A path towards Emotional Agility: how it feels like. Take # 1
I like words. I feel talented with words. I mean, I like poetry and all that stuff. People say I can easily put my experience into words. People say that I can put their own experiences into words. Sometimes they are grateful about it. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes I feel grateful about being deeply in touch with words, and with poetry. Sometimes I see it as a weakness I must own, embracing the lights and shadows of who I am.
I talk a lot. I do research on “silence-phenomena”. <Teach what you need to learn>, says one of my professors. One of the deepest learnings of having explored silent settings in everyday life is the realization that we misuse words. Yes, words can disown our intentions. In a further path of self-exploration, I have recognized a core belief: “We need to talk”. We need to communicate in order to relate, and we need to talk though the tuff things in order to heal. Indeed, we need to, but there are thresholds of timing, of intensity, of awareness. We might not be ready/willing to listen to what we have to say. Yes, finding words to relate to our feelings and emotions can promote our agency towards them; awareness is crucial for understanding and change (Greenberg, 2011). Yet, others might not be ready/willing to listen to what we have to say. We might not have the communication skills to express what we genuinely mean, so that others can receive and hold our perspectives. Furthermore, we all have different layers of resistance and we can often be unconscious about how such resistance sabotages our relationships, putting us in flee/fight/freeze mindsets (Siegel, 2010).
"One of the deepest learnings of having explored silent settings in everyday life is the realization that we misuse words. Yes, words can disown our intentions"
In addition, there is a misconception, often very rooted in our belief systems: that in order to gain or maintain closeness to another person, we need to tell it all about us, or know it all about them (Khoucasian, 2017). That is, that we need to express with full transparency whatever is crossing our minds, and that this would define the quality of our relationships (i.e. The more I know about you, the better). We are curious about the life of others, and it also helps at times to speak with others in order to make sense of our experiences. There is a dark side in our curiosity that we need to further explore though.
I have disclosed very intimate experiences to strangers, to friends, to previous partners, to family members, to therapists, until the pain and suffering I caused myself with such over-disclosure became unavoidable. I have ignored the thresholds of timing, agency and safety. Yes, many times I felt listened and cared of, by many others I ended up feeling betrayed , or feeling as if walking naked along a highway at midnight, unable to control outcomes that I would have otherwise avoided.
I could not hide my exhaustion any longer. I could no longer obey my urge to name, label and express whatever my thoughts and feelings would say to me. I felt clumsy while I indeed wanted to feel more agile in my daily life. Indeed, one of the many learnings from reading Susan David´s (2016) masterpiece “Emotional Agility”, was that sometimes – I mean, many times- I would communicate to others my ruminations, believing I was actually communicating a from a genuine source of the self. Yes, I was falling into the tricks of the mind again and again. I knew it in theory, but I was undermining it in practice: I could commit myself more consistently to put distance between the thinker and the thoughts, between the feeler and the feelings.
I began to notice how often would strangers and acquaintances approach me and disclose very intimate experiences to me, either just to vent or to look for advice. I am grateful for the fact people easily trust me so as to to speak up about their lives. Maybe it has to do with the fact I am a psychologist? I mean it, these conversations can feel smooth, and just happen;vulnerability enable us to bond after all! Yet, I also noticed how uncomfortable or overwhelmed I could feel at times when trying to listen to those people. Whenever family or friends would open up and share very personal experiences, I would usually feel more at ease and willing to help, but in any case, my exhaustion would manifest itself. Reflecting upon this, I understood these events were mirroring how others might have felt when I became too confessional about my journey. This exhaustion I was feeling was a form of "compassion fatigue".
I noticed how upset I would feel when my friends or family would use my stories as if theirs. I was implicitly assuming my self-disclosure could be treated as a confidential file. Yet, people would not be silent about my stuff... I was not being silent about my life either! Sooner or later I would figure out that many other people would get to know stories that I considered so vulnerable parts of myself. How could I stop this? How to break the chain? I thus realized that my question about thresholds was an invitation to embrace a further pathway on the emotional agility journey: that of boundaries. I had been reflecting upon boundaries theoretically in my research (Lehmann, 2016), yet I could no longer avoid embarking a consistent practice in my everyday life. As Brené Brown nicely puts it: Empathy without boundaries is not genuine empathy; compassion without boundaries is not genuine compassion; vulnerability without boundaries is not genuine vulnerability.
How does this practice on boundaries feels like? Abstract and overwhelming at times. Bryan Reeves, a boundaries expert and relationship coach, suggests differentiating between requirements and requests. Yet, what is the threshold between a requirement, a request and a demand/expectation? What do I need or want in any given moment? How much is it healthy to compromise? Practice. Practice. Practice. Step back. Reflect. Does this feel safe? Does this feel comfortable? What does anxiety invite me to hold? Practice. Practice. Practice. Amen.
When we are learning about boundaries, we are building up fences. “Good fences make good neighbours." Says Robert Frost in his poem Mending Wall . Yet, unless we are experienced carpenters of human relationships, we might begin by exaggerating or undermining the boundaries we make, or the boundaries others place. The fences we will first build might look very high, low, thick or shallow. And we might have to sand here, glue there, paint down there. We might even have to start from scratch, since we change, and so do others. That is, we might feel uncomfortable and struggle in wanting to figure out what a "perfect" boundary would look like. We struggle because we care, so we don’t want to hurt nor being hurt. The truth is, even those you love the most, such as partners, family or friends, will feel triggered (consciously or unconsciously). This is so because each time we work on our boundaries and in understanding our needs and wants, we are shifting the dynamics of our relationships. We will feel judged, misunderstood, some people will even leave us behind. We will judge and misunderstand others, and we might even leave some people behind. We need to accept that placing boundaries makes us feel vulnerable, and so a further lesson here is how to mind the triggers and our defense (de-fence… fence! I like that!) mechanisms, so as not to escalate conflicts. This might be a topic for a further post. So, keep it humble and find ways to do repairs.
As for the time being, and from the place I am at in this journey, I will end this blogpost by sharing some tools that I have found helpful. May they serve you as well.
Olga´s toolbox to own her emotional experiences and learn about boundaries.
Being a psychologist, I am committed to do inner work so as to be congruent with my profession. Thus, seeing a therapist is one of my core self-care practices. I also follow different coaches and psychotherapists in social media. I attend to a variety of presence/online courses about psychology as well. Actually, most of the books I currently read relate psychology, human development and personal growth… so I am deeply passionate about psychology. It is not just a profession for me, I am a human being after all! I still remember one of my students writing to me a note, where she said she had never seen me as a human being until I mentioned that at class, which changed our relationship to the better! Yup, we can forget the obvious, so easily. I am also searching for ways to make my life more fulfilling and healthy.
Meditation: This year I have been very disciplined with my meditation practice. I meditate at least 15 minutes every day. I often meditate in the morning and in the evenings (40-60 minutes in total). I am now enrolling a training as an instructor in Mindful Eating- Conscious Living
for a research project. I am grateful for having acquired this responsibility, since it helps me finding motivation when I feel lazy, tired or afraid of meditating. Early this year I have also completed an online (AND FREE!) 8-weeks MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) course at Palouse Mindfulness. I use the recordings available at the website for my practice. I have also found self-compassion practices to be an amazing resource. I use the online recordings (available for free) of Kristin Neff. When I wake up at night and struggle to fall asleep again, I often listen to a recording of Yoga Nidra by Gabby Bernstein.
Symbols: One of the things I love the most about my therapist is how practical she is. As part of my process of practicing boundaries, we did an exercise with a wool yarn. I now wear a tread of this wool yarn as a bracelet, and it helps me reminding me of my practice. I use many other symbols in my clothing, or putting them in specific places of my home and my office, in order to remind myself about my journey. Yet, these other aspects of my journey and the symbols I use are worth a further blogpost.
Dream analysis: I have been journaling about my dreams for many years. However, I have started to analyze those dreams consistently in therapy for approximately 3 years. Sometimes a friend -who is also very experienced in this practice- and I share our dreams and help each other to expand our perspectives upon the analysis. There are two great books that can give you hints about dream analysis, so as to start your home-practice about it. The first one if “The Beginners Guide to Dream Interpretation” from Clarissa Pinkola Estés" , and the other one is “Belonging, remembering ourselves home” by Toko-Pa.
Daily life as a playground: Settle the intention to take daily life as a playground for practice. We can become aware and practice our boundaries by expanding our awareness in our daily life. Our clothes, our food, and all the other human beings we interact with, can be teach us something about boundaries. You can practice with the cashier at the supermarket, with your friends or with your family. We can ask ourselves questions such as: Who is dominating the conversation just now? What has been the main topic of our conversations? Our lives? Someone else´s life? What are the topics I disclose more easily?
Exercise: This is a tool I could certainly use more consistently. Yoga and dancing have been my allies in recent times. My friends suggest running, shall I try? Expanding the connection with our bodies can teach us a lot about boundaries. How does our personal space look like? How can we tune into the bodily messages about boundaries in our human relationships? How can we integrate sensorial experiences into our understanding of feelings and emotions? Plus keeping active help us ventilating the brain, and detaching from our thoughts. I am committed to exercise more often, I feel I need it, and I can prioritize it. I know it.
Journaling: I would love to journal on a daily basis and indeed I sleep next to a journal and a pen. Even if I have experienced journaling as one of the most helpful resources I could use, I tend to avoid it. This avoidance teaches me that I fear ruminating when writing, or that I am avoiding to be in touch with truths about my life, even if this is necessary. On the bright side of life, journaling helps me detaching from my thoughts and feelings, gaining a perspective upon a situation. It is also helpful when I want to communicate something to someone and I want to do it in a loving-kind way. I often try to use resources I learn about communication, so that I frame my thoughts and feelings, sketching until I feel genuine and concrete enough. Through journaling I have also gained an insight: the balance between spontaneity and reflection, which I find necessary to nourish relationships (including my relationship with myself). In addition to this, journaling is a great resource in combination with meditative practices, so as to follow up on the awareness we gain. Who is really speaking through this thought or feeling? The inner child? The inner mother? The victim? The judge? The curious? So, journaling can be a dialogical practice that can help us activating voices that are more intuitive, wise and genuine when communicating with others. (After all, we do not need to communicate all what crosses our minds and hearts! This is a lesson I have learnt after many tears and resignations.) Writing blogposts is a form of journaling for me as well, that inspires me to make my life of service for others.
I am in a moment of transition in my understanding and practice of spirituality. I have many questions, and perhaps most of them will take a life-time to unfold in answers. In the moments where I struggle to shape my spirituality, I still rely to very basic words. A) Thank you. I feel blessed -even in the midst of my many uncertainties – with the family I have (blood-wise and heart-felt wise), the friends I have, with my career, the beautiful city I call home, and the total awareness of my purpose in life, in the ways in which I am called to serve others. B) Teach me/Show me (Enseñame). This is a very beautiful prayer I learnt from Clarissa Pinkola Estés (2013). She says that when we ask the wise woman within, she will always reply, and I believe her. I am working in tuning into that intuition more often. C) Let it be done according to your word. This one is from one of my favorite scenes in the Bible. It is a prayer I use often to surrender, and to ask for discernment, so that I learn to identify the threshold between willingfulness and flow. I also use this statement to offer myself to little tasks of service in daily life. I pray so that I can be in the right place/right moment for someone who needs me. Many synchronicities have occurred and this also is worth another blogpost. D) I need help on this. This is also a little prayer that helps me being patient towards life (Patience is certainly one of my spiritual challenges!) and allow life to occur. When I really want something or someone, I struggle with surrendering, and therefore I ask myself: Is this ought to be? Is there a greater good that I cannot see just now?
Okey, this is where I am at. Where are you at in your journey? I would love to read your comments if you have read my blog. I would also love if you could take some seconds to like and share this post. I want it to reach every person who would find it useful (and also some people critical about my words, so I learn about their critics too).
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Carter, S. B. ( ). Are You Suffering from Compassion Fatigue?What to do when showing compassion feels like a burden. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/high-octane-women/201407/are-you-suffering-compassion-fatigue
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Hannelore Stone. (2007, November). Brené Brown on Boundaries. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSbOIas6jFc
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Lehmann, O. V. (2016). Something blossoms in between silence-phenomena as bordering notions in psychology. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 50(1), 1-13. doi: 10.1007/s12124-015-9321-7
Neff, K. (n.d.). Self-Compassion Guided Meditations and Exercises. Retrieved from: http://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/
Reeves, B. (n.d.) The Boundaries Program. Retrieved from: https://bryanreeves.com/boundaries/
ROS (n.d.). ME-CL1: Mindful Eating-Conscious Living. A Foundational Professional Training. Retrieved from: https://nettros.no/me-cl1-mindful-eating-conscious-living/
Palouse Mindfulness. (.n.d.). Online Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Retrieved from https://palousemindfulness.com
Pinkola Estés, C. (2003). The Beginners Guide to Dream Interpretation. Louisville: Sounds True. Retrieved from: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/the-beginner-s-guide-to-dream-interpretation-3704.html
Pinkola Estés, C. (2013). Untie the strong woman. Blessed mother’s immaculate love for the wild soul. Boulder, CO: Sounds True Inc.
Siegel, D. (2010). Mindsight. Transform your brain with the new science of kindness. London: Oneworld.
Toko-Pa. (2017). Belonging. Remembering ourselves back home. Retrieved from: https://toko-pa.com/belonging-the-book-by-toko-pa/