should we apologize, excuse, or deny parts of who we are because they were subject to criticism?

No. Not at all. Instead, I encourage you to listen to criticism with strong ears and considerate it with an open mind. Refrain from all-or-none thinking, and do not assume everything you hear to be true. Instead, adopt an objective perspective when making sense of such feedback, and take it for what it is worth to you. Ask yourself what can be learned from it, if anything, and do what you would like with such information.

Take a moment to consider criticism from a new angle. Recall what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such messages, and show compassion to those that you speak to. Ensure that your words come from your heart, and be selective with what you choose to share with others. As you take the time to reconsider criticism, also reflect on how you might better receive such messages the next time you are criticized. Assume an objective stance if you can, and be selective with what you let affect you. Remind yourself that there is nothing on this earth that cannot be criticized and do not allow yourself to be negatively impacted by the opinions of others. Instead, try only to learn, grow, and evolve from such experiences, or do not allow yourself to be affected at all.

You are unique. You are beautiful. Capable. Loveable. You have a calling, you have dreams, and you should absolutely follow your heart and know that you are a precious rarity. Hold this to be true, revel in who you are, and let no one take that from you. No matter what they have to say about it. Ever.

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Hurt People Hurt People

If you have ever been a part of a relationship, I am willing to bet that you have also found yourself amidst an internal struggle that is, at least in part, due to something that has happened within that relationship. Something that was confusing, hurtful, or upsetting. Something that was difficult to let go of, move on from, or understand. As such, I am willing to bet that whatever it was that had caused you discomfort has also had a lasting impact on you in some meaningful way. Perhaps it has influenced how you approach people. Perhaps it taught you a valuable lesson. Perhaps it shaped you in some other meaningful way, for better or for worse. Rarely do we make it through such things without an impact being made.

Because of this, it comes as no surprise that such lesson can be quite difficult to learn. That we may be rendered incapable of embracing a lesson until we are capable of approaching the situation from an entirely different perspective. A perspective that does not focus on the hurt and is instead driven by a compassionate empathy for all that are involved. A perspective that allows us to let go of what may otherwise hard to set free.

When you take a moment to think about the implications of approaching painful circumstance in such a loving way, it is no wonder that many of us undergo a transformation of sorts as we move forward. It is no wonder that we also begin to soften, forgive, and let go of that which has hurt us in the past. I say that this is no wonder, because I believe that when we are able to approach another human being from a point of compassion, we begin to see life through their eyes, instead of through our own, and in doing so, we often gain a better understanding of their true intentions and greater insight into their deeper experiences. Rather than being convinced that we have been hurt by their selfishness or deceit, we may see instead that they were driven by another force entirely. Or, rather than looking down upon them with disappointment, judgment, or condemnation, we may soften our gaze and realize that they are coming from a place that we otherwise may not understand.

And of course, as I say this, please understand that I do not mean to minimize any pain that has been experienced, nor excuse any wounds that have been inflicted. I only mean to say that it does seem to feel better, and therefore take us farther, when we are able to invest in love and compassion and allow our pain to be transformed, rather than submerge ourselves in negative and destructive emotions.

So today, if you find yourself revisiting a painful relationship, I challenge you to consider the alternative perspective. Attempt to understand what may otherwise be unfathomable. Reject the victim mentality and let go of blame. Instead, hold fast to your optimism in humankind and have faith in what you believe to be good.

You Will See It When You Believe It

 

A belief, as defined by the dictionary, is the psychological state in which an individual holds a premise to be true. 98-367

To have beliefs, or a belief system, is very human. Our beliefs, in part, help us conceptualize the world, and make sense of our experiences. Beliefs may be based on evidence, personal values, and convictions. They may stem from socialization, or they may be deeply personal. A belief may be quite accurate as defined by reality, or it may be entirely untrue when measured by the same standard. Beliefs stem from personal convictions, thought processes, and feelings, and they vary greatly from person to person. Beliefs are not right or wrong, valid or invalid. They are beliefs. And they are deeply personal, and very valid and true to the person that deems them to be so.

Take a moment, if you could, and reflect on your beliefs. Do you tend to form your beliefs based on factual information, or are your beliefs more difficult to prove as “true”? Do your beliefs stem for your background, upbringing, peers and society, or do you hold them contrary to popular belief? Do your beliefs incorporate religion? Spirituality? Moral values?  Human nature?  Are they based on your perceptions, judgments, schemas, or experiences? How are your beliefs representative of your thoughts and feelings?

Think now, for just a moment, about how your beliefs serve you. How much do you rely on your beliefs to guide you through this world? How flexible or rigid is your belief system? Do you compare them to those of others, or label beliefs as right or wrong, better or worse? How well do you know and understand your beliefs? How much consideration do you give to the beliefs of others?

And finally, I would like you to consider what you believe to be true about yourself.

As you do this, perhaps you will become aware that your beliefs about yourself are secure, reassuring, positive and empowering. That you are able to accomplish anything you choose to do. That even while you have both strengths and limitations, you are a uniquely beautiful and  gifted individual. You have worth. You are valuable. I hope that as you reflect on your beliefs about yourself, you feel self-love, self-awareness, and self-efficacy.

But what if you do not? What if, when you reflect on your beliefs about who you are, you realize that your beliefs are quite limiting? What if you believe that you are a lost cause? That you are not good enough. What if you believe that you cannot make a difference in this world, that you are dispensable? What if you believe that you are faulted, or at fault, when things go wrong? What if you believe that love is conditional, that you must fit a mold in order to be loved, accepted, cherished?

What happens then, if you realize that you are harmed by your very belief systems?

If you come to the realization today that you are the victim of limiting beliefs, I will tell you that you are in luck. You are luck, because you have the power to change those beliefs. You are in luck because the first step to changing your core beliefs is to identify them. You are in luck because you have made a self-discovery, you now have greater self-awareness, and you are now closer to making positive changes in your life. If you have identified a belief that is not working for you, you are able to change it. You are able to combat the negative self-talk, and replace it with positive dialogue. And as you practice doing this, you will be able to shift your perspective, changing how you look at the world, and slowly but surely, changing your beliefs about yourself. And once you are able to do this, you will instantly change your reality.

Today, my cherished birds, take a moment to examine your beliefs yourself and the world in which you live. I hope you notice that these beliefs are positive and empowering. But if any part of them is not, remind yourself that they do not have to stay this way. Remind yourself today that while your beliefs do define your reality, you may change them. You may do anything you so choose to do, whether you believe it or not. You may change your reality by changing your beliefs.

Spread your wings just a bit wider today, my birds, and challenge your beliefs. Sing songs of praise to yourself and cherish your beautiful individuality. Revel in who you are, and believe that you do indeed hold the key to the life of your dreams. Believe that you may fly, spread your wings, and soar.  But only if you believe that you can.

The Silver Lining

2015 was a tough year for many.   We each in our own way have struggled with adversity.  We have experienced pain, suffering, and hardship in one way or another.

We have been put to the test, we have questioned our beliefs, and have challenged our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.  We have questioned our identities, struggled to remain well, and persevered in any way that we could.  Our hearts have ached, and our heads have searched for answers that may not exist.  We have adapted to change, overcome adversity, and done everything in our power to remain positive.  In many ways, we have felt that life has fallen apart all around us.  And in many ways, it may seem that it has.

But you know what? Whether or not we have been through tough times such as those described above, our lives have not fallen apart completely.  We still have so much for which to be grateful, so much to hold on to, to love, and to live for.  We have our friends, our families, our passions.  We have a purpose, our health, our spirituality.  We have sources of strength.  Sources of joy.  Sources of hope.  We have our lives to live.  And it is my opinion that we have the responsibility, as well as the opportunity and the pleasure, to live our lives as fully as we are able.

As tempted as we may be to reflect back on the struggles that we have been through, I believe that it is even more important to consider how things will fall back together, even after they have fallen apart.  There may have been times when we ourselves have crumbled, and yet even when that happens, it seems that things always have a way of coming together again.  Sometimes we may watch the pieces fall together right before our eyes.  Sometimes it may take us time to realize what has happened.  And other times, we must take control and put the pieces back together again.  But no matter how it happens, it seems that most things in life usually do fit back together again somehow.   They may not look or feel the same as they did “before”, and that might be painful or it may be a pleasant surprise.  Yet whatever this new picture looks like, it is up to us to find new meaning in it.

It is up to us to influence or change what we can, have the serenity to accept what we cannot, and to make the most of the gifts that have been bestowed upon us regardless of the situation at hand.  It is up to us to keep searching for the light, even in the face of total darkness, and have faith that “this too shall pass” and brighter day will come if it hasn’t already.

Grrrr

I once read that some of the most valuable lessons we learn in life are taught to us by difficult people. You know the type of people I am referring to. People that seem to embody cynicism, judgment, and pessimism. Those that take delight in the misfortune of others or seem satisfied by having a complaint. The people that expect the worst from the world and seem committed to their unhappiness.

Being around negativity, even for a short moment, can be frustrating and emotionally taxing. Yet unfortunately, it is unlikely that we can avoid negative people all together. We are bound to have a run-in with a disheartening individual at some time or another, so it is best that we are prepared to respond in such a way that protects us from the negativity while still allowing us to learn something positive from the experience.

So, having said that, what is the best way to respond? Is it best that we ignore them and hope that they go away? Should we respond in kind and give them an attitude adjustment? Do we shower them in sunshine and encourage them to see life from a more elevated perspective? And, on the same token, how do we protect ourselves from being drawn in by the pull of their negative energy? How do we prevent an unsettling encounter from ruining our mood?

To answer these questions, consider the following checklist, presented by author and counselor, Julie Hoyle.

  1. What does this person need?

Is there a chance that positive input is being sought? If the answer is yes, share something enlightening. If the answer is no, keep the interaction brief.

  1. Are they acting as a mirror?

The answer is a resounding “yes” if we have been sucked in by their negativity. When there is a pull, there is a resonance, and we are being shown where we are resisting the flow of life. When this is the case, breathe in deeply and accept what is.

  1. Remember, this too will pass.

While we can offer compassion and point to other alternatives, we are not responsible for others. Suffering, to a point, is a choice. Be a part of the solution rather than adding to the illusion. Create space for an opening of awareness to happen.

  1. Avoidance

Protect and safeguard the sanctity of your internal state, and surround yourself with people who nurture you. On other occasions, remain upbeat and transform the negative into a positive. Do it for long enough and it works wonders. If the other person cannot turn you on to their negativity, they may eventually give up.

  1. Love really is the answer.

Everything always, always comes down to love. If we love and respect ourselves, we do not give ourselves away cheaply, and we do not stoop to negativity. Instead, we stand our ground, offering others a place to rise up to. Always listen with love, and offer kindness to everyone, even if they don’t seem to “deserve” it at the time.

Regretfully Speaking…

 

I have often read that we, as live-ers of life, should have no regrets. That we should, in some sense of the word, forget about the finer details of our past and instead be grateful for the opportunities and the gifts that have been bestowed upon us through the process of living. That we should embrace all that we are, for better or for worse, because of what we have been through and the choices we have made.

And to a certain degree, I agree with this. I agree that it behooves us to spend too much time in our past, whether we are fretting over things that we have done, or worrying about that which we have left undone. It does us no good to berate ourselves for our mistakes or relive days gone by, wishing that we had done things differently. After all, what does this accomplish? Precious little, indeed.

Even so, I have to admit that I do have regrets. I have done things that I am not proud of and over-looked things that I should have been more mindful about. I have been reckless at times, selfish, and even hurtful. As I look back on the twenty-nine years of my life, I see with unmistakable clarity that I have consciously and unconsciously made poor choices. Choices that have been foolish, short-sighted, and negatively impactful. And, these things are uncomfortable to think about. They are difficult to speak of. And they are nothing short of humbling.

Yet, even as I think about the regrets that I do have, and I reflect on where I was at in my life when I made those choices, I cannot help but to ask, “Is it really so bad to admit that we have regrets? Is it so bad to look back on the decisions that we have made and wish that we had done things differently? Is it so bad to look behind ourselves every now and then and realize that we could have done better? ” I must say that I think not.

I say that I do not think it is so bad to have regrets because regrets really are a part of life. Regrets, in essence, are nothing short of lessons that we have learned as we journey through life. To feel regretful is not to say that we are bad. On the contrary, to feel regretful is to say that we now see things differently than we had before or to acknowledge that we are no longer where we once were. It is to recognize that something was to be learned, and that we have changed or evolved because of our experiences. It is to agree that hindsight is indeed twenty-twenty.

So, when you find yourself tempted to deny ever having regrets, rethink what that word really means to you. Remember that it is a rare soul that truly has no regrets, and that there is no shame in using the feeling of regret to propel us forward as we learn from our misgivings.

The Shadow Effect

 

In 2010, Debbie Ford, with the help of Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson, published a book entitled The Shadow Effect. In this book, Debbie claims that we all have a dark side, or what she refers to as a shadow.

Our shadow, she explains, contains all the parts of ourselves that we have tried to hide or deny. It is the parts of ourselves that we believe to be unacceptable, both to ourselves and to others.

It is comprised of everything that we struggle to accept about other people and ourselves. It is our bad habits, our dark and lonely secrets. It is the things that we have done, and the things that have been done to us that we keep buried deep within ourselves. Most simply stated, our shadow is the person within ourselves that we would rather not be.

Because of the shame and guilt associated with this part of ourselves, our shadows have the potential to wield enormous power over our lives. If we let it, it will determine what we can and cannot do, what we are drawn toward and what we avoid. It dictates our attachments, our fears, and our feelings about ourselves. It influences how we treat ourselves and others, the way that we love, and our ability to be vulnerable and authentic. Quite simply, our shadows have the power to affect every ounce of our being, if we allow it to. Particularly when we try to keep in the dark.

On the contrary, though, this shadowy part of ourselves also has the power to transform our lives for the better. For when our shadow has been seen, heard, and embraced, it may be our greatest teacher, our trainer and guide, leading us to incredible strength, creativity, brilliance, purpose, and happiness. It is when we are able to shine light on our shadow that we are able to see that our shadow also contains some of our greatest gifts and treasured aspects of our truest selves buried inside. Rather than focusing on the ugliness of our shadow, we instead see it as a source of compassion, love, and authenticity. We no longer invest our precious energies into denying aspects of who we are, nor do we have to pretend to be someone we are not. We are no longer concerned with proving ourselves to others and we release the guilt, shame, and fear associated with this vulnerable part of ourselves.

As we further explore our shadows and make peace with it, we realize that it is not what we once thought it was. It is not a problem to be solved, an enemy to be conquered, or something that we must fear or hide. Rather, it is simply a part of who we are and where we have been, and in embracing it, we become free to experience our entire self.