in praise of “who the hell do you think you are?”

I know, I know–it’s a crippling question:

“Just who the hell do you think you are?”

The inner critic, feeling insecure and nervous and afraid, will dish that up, often at unexpected moments, moments when I’m rolling along and think that I’m rocking out, doing my thing, and then someone arches their eyebrow in a certain way and I’m wondering what that was about.

It’s the hell of the intuitive, empathic type–our intuition and empathy allows us to look a brother or sister in the eye and know within seconds that all is not well and our friend is holding back pain between clenched teeth, but on the flip-side, I swear we sense the judgment of others, faster, too.

But the thing is–I’ve been learning to really like asking this question.

Say that I write a blog post. It’s kind of ballsy, kind of out there. “Who the hell do you think you are, to say that?” says the inner critic.

Then, interestingly, more and more with each passing year–

–I want to come up with an answer. I’m quite curious. I turn the question over, in my mind.

“Yes, good question. Exactly who the hell do I think I am?”

There are some interesting answers.

Ballsy, brash, tells-it-like-it-is.

Insecure, not up to the task, feeling flat-lined.

Transparent, bold, courageous.

Sometimes the inner critic isn’t so thrilled that I’m playing that game.

“Who are you to think that you have any right?” the critic persists. “And what’s the point, anyway? Why do you think that whatever you write is any different than what anyone else is saying? You’re generic; mediocre. Why bother?”

Oooh, another good question: “What’s the point, anyway? Why bother?”

Ringing like an echo: Why bother? Why bother? Why bother?

Do we ever stop to realize that rather than scurrying away from that question with fear, it’s actually a really good question to ask ourselves from time to time?

Why bother? Because the words run through my fingers to keypad to screen from some place that’s beyond day-to-day thought.

Why bother? Because I’m committed, and they wouldn’t call it “commitment” if there weren’t days, weeks, even months where one had to slog through.

Why bother? Because I’m willing to be someone’s light today, starting with being my own.

Who do you think you are? Why bother? What do you really have to say, anyway?

Even if you answer “nothing, no reason, nothing” to those three questions, there’s an interesting jumping off point there, as well–because when you don’t have a lot of pre-conceived ideas about who and what you are, you also don’t have any boxes to try to get out of.

The slate is clean. The canvas is blank.

It might even be that the reason asking this question is so difficult for you is NOT because “Oh dear god, I don’t know who I am!” but rather–

–the definitions can be stifling, and your spirit knows it.

So who the hell are you? And why should you bother?

Honestly, who the hell knows?

But I, for one, am having a helluva a good time with what I’ve already discovered, and with what remains to be found out. It gets me a lot farther than the angst.

Try that on for size, sometime, and see if it fits.

boundaries are about love

Boundaries are about love–this is something to take care not to overlook, especially for those people who know that their version of boundaries has been to put up an ice wall tough enough to withstand global warming. The conversation about boundaries often circles around either being overly-boundaried or under-boundaried, with nary a point in between (i.e., you’re either a raving cold bitch or a complete pushover–both two-dimensional images that are routinely used as female archetypes in the media).

But boundaries are about love–expressing love for all parties involved. Clarifying and then holding to your own boundaries is about love of self and love of being in relationship with others.

 

Boundaries & Values
In many ways, this concept of “boundaries” could really be interchanged with talking about “values.” How do we define, and then live, and then hold on to, our personal values in this diverse world? And–how do we do that, while not treading all over someone else’s values?

And on top of that, how do we allow time and experience to change us, so that we can have a flowing experience of life, rather than one where we say “These are my values (boundaries) and that’s it! I will not bend them! I will not break them! This is who I am!

–Because I don’t know about you, but I’d like to be open to the possibility that values (boundaries) can shift and change with wisdom and experience, or that I will discover deeper levels of values (boundaries) within me, or that I will decide that certain things are not really values (boundaries) and will be able to release them, rather than clinging to them.

One (common!) reaction to the complex questions that come up is to be come value-less (or boundary-less)–to become like a sponge, soaking up the values of whomever is around. Brene Brown calls this the difference between “fitting in” and “belonging.” We can “fit in” with whatever group is around us, but “belonging” is about being who we are (maintaining our own values/boundaries) and simultaneously staying connected.

This is not solely the territory of the prototypical “people-pleaser.” The people who yell the loudest are often the ones who are most afraid to express what’s truly in their hearts.

So, in essence: the idea here is that when boundaries are properly in place, they create love. They create safety. They create permission for everyone to show up as they truly are, with belonging rather than shape-shifting their values/boundaries to “fit in.”

 

Boundaries, Simplified
So, given that:

  • the questions are sort of complex, and–
  • we’re talking about a shifting terrain (what works for you during one decade of your life might be unworkable during another), and–
  • the goal is to have boundaries that, paradoxically, create connection…

…what unifies that?

Well, people, I can’t say what “the” answer is for everyone. I can share that this question has worked pretty beautifully in my life:

“What would love do?”
Until I started asking that question, I was pretty hung up on what exactly it would look like to have the sort of boundaries that offer an opportunity to connect, rather than to isolate.

In this piece, I talked about three examples: people at work deciding to have the experience of you as arrogant; your in-laws choosing to have the experience of judgment with you; people at a party choosing to have the experience of you as socially awkward.

“What would love do?”

If we were asking this question in the workplace, love would be interested in open-hearted conversations with employees who were seen as arrogant. Love would reciprocate by being open to the feedback, seeing where common ground could be found.

If we were asking this question with in-laws, love would be interested in expressing needs and wants rather than judgements. Love would reciprocate by being open to hearing requests, not making people wrong for making requests, and seeing where common ground could be found.

If we were asking this question with bad jokes made at parties, love would be not be interested in condemnation of the person who made the bad joke. Love would reciprocate by making amends as necessary, and dropping self-condemnation, in the interests of seeing where new, jovial, party-like common ground could be found.

 

I guess what I’m really getting at is…
…that when we choose to create our lives in service to love, it’s not some high-flying, mushy-gushy, fruity-tooty, New Age, purple-light, Barney the dinosaur, happy-happy joy-joy, bullshit.

It’s just not.

Love is courageous. Love requires power, and speaking your truth, and asking the hard questions, and making mistakes and being willing to own that and come back to center. Love is open to the possibility of miracles–any time, any where, and under any circumstances, even those that seem most unlikely.

The word “boundaries” can conjure up images of a fortress, of blocking, of isolation, of separation.

That might be the image, but only the individual will choose to experience them in that way.

Personally, I’d like to choose something else for myself, and perhaps you want to, as well: I want to choose my experience of everything through the lens of love, and all of the courage and power and truth and everything else that that entails.

That’s what I work on, every day. How I use my boundaries is just another expression of that. How about you?

teflon, ducks, and 12-step groups: why everyone’s under the influence of something

“You gotta put on your teflon,” Matthew, my coach/guru would say to me, sometimes.

What he meant was that when someone in front of me was spinning, venting, angry, taking their shit out on me, the most loving thing to do was to:

  • a.) stay present, and
  • b.) not attack back, and
  • c.) lovingly protect myself by mentally putting on my “teflon” (more formally known as Polytetrafluoroethylene, of course–say that ten times fast!) and letting their words slide right off of me.

That is to say–no stick.

It reminded me of when I was a child and my younger sister and I would get into fights. We’d go to our mother, wanting her to settle it. She told us to be like ducks, letting the water roll right off our backs.

“But she–!” one of us would protest, only to be met with our mother chanting,

“Be a duck, be a duck, be a duck!”

It was infuriating at the time, of course, but this is now one of my fondest and funniest childhood memories–my mother chanting at us, refusing to play referee. I fully intend to pull that out of my bag o’ parenting tricks, someday.

And then that reminds me of the year I spent going to Al-Anon meetings.

Al-Anona is the (immensely powerful!) 12-step group for friends and family members of alcoholics. Many people start attending Al-Anon thinking they’ll learn something about how to stop someone else from using or abusing alcohol. After a few meetings, though, the message is clear–it’s not about controlling someone else’s behavior.

It’s about coping with their behavior–about not letting their behavior “stick.”

 

Be a Duck…Dammit

Recently, I had an experience where I was bullied, “Mean Girls” style.

I shit you not.

The details aren’t even important–it was a situation that left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and a sadness that a few people were choosing an experience of me that I know is so different than the friendship, support, and loyalty that I wanted to offer.

I spent a good 24-hours debating about what to do, turning the events over in my head–then I was irritated at myself for even giving the situation that much power.

 

Putting on the teflon

Because God/spirit/The Universe has been granted an open invitation to hang out in my life, of course–of course!–the very day I had this conflicted encounter, I had tweeted,

“I’ll commit to seeing that if you show up unkindly, it’s not who you really are.”

Of course I had done that–of course.

So I was steamed about this experience, running my Stories, all of that. I talked to people in my tribe, checking in.

–then I thought about what I’d tweeted, and that eventually had me thinking about teflon, ducks, and 12-step groups.

Particularly, I thought about Al-Anon, and how many a-ha moments I’d witnessed.

Shares sounded something like this: “He had been drinking, and he started his same routine, telling me what a fuck up I was. But then I realized–it wasn’t him talking, it was the alcohol talking. I could differentiate between who he really was, and how he acted when he drank.”

In those a-ha moments, that person was putting up their psychological teflon. They were witnessing, not attacking back, and simply letting it roll away–like water rolling off of a duck’s back.

No stick.

 

Everyone’s Under The Influence

The thing is, everyone’s under the influence of something.

Bad parenting. A health problem. A fight with their best friend. No sleep. Pregnancy scares. A drug habit. Workaholism. Jealousy and envy. TV coma. An essential lack of connection to oneself, to meaning, to fulfillment. Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear.

If everyone’s under the influence of something, then perhaps we would do ourselves a favor by taking the detached view–taking their fear masquerading as bitchiness about as seriously as we would take someone who was falling down drunk and spewing expletives.

I find that point of view a bit easier to digest than “just don’t take it personally.” I can see clearly that when some drunk dude on the street calls me a name, he’s just drunk, and thus, suffering. I don’t like the behavior, but it’s easier to get over it, not to mention have a little compassion along the way.

It’s harder when our friends, family members, co-workers, or the people you’d least expect it from–people planning to go into a counseling-related profession, for instance–but still helpful. After all, other people get to choose their experience of me.

The truth is, we don’t know what anyone else is under the influence of. We couldn’t possibly know.

I can only know that everyone is under the influence of something, because everyone has their areas where they’re stunted, myself included (of course).

In these situations, I know I am committed to: the belief that if you show up unkindly, it’s not who you really are.

We don’t really need more answers than that.