Friday, November 30, 2012

Make a Different Choice.

This morning, I ran into a friend of mine. She is feeling sad and stressed. She made a big life decision to move to Aspen and try something adventurous and difficult. (She's in the wellness industry).

Its not working out as well as she had imagined. She imagined that coming here by invitation, she would have a safe space to land, to plant roots and begin to forge relationships and grow.

I'm kind of frustrated with you, but I can't show you how I really feel... 

Aspen is a tough place. Its expensive, its a super small town with an international and nomadic population. The wellness industry is saturated here. There are SO many practitioners of all kinds of wellness here, and many of that huge population are also really talented at what they do. Because of that it takes a REALLY long time, even if you are super talented, to make a living with steady clientele, even if you work at it full time.

What I heard this morning was that the situation was frustrating, my friend felt trapped in a toxic situation with no way out. There are relationship triangles and drama all over the space in which she assumed would be safe. I was listening to her and thinking that everyone who is in that situation with her probably feels the same way.

And this happens in every industry. This happens in so many work places. This happens in families and in relationships and on teams.

And I think it comes from a need for each of us to feel right, to feel vindicated, to feel important, to see our place. To take and own our place, to guard our place, in order to feel safe.

Passive aggressive behavior is everywhere, its hard to know when we are doing it, its hard to know when we have bought into it. Its hard to know when we are victims of it. Its hard to know that the choice to not be a victim lies with us, not with the person who is "doing that to us."
The problem is that guarding ourselves and our emotional space as our primary motivator makes OTHERS feel unsafe, so we move further away from each other, making all of us wary and protective. This is part of the toxic cycle.

It can be compounded in situations where the person in the position of authority knows enough about how they SHOULD relate to speak out of both sides of their mouth. In the wellness industry, it can be confusing and painful for someone you work with to say "Love and Light" to your face, and speak behind your back at the same time.

My friend felt stuck. She feels like she is not in a position where she has or can find an ally. She is hanging on while people run rampant with the roles they have chosen: Martyr, Dictator, Earnest Worker, Frustratingly Neutral and Beatific.

I suddenly saw a pattern that I recognized from my life, from a long time ago. As I heard her talk, I thought about how many times I had taken on someone else's drama as my own, because their role dictated that I must, in order to be in a relationship with them. I was asked to merge completely with them in order to exist. And I did, not seeing another option. And I would feel stuck, and un heard, and like I had no value, even though I was working hard and giving all I had.

It took a long time for me to see that the only person who had the power to change that situation was me. I could choose to buy into the story that each of those people were insisting was reality, and truth, and have my own life's path ruled by it, handing all my power for happiness and peace to them.  Or, I could choose to see that their story was THEIR story. And mine was my own to make.

In this realization, you have choice. You can choose to confront. You can choose to get a mediator. You can choose to distance, you can choose to remove yourself completely. All of these choices have consequence.

Once, when I felt like I was stuck in this situation, I was care taking a friend who I had a huge amount of love in my heart for. This was a long time ago when I lived in Pasadena. He lived with me and my husband at the time, and he was suicidal. I cared about him, and so I felt obligated to give everything I had to keep him alive.

I see you. I see you as separate from me. I care for you. But I also care for me. 
Eventually, I felt trapped. Because I knew that I had given more than I had to give, and we were at a stalemate. He was super depressed and suffering, but not killing himself. If I stopped working, he would die, because no one else was stepping up. I felt like stopping giving all I had was tantamount to killing him. Consequently, neither of us had lives. We were captives of each other's stories.

One day, a therapist who I was working with said to me, "What's the worst thing that could happen? He could kill himself, right? What if you let him, Kate. What if you let that be his decision?"

I hated her for that in that moment. How could I let him kill himself? How could I allow him to take responsibility for his own health and happiness?

It took a long time to understand what she meant, and why she was right. It wasn't my job, or place, to STOP him, to save him, to change him. I can choose to not be stuck in that role. Because I am CHOOSING that role. It doesn't change how much I care about him, it doesn't change how much I hope he learns to find a path out of his crushing sadness.

But even thought the consequences of making a different decision seem dire, there is life on the other side of that courageous, compassionate choice. I needed to leave space for him to be right. I needed to let him decide that life was too hard if he wanted to.

What I COULD offer was that if he wanted to chose another path, I would be there, next to him, if he reached out for me. This was a choice that I could NOT see from inside the trauma, having abdicated my ability to have my own life to his drama and trauma.

Its not about disengaging and feeling like I am more important than he is, or believing my own story as much as he is believing his. Its about letting go of imperatives brought on by thoughtless imposition of personal crisis. You can still love someone who doesn't know how to let go of the thing that is driving them, the person who is a victim of their programming. This includes people who believe they have been wronged and need to cary that hurt in front of them like a shield or a banner on the field of war.

"I have been wounded, so before anyone goes anywhere, I need to hear from all of you how terribly sorry you are for me." If the people get this message, it feeds that toxic need, and the message on the banner turns into: "I really like it when everyone is gathered around me consoling me and telling me how wrong it was that I was hurt. It makes me feel valued and important. To be my friend, to work for me, or to share space with me, you need to do this for me, or I can't see you."

Take a moment to honor where YOU are, feel your feelings, and then pick your head up and try to see it differently. You might, in the process of taking back your peace, discover that you are worth caring for, and that the person who can do that most effectively, is you. Surprisingly enough, you will teach other people in your life that you are worth treating well, when you treat yourself well. Be patient, its hard to learn how to do this.
I hugged my friend today, the people she is working with are carrying their banners, and she feels she must capitulate, they hold all the power of the business, let alone asking her to sacrifice her personal power on the altar of their self-esteem.

I feel horrible for her, the pain, the betrayal, the confusion, she is lost. I asked her if she had to stay, if being with that group of people was worth the money she was making. Could she make a different choice? Could she see that taking her power back, letting their stories be their stories, separate from her, was indeed a choice?

I don't know if she could. It might have sounded as harsh as they day my therapist asked me to consider letting my friend die.

But that's how crisis feels. It feels desperate, and desperation narrows our field of vision, we only see thoughts like "run" and "protect" and "lick wounds". That is a dark, small world. Pick your head up, friends. There is choice on the other side. Its so hard to get there, its exhausting.

But, ultimately, it lets you see the people around you for what they are, people. People who are struggling, some consciously, some unconsciously, with their understanding of their worth and their place in the world. You have your own struggle. Focus on that, let their stories be theirs, honor their struggle and their pain, have comparison for them, but your peace? Your power? That belongs to you. And if you feel powerless, perhaps the culprit is not the person who "took" your power. But the person who gave their power away in the first place. You.


Anonymous said...

Oh serendipity!!! An amazingly relevant post that will help me "Make a different choice!"

Thank you, Kate

Unknown said...

I'm so glad it was helpful! Good luck in your new choice! I'm proud of you!