Don't allow yourself to believe the dead space between us is left empty or filled with the benefit of the doubt Anxiety and mental illness are excellent at filling in the blanks with haunting shadows and viscous, hateful delusions An "I love you" not uttered is not assumed to be neutral it is a shrieking echo of "I hate you" that reverberates inside my head A compliment offered only once is not carried over into the future it fizzles and is transfigured into just another lie Resentments are slowly added to the waters of my soul until an all-mighty tide of indignation becomes a tsunami to tear you apart An unseen pressure is surely building like hot air inside a teapot everyone always acts surprised when the shrill whistle of anger erupts Your silence speaks volumes to a heart that needs constant reassurance there is already too much bitterness to make it better
Releasing Ourselves from the Burden of Bitterness
I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As I was getting ready to leave to go get another Covid test, which I finally managed to schedule after my exposure last week, the phone in my office rang. I smiled in spite of myself as the caller announced herself to be the very person who was responsible for my exposure. I felt a tightness in my chest as I battled internally with the decision of whether or not to go through with the unfriendly, short way I had decided to treat this person after the incident.
I’ve found myself in this predicament quite a number of times throughout my life. I am wronged by someone. I decide that I will no longer be happy and agreeable with them, but maintain a cool distance. In some ways I suppose I expect this to “teach them a lesson.” It is a personal consequence I like to deal out to people who have betrayed my trust or friendship. Usually when the time comes for me to enforce this inner law, however, I have already gotten over whatever the issue was that inspired it. Sometimes I stick to my guns, other times I forgive and forget. Although when I do choose to let my anger go, there is a pang of guilt and self-criticism. I feel weak or foolish for not “sticking up for myself” or something. Even when I know that my plan was likely immature and would be ineffective anyway.
I felt that twinge of unease today as I happily took this woman’s referral and was very pleasant to her on the phone in my usual way. There was something different about today though. My unease quickly dissipated and was replaced with a swelling sensation in my heart space and a nearly tearful self-pride. This feels much better than being spiteful, I thought to myself. So what if I don’t “teach her a lesson” by withholding my kind nature? It would do little to no harm to her, yet it would be a shadow over my soul for the indefinite period of our future work acquaintance. I was so happy and relieved to be freed from that burden of anger and revenge that I had been harboring for nearly a week now.
Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
To forgive someone is not only a gift we give them, it is even more so a gift we give to ourselves. The gift of letting go. The gift of unbinding the tethers we have wrapped around our own heart. Sometimes my ego tries to snarl “they don’t deserve forgiveness.” And sometimes this is able to sway me back towards anger. But today it only caused me to reflect on all of the many time in which I had not felt worthy of the forgiveness given to me by others. I felt honored to be able to pay that kindness, that compassion, forward. In this way, forgiveness is also a means for us to repay those that have forgiven us.
Human nature is not so simple that it can be reduced to positive and negative reinforcement. When I feel I have earned rejection and scorn, but am instead offered understanding and unconditional love, I am not emboldened or spoiled by this generosity. I am healed by it instead. I am inspired to be better and prove myself worthy of it. I’d like to think that we all share this hunger for redemption after a mistake.
It is not foolish or weak to offer kindness and love in the face of indifference or hatred. It is one of the most beautiful things that we are capable of. It is with this thoughtful, compassionate, patient energy that the great men and women throughout time have turned the tides of history and earned their place in our collective conscious. We cannot allow ourselves to be concerned with the personal motivations or inner growth of others. We may hope for the best, but ultimately it is a waste and a shame to darken our own experience in an attempt to shape or control another’s.
Give yourself the gift of forgiveness. Give yourself the gift of letting go. Don’t concern yourself with what someone else may or may not deserve. This is not for us to determine, nor is it our burden to carry. We are not the grand arbiters of justice in the universe. I’ve let myself believe such matters were my “duty” for quite long enough. Now I see that truly my only duty in this life is to give back all of the love, kindness, acceptance, compassion, and understanding that I have received (with interest).
I don’t understand how other people deal with difficult emotions and confrontations in relationships. No matter how much I try, I always seem to be blind sided by my own reaction to things. It feels like my emotions twist around my vocal chords like vines and leave me speechless. I utterly shut down like a child. I could totally imagine myself crossing my arms and dropping down onto the floor where I was standing. I pout! A twenty-eight year old woman and I can’t keep myself from pouting about things that don’t go my way. It truly feels beyond my control.
On Friday when I thought I might have Covid, part of me was really happy that I would have to miss the dinner my boyfriend invited me to with his family. I even somewhat enjoyed not finding out until a day after I was supposed to. I hesitated to tell him my results because I wanted some more alone time. Then when I did tell him, I happily began preparing for him to drop everything and come see me. When it turned out he wasn’t going to do that, offering to hangout for just a few hours the next day, I was furious. I wanted to not respond at all. It took me tremendous effort to write back a short, passive aggressive reply instead. If I couldn’t hang out with him that night, well I didn’t want to see him at all. Very mature. After that brief message, I proceeded to ignore him for hours. I nearly made an excuse to avoid the Facetime we planned earlier too. One small thing, and I am ready to throw our whole relationship in the garbage out of spite. I genuinely don’t even know why that made me so upset. I enjoy being alone anyway.
It’s so embarrassing confiding these instances to my friends and family as well. Hearing them all echo back “just talk to him about it” or “tell him what you just told me” makes me feel even more childish than I already do. I can’t explain why I’m not able to just express my frustration with the person in question like I am with unrelated individuals. Not only am I afraid of how they’ll take such a conversation, I’m afraid of what I might say. I can get pretty hateful in the heat of the moment.
The longer I sit on these things, the worse it becomes. I add each succeeding irritation on top of the last, until explaining why I’m upset when something small happens becomes nearly impossible. My anger and frustration is also compounded by the fact that I’m just as mad at myself as I am at the other person. My instinct is to scrap the whole relationship rather than work through and face these nasty feelings.
I’m painfully aware of what low emotional intelligence I have, but I don’t know how to improve it. Certainly avoiding all of these encounters isn’t working. I managed to go through with the Facetime call last night and ended up enjoying talking to him. But it feels like I either blow up and destroy everything or drop it and pretend I wasn’t bothered. I did the latter yesterday. When I’m in the depths of my emotion, it feels too unsafe to acknowledge it, but when I calm down, I don’t want to dredge it up again.
All of my mindfulness and yogic practices go right out the window when it comes to interacting with other people. Just trying to take deep breaths when I am left alone in a room with a new person is a great challenge for me. Trying to calmly articulate what has me upset with someone? I might as well try to speak a foreign language fluently. My emotions just feel so big. My prefrontal cortex is short circuited and my aggressive little lizard brain takes over. And I don’t know what to do with that. I truly become unable to find the words that I need. My only options appear to be lash out or recede into myself.
Maybe today, I’ll try to find some kind of exercises to improve emotional intelligence online. Even that idea makes me laugh at myself though. I always want some kind of textbook to teach me how to be a person. When in reality, what would really probably help me more would be to make an effort to stumble through my messy emotions and actually tell my boyfriend how I’ve been feeling. I’m always so afraid of embarrassing myself or seeming stupid that I avoid all of the life experiences that could help me grow. I need to accept that some things must be learned through practice, trial and error, and taking the chance I may look silly at first.
No one else expects me to be perfect besides myself. If I were a baby again, I’d never learn how to walk or talk for fear of those initial trips, tumbles, stutters, and babbles. I must continuously remind myself that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s necessary even. There is no cause to hold every personal error against myself. I’m the only one who cares. Once again, I’m the only thing holding me back.
Standing On the Shoulders of Those That Came Before Us
The social work field is ripe with the sentiment of bitterness towards those benefiting from social services. It’s shocking to me how many people I’ve worked with since entering the field a few years ago who are extremely conservative. I’ve only ever worked for non-profits that serve low-income populations. Most of the clients I’ve met have been on Medicaid and receiving Social Security benefits. While I’ve always supported these social safety nets and been happy to see them helping people, it seems like many other people feel differently.
It can be frustrating at times. You do meet a handful of people that seem to be taking advantage. You certainly meet tons of people that, while unable to support themselves, continue to have a new baby every year. The longer people remain in the social work field, the more cynical and bitter they become because of this. I’ve even caught myself getting angry about it from time to time. There are days where it really does seem unfair that I have to work to support people that don’t appear to be trying at all. (It’s easy to forget that a far larger portion of our taxes go to prop up monstrous corporations through subsidies and fuel the endless, bloated war machine.)
I thought occurred to me the other night though that completely obliterated all of my irritation and frustration with those “doing less than me.” I considered for a moment all of the wonderful technology that I benefit from every single day. I thought of the medical advancements, the free vaccines, our libraries, public roads and parks, volunteer fire departments, the electrical grid, etc. I have not done a single thing to deserve these incredible human achievements. I have not contributed to them in any way. Yet thanks to my fellow humans, to all of the generations that came before me, I get to live a life of extravagance and luxury unimaginable to most people of the past.
What a humbling realization. What a miracle to behold. What gratitude I have for this life I am able to lead through the superior intelligence and selflessness of others. Imagine if our forefathers had acted with the disdain we have today for those “milking the system.” We like to imagine that we are self-made, that we have earned our place in society through hard work and personal achievement. Have we though? Even your own accomplishments are in large part thanks to the family that raised you and your environment/opportunities throughout life. Things that we have little to no control over. Why should others be looked down upon or made to struggle because of the arbitrary hand they have been dealt?
So if you’re one to get frustrated and feel as though you are carrying the “undesirables” of society or that people on government assistance “don’t deserve it” remember all of the people that have helped you get to where you are. The least we can do is be of service to others when we have been given so very much by our families and all of the incredible, amazingly intelligent and generous humans that have laid the foundation for the incredible society we have today. These systems that we have in place to help those in need are one of the most beautiful examples of human kindness there is. We should all feel honored to contribute and grateful that we aren’t the ones in need of this help.
What You Damn, Damns You
What you damn, damns you.
What you place in darkness, calls you to the darkness.Paul Selig
Paul Selig was the guest on the podcast I was listening to as I drove home yesterday. At first I was skeptical. He was described as an author and “medium.” He talks about “channeling” these other voices and entities that tell him what to write in his books. Anytime I hear outlandish claims like this, my defenses immediately go up. My first instinct is: this is a charlatan, a grifter, a scam artist. I am angered at the audacity of some of these so called mystics and the way they blatantly take advantage of their trusting, if not naïve, followers.
After listening to him speak for awhile, I did hear a lot of interesting ideas. Whether or not he actually believes he is channeling spirits that tell him these things, I have no clue. However, a couple of the things he ended up saying really struck me. Particularly the quote I shared above: What you damn, damns you. What you place in darkness, calls you to the darkness. I even tried to look it up to see if this quote could be attributed to anyone else, but wasn’t able to find it anywhere. This actually makes me curious to read at least one of Paul Selig’s books, in case there are anymore insightful tidbits like this.
I wanted to talk about that quote today and dissect it a little bit. It reminds me a lot of the famous Buddha quote: Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I never really realized that this idea could be expanded to encompass practically all negative emotions. Often we lash out at the world around us, thinking subconsciously that our refusal to accept someone or something will help us maintain distance from it. But in fact, that hatred, that anger, that denial, that distaste, actually allows the very things we want to avoid to have more of an effect on us. It is equanimity toward all things that will set us free.
Take a moment to reflect on some of the things (or people) that you hate. How does thinking about these things feel in your body? Perhaps you notice a tightening in your chest, a narrowing of your eyes, growing tension in your shoulders. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s likely not pleasant. Now consider how these thoughts affect whatever it is you’re thinking about. I’m guessing it doesn’t affect it at all, right? So why do we continue to lower our own vibration for the sake of anger, hatred, etc.?
Sometimes it genuinely feels as though we have no choice. We’re made to feel these emotions. That’s how I thought about things for most of my life. And at times, it’s still hard to remember I have a choice. It definitely takes a lot of practice to resist that spark of fury when someone cuts you off in traffic or offends you in one way or another. I may not ever be able to eliminate these visceral reactions from my life completely. However, just reframing the way you see things is the first step. It makes a huge difference. I used to cling to my anger and avoidance. I claimed it as part of my identity even, defined myself not only by the things I loved but by the things I hated as well. It wasn’t just hard to let go, I didn’t want to let it go. These negative feelings felt important somehow.
Just noticing my own thought patterns and emotional reactions has made my life so much easier. While I’m not able to completely avoid getting angry or upset, it is a hell of a lot easier to calm myself back down and let those feelings flow through me without clinging onto them. Now I have much more energy to direct toward the things I love, the things I’m grateful for, the things that bring me peace and joy.
If you notice yourself ruminating about the things that irritate you today, try to remember that you are the only one being affected by these thoughts and feelings. Hating the slow driver in the left lane in front of you, doesn’t do anything to that driver. It doesn’t bother them, nor does it make them drive any faster. So why are you making the situation even more unpleasant by punishing yourself? Can you let it go? Do you feel resistant to letting it go? Can you get curious about why that is? Don’t be too hard on yourself if this is challenging at first. I still struggle with it all the time. The important thing is that you’re aware and you’re trying. That is something to be proud of.