Rewriting the narrative

So, this post is a bit of a therapy exercise. Sara suggested I reframe a recent event we discussed in a way that made me feel empowered. So here goes:

I met a man recently who appeared to have many of the traits that I was looking for. We had some really terrific dates, and it looked like we might have a lot of potential.

However, I realized fairly quickly that he did not seem to be ready for the kind of relationship I was looking for. He was developing feelings for me, he said, but felt he owed it to himself to see what else was out there. I kindly told him that I had no interest in doing the “pick-me” dance. I suggested that if he felt it was essential to his happiness to explore his options, he was very free to do so, but I declined to be one of those options. We wished each other the best.

It was not how I had pictured things working out; however, I felt proud of myself for staying calm and maintaining my dignity. I remembered that this was not about me, but about his own history and baggage. I chose to be on my own and be open to meeting someone who wanted me and ONLY me. I knew I was worthy of that, and acted accordingly. I am so, so proud of that.

Um, that actually felt really amazing. I think I might make this a regular thing and maybe rewrite some other stories from my past.

If you’re interested in doing the same, it’s pretty easy. I found a good article on “How to Rewrite Your Life Story” that can help you get started. It suggests, “There are two types of interpretations—those that empower you and those that disempower you. … Rewriting your story requires that you take an honest look at where you blame other people or circumstances for the way your life has turned out. …  If you find that you’re harboring resentment, ask yourself what you learned from that person or situation. Frame the story in the positive. Think about what gifts have manifested in your life as a result of you not having had your needs or wants met at that time.”

In my story, instead of seeing myself as being hurt by someone who wasn’t ready for the same thing I was, I focused on what I had enjoyed about our time together, my reaction and how good it felt to make a decision that reinforced what I have been working on in therapy regarding loving myself and enforcing healthy boundaries.

Link roundup: Dating survival guide

Some great resources for dating again and/or entering a new relationship (many from Baggage Reclaim, because I love it so much!):

  • “Knowing If You Feel Good in New Relationships, Part One.” This has some good places to start before you start dating. Are you over your ex? Have you established what your boundaries are? Are you secure in your authentic self and not inclined to change just to suit someone? Part Two deals with recognizing a positive (or not-so-positive) relationship.
  • “It Doesn’t Have to Be So Scary in a New Relationship.” This one hit realllly close to home. “When you’re scared in a new relationship and struggling to relax because you don’t know the middle and end of the plot, you’re wanting Mystic Meg to come along and say, “Yes it’s going to work out” or “No it’s not”, or to give you the end date so that you can privately accept failure from the outset and feel safe in knowing that your fears and the story that you tell yourself are true.” I also love the part where she points out that this is “not an audition process where this person holds the key to your happiness.

If this relationship isn’t going to work out, it’s not going to work out.

Now, it can either not work out and you spend the whole time worrying (praying for what you don’t want to happen), anticipating doom, feeling ill at ease etc, or you can step up and be present in your relationship so that whatever the outcome, you know that you were there, you gave it your all, that you enjoyed yourself, and that you didn’t spend the whole time looking over your shoulder to see if Freddy Kreuger the relationship killer was at the door.

  • Mathew Boggs has some pretty good videos on YouTube, although I’m not wild about the clickbaity titles. I do like his emphasis on confidence and mindfulness. I particularly like “Feeling Insecure?” This one particularly focuses on  not making comparisons between ourselves and others (one of my big struggles … “I’m not as thin,” “I’m not as successful,” etc.). He really encourages women to find their own uniqueness and remembering that no one else has your particular combination of traits.
  • I also really love Boggs’ “3 Ways to Feel More Confident With a Man.” In this video, he talks about going into the date with a positive mindset instead of resistance, about starting from a point of gratitude, focusing on what you can give instead of what you can get, and focusing on seeing if this man is someone who can earn a role in your life rather than someone you’re trying to get to like you.  (I actually listened to the meditation he provides in the notes before a recent date, and I felt like it really helped!).
  • “Reclaim You: 100 Tips for Dating With your Self-Esteem in Tow.” My favorite is No. 13: “There are some people who won’t live up to the hype they created on the first few dates. Don’t spend from here to eternity trying to recreate that ‘persona’ that they exhibited as some people are very good at putting on a performance at the start but quickly fade into the ‘real’ them. If what you saw has disappeared that quickly, trust me when I say it wasn’t real. People unfold.” And of course, No. 85: “It’s good to have a dating hiatus especially if you’ve found that dating is making you miserable, cynical, or yielding a familiar pattern that isn’t working for you. Taking a 3-6 month break lets you focus on you and when you come back to it, you can start afresh with renewed vigour and attitude.”
  • This blog is aimed at guys, but DoctorNerdLove has an article on “Leveling Up: Developing An Abundance Mentality.”  It defines an abundance mentality as “simply the belief that there are many, many amazing and available women out there. While a rejection or a break-up may hurt – and it certainly does – it isn’t the end of the world because there will be others out there who will also be incredible.” It also talks about how to cultivate that mindset.
  • Berkeley International is apparently some sort of matchmaking company. I do like their blog post on “Dating When You Have a Fear of Rejection,” though, especially the part about asking yourself, “What’s the positive intention behind your fear?” (I know for me, it’s to protect myself from getting hurt again by trying to
  • “People Unfold.” Another great one from Baggage Reclaim. (Seriously, can Natalie Lue just make all my life decisions for me?) In this one, Natalie writes, “If you’re feeling bruised by your expectations not being met, there’s something to be learned by slowing your roll and spending more time in the present. … You never have to experience this disappointment if you accept that you meet someone on day zero and it’s going to take some time to get to know them.”

 

The struggle with uncertainty

Coping with uncertainty is one of my biggest struggles. “What if I get hurt again?” “What if he doesn’t like me as much as I like him?” “Why isn’t she friendlier toward me?” “Is this the right career move?”

I’ve started dating again recently, while talking to my therapist, Sara, frequently to make sure I’m not losing any of the progress I’ve been making. I’m trying to focus on letting things happen as they happen (i.e., not trying to predict and worry about every possible future outcome simultaneously) and staying in the present, but it still can be a struggle, especially if I’m really interested in someone.

A lot of this has to do with “detaching from outcome,” which I’ve written about previously; I know the outcome I want, and I’m going to worry it into existence, dammit. And some of it has to do with resistance, because much of what I personally tend to resist is my inability to see the future.

420fe6e158cabcfb664e9bd8c5e54c5e.jpgOne friend has urged me to “let it unfold.” And I realized one day that it’s exactly like a flower. You can’t force a bud open; you have to wait and let it unfurl, petal by petal. Worrying won’t change the color of the flower. Opening it too soon won’t change the color, either (and it will ruin it, as well).

Sure, you can obsess over every detail of the flower in the meantime and try to make predictions about what it might turn out to be, but chances are you won’t be accurate, and you’ll subject yourself to a lot of tension and anxiety in the interim. Instead, sit back. Breathe. Observe as it opens slowly, hour by hour, and live in the moment as you enjoy the beauty of the unfolding.

It will be whatever color it will be, and whatever it is, it will be beautiful — even if it isn’t the color we had planned or wanted. It might even take us a while to appreciate the color. But that’s the color the flower is, and the sooner we release our resistance (to either not knowing in advance or to whatever the outcome turned out to be), the sooner we achieve peace.

Life will happen as it’s going to happen. Obsessing over the future or trying to control everything and everyone around us won’t change much, except our anxiety levels.

Becoming comfortable with not knowing can be tremendously challenging, because our brains are wired to want certainty. In fact, a 2016 study showed that uncertainty can actually be more stressful than predictable negative consequences. I’ve experienced this myself; in the past, if I’ve become interested in someone who at some point became rather distant, I’ve gotten extremely anxious at first. “What’s going on? Is he just busy? Is he losing interest? What does this text mean?” And it’s actually been a relief if he says he doesn’t see things working out, or I decide I don’t care that much, or he just disappears altogether, because now there’s that answer. I’d rather have the answer than the guy!

PsychCentral has an article titled “Tips on Tolerating Uncertainty” that includes these suggestions:

  • Let go of the idea that life “should” or “must” result in a particular outcome. Be open to the idea that other possibilities will be OK, too.
  • Re-frame negative thoughts. Instead of telling yourself, “I can’t handle uncertainty,” replace that thought with “I don’t care for uncertainty, but I am able to cope with it.”
  • Be open to uncertainty; the Eckhart Tolle book “The Power of Now” is particularly recommended. Mindfulness is an amazing way to be accepting of uncertainty, particularly when you are focused on living in the present moment.
  • Channel the Serenity Prayer by making a list of things you can control and what you can do about them; make a list of things you can’t control and imagine handing it over to a higher power.
  • Take action even if it provokes anxiety (for example, don’t refuse to take a trip by plane even if flying makes you anxious).
  • Seek therapy.

Rezzan Hussey’s article “Some Mindfulness Practices for Managing Uncertainty” points out the negative consequences of seeking clarity above everything else. We can lose opportunities, miss out on new experiences and subject ourselves to anxiety, amongst other things. My favorite part about the article was that it offered some advice specific to dating relationships in the early stages:

  • Acknowledge that you can have zero certainty to begin with; not if everyone is being honest anyway.
  • Bring mindfulness to your early feelings.
  • Distract yourself. Ensure that you continue to nurture your passions and pursuits.
  • Get support. Talk through uncomfortable feelings and emotions with your friends.
  • Be wary of rationalizations, making assumptions and jumping to conclusions. These things are masquerading as your need for certainty. Just deal with the information you are receiving. Resist the urge to comfort yourself with a neat narrative!

I particularly identified with the last one. In the past, I have spent far too much time trying to extrapolate minor things into a prediction of the future or a reading of someone’s personality and intentions. Of course, it’s important that you pay attention to red flags, but you shouldn’t be treating every text message like it’s some sort of crystal ball that will reveal all, if you just look closely enough.

Remember, there is no absolute certainty or permanence in this life. Change is inevitable, and it is often far more beautiful than we could have imagined before we walked through it. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Smile, breathe, and go slowly.”

‘Detach from outcome’

My sister is always suggesting I try to “detach from outcome.” I admit, I always kind of blew it off. But today, after sending her some frantic texts about a situation that has been causing me a lot of anxiety, and she offered the same advice, I decided to Google it.

I particularly liked the article titled ” ‘Let Go, or Get Dragged’: Find Your Peace by Letting Go.” It includes signs that you are holding on and getting dragged, including:

  • Constantly thinking about a person or situation.
  • Trying to control a person or situation and create the outcome you want.
  • Engaging in rigid, all-or-nothing thinking.
  • Experiencing body tension and stress.

3c43b95b207e52a0e502373d50e56432--trauma-ptsdAnd yes, those are allllll things I do, generally on a daily basis.

The article points out that “if we relax and let go, we may feel we are giving up, giving in or losing control.” Hoooo boy, is that one hitting close to home too. I feel like worrying about something incessantly is part of caring. If I don’t worry about an outcome incessantly, how will the universe know I REALLY REALLY REALLY want it?! How will I MAKE it happen through the magical power of my worrying?

Buddhaimonia has a great article on “The Beginner’s Guide to Letting Go and Becoming Enlightened Through Non-Attachment” by Matt Valentine. It clarifies that:

All attachment originates with the ego. The ego, a construct which was built through years of conditioning and is in no way a “real” part of you at all, is what convinces you that you’re this separate entity disconnected from all other living and non-living things. And when reality doesn’t match up to the image, friction happens and pain occurs.

This is part of resisting what is so, which has been a struggle for me in the past. I can’t know what an outcome will be. I can’t control what the outcome will be, either. So instead of resigning myself to the fact that I can neither see nor determine the future, I ruminate over it incessantly. I try to divine it from little signs. I try to seek reassurance from friends who I hope will convince me things will go the way I want them to. I try to obsess my desired outcome into reality.

Instead, I should be focusing on:

  • Recognizing that I can always choose to let go.
  • Remembering that letting go doesn’t mean that I don’t care about a person, situation or outcome.
  • Watching for the physical and emotional signs that I am “hanging on.”
  • Investigating my fears of losing control of a situation (or person).
  • Realizing and respecting the impermanence of life.
  • Remembering that the outcome I’m attached to may not in fact be the outcome that God has in mind for me. It may be something far better than what I am currently hoping for, something that in my limited view of time and space, I can’t see. (Remember that Garth Brooks song “Unanswered Prayers”?)

Lama Surya Das says, “Letting go means letting be, not throwing things away. Letting go implies letting things come and go, and opening to the wisdom of simply allowing, which is called nonattachment.”

Allow your life to be what it is. Allow events to unfold as they will. And know that however it happens, you will be okay. (I’ll be over here trying to do the same!)

Rejection and mindfulness

In dealing with the sting of rejection recently, I realized how badly I had internalized the messages I was getting — or really, thought I was getting. Because no one has ever come out and said, “You’re not fun, you’re not very smart, you’re not pretty enough, and you have too much baggage.” That was just what I was telling myself.

I googled “rejection and mindfulness” to learn a little more about what was going on. First, I found a great article on “Understanding Rejection: How to Mitigate Its Effect On the Brain.” It starts off discussing “contingent self-worth,” or basing our sense of self-worth on how much stuff we have, how successful we are or how much people like and accept us.

Of course, building up your sense of self-worth would be one step to helping rejection hurt less. (And it does hurt; research shows that social rejection actually activates the same regions of the brain that physical pain does.) Building up your independence and resilience also are important pieces in handing rejection well.

In the article, psychologist Arnie Kozak says:

It’s helpful to ask yourself, ‘what’s really on the line here?’ You can then see if your sense of okay-ness is really undermined by the rejection. Often, we worry how we’ll be perceived by others and that is just another contingency. Rejections aren’t the end of the world, but sometimes we can react as if they are. Being turned away from one opportunity makes you available for another. Ultimately, I encourage people not to take things so seriously. If that reaction arises, mindfulness practice can help people to back away from it and keep things in perspective.

I liked that a lot, because so frequently, what’s on the line is … not much. So I didn’t hear back from a guy who I had hoped might be a potential romantic candidate, even though he had been the one to approach me and ask me out. What was on the line? Clearly, a guy who doesn’t have the time, interest or capability to communicate with me clearly. Whoopity-de-doo.

Another article, “Our Need for Acceptance and the Pain of Rejection,” discusses breaking free of rumination and self-criticism, which is apparently my forte:

If we’ve been rejected, we may end up ruminating on what we could have done differently; how we could have done more to make people want us. Thoughts like “What’s wrong with me?” might be echoing around in our minds. If we’re not mindful, we may start coming up with harsh answers to these questions. Before we know it, we’re caught in a downward spiral of self-blame and self-criticism.

36334268I don’t know if I have ever blamed anyone but myself for rejection. My initial instinct is to always assume I’ve done something wrong, said something wrong or even been something wrong. But when we’re mindful, we can examine the messages we’re telling ourselves, and we can examine their truthfulness. We can realize that frequently, the rejection wasn’t about us at all. Maybe there was another candidate that was better qualified. Maybe he wasn’t over his ex. There are a thousand reasons that we can’t know behind someone’s motivations.

And finally, we need to embrace the suffering to some extent. I have been reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s “No Mud, No Lotus,” and this passage struck me:

When you’re overwhelmed by despair, all you can see is suffering everywhere you look. You feel as if the worst thing is happening to you. But we must remember that suffering is a kind of mud that we need in order to generate joy and happiness. Without suffering, there’s no happiness.

What can I grow in this mud of rejection? What is it teaching me about myself and the work I need to do? What wisdom can it impart to me? The lotuses I am hoping to grow are Self-Worth, Resilience and Mindfulness.

What will you grow?

It’s oh so quiet

The last month has been a struggle. I have fallen into my old pattern of constantly seeking distraction and reassurance.

Spending my mornings and evenings restlessly  flipping through my phone, texting friends, reading articles and comment threads, and arguing with strangers on Facebook.

Doing anything to not think about being lonely, being bored, being hurt.

I haven’t dated, although I have talked to a couple of guys. In neither case were they candidates for serious relationships. The attention made me feel good, though — I felt happy and excited and, well, valuable, when I heard from them. And then when it fizzled, I felt rejected. Worthless. Alone.

Every time it happened, it amplified. Every time, I plunged deeper into my world of social media and disconnectedness from the real world.

So, I am trying to take baby steps to get back on track. Putting the phone out of reach. Keeping it out of my bedroom at night. Focusing on my breathing, and what I can hear and see and feel. Being okay with being alone in my head and in my house.

Take it easy: Putting on the brakes in a new relationship

A friend asked me lately, “How do you take it slow when you’ve met someone amazing and everything gels? How the heck do you not rush?”

First, I wouldn’t start by asking me for advice, because lord knows I’m no authority on taking things slowly.

But, in the spirit of friendship, I offered up what I wish I had known years ago, and what I hope to do when I’m ready to date again: Remember that YOU DON’T KNOW THEM. They seem wonderful and amazing and perfect for you in every way, and maybe they really are. But you don’t know that now. You can’t know that.

You can’t hire a new employee and know right away how they’ll perform during tax season or on Black Friday. And you can’t know your partner until you encounter some bumps of varying sizes. Will he be there when your car breaks down and you need a ride to work at 6 a.m.? Will she understand if your child is sick and you have to cancel your fancy dinner date? Will they pay attention to what makes you feel loved, and appreciate it when you do those things in return? When you disagree, will they be kind and respectful and try to understand your point of view?

You may assume you know how this person will react during those scenarios; they may even tell you how they would react. But don’t believe it till you see it.

So, remind yourself that you don’t know this person, and act accordingly:

  • Don’t drop your friends for them.
  • Don’t give up all your free time for them.
  • Don’t plan your life around them.
  • Don’t make plans far into the future with them.
  • Do enjoy their company.
  • Do be transparent and honest.
  • Do spend lots of time talking about things that are important to both of you.
  • Do trust their actions more than their words.
  • Do trust that no matter how amazing this person is, they are not the only one in the world who is potentially great for you.