Archive for the ‘genuine’ Tag

Is There Room for Me?   Leave a comment

Mazie, our white spitz mix, sat on the floor in front of the love seat, wistfully eyeing a narrow spot between Kimberly and me.  Mitts likes to sit on our laps, which makes room for both dogs, but he sometimes spills into the gap, and he guards his personal space with warning growls.  Kimberly pulled Mitts over a bit, slapped the empty space, and urged the timid Mazie, “There’s room for you!”  Then turning to me she added, “That’s our family motto: ‘There’s room for you.’  It may feel uncomfortable or even scary, but we always make room for each other.”

When I make room for others in my space, I have to adjust.  Their preferences, priorities, viewpoints, and feelings all stick out in odd shapes that don’t fit well with mine. What they say or do may upset me, and in defense I may push back, growl to make them stop.  We make relationships “work” by excluding the parts that are at odds–go silent about politics and religion and the morality of disposable diapers.  After repeatedly hitting the same potholes of conflict, we learn to steer around them, thinking that smoother relationships are better relationships.  But this dance of avoidance hides our true selves, and our deep need for connection goes unmet.

Family and marriage is the quintessential formative ground for these dynamics.  We are most vulnerable here, with the greatest potential for harming or healing.  And the redemptive way forward is no Hallmark movie.  The “precious moments” of marriage, the things that make it rich and rewarding and powerful, are not warm fuzzies but cold pricklies.  It is not romance that makes a marriage great, but the frustrations, fears, and foolishness responded to with stumbling grace.  We build a marriage by the messy process of learning to embrace our real selves with all its brokenness.  This shared grace is the foundation of trust on which every deep relationship is built.  Because the two of us are weak and fearful, we sometimes fail, but we always return to this core value: “There’s room for you.”

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12 Steps for Growing True Relationships   Leave a comment

  1. Establishing an environment of grace.  Unless someone feels safe to share and explore their own viewpoints with a non-judgmental and supportive listener, they cannot be honest even with themselves, and especially not with the other person.  This is quite tricky in close relationships because we get enmeshed in our own issues, are blind to our underlying assumptions, and confuse support with other problematic responses (such as the tendency to ‘fix’ or rescue or diagnose).  It can get messy–sometimes the focus must switch from the original topic to the current hurtful dynamic–but if we keep flailing towards the goal, we will learn a little through each encounter.
  2. Sharing vulnerably.  We can only share vulnerably in an environment made safe by grace, but unless we share the things that we guard most closely to our hearts, we cannot go very deep in relationship and mutual understanding.  It is our fear, often stoked by self-condemnation, that prevents us from sharing at the level that breaks through the surface to the core of ourselves.  Sometimes this fear leaks out as sarcasm, blame-shifting, or other ways of self-protection.  Vulnerability is especially hard if the listener incites these fears so that they react to our sharing in self-defense.  Sometimes a third-party can help in “translation.”
  3. Supporting ourselves.  We cannot make the other person responsible for our safety or support, which is a subtle form of co-dependence.  This means I must go at my own pace in self-revelation, not risking more than I can bear in vulnerability.  Of course I can be aided in this effort by the listener, by their gentleness, affirmation, and support, but ultimately I must stand up for myself by establishing healthy boundaries and a pace and level of vulnerable sharing that is sustainable.
  4. Sharing responsibility.  It is not possible to go deep in relationship with someone who is unwilling or unable to respond in kind.  Vulnerability must match vulnerability, depth match depth, grace match grace.  Of course any of these may come more easily to one party, so it is the effort or commitment of each that is matched, not the content. A person may value self-discovery enough to share in a one-sided way, but if it is not matched, it does not deepen real relationship.
  5. Giving mutual respect.  When one position is privileged over the other, it becomes very difficult to find any insight that does not simply support and expand that perception.  If one person is presumed to be “right” because of greater experience, insight, knowledge, etc. or because of accepted norms, the process will be undermined.  The experiences, feelings, and viewpoints of both parties must be accepted as equally valid–after all, the key does not lie in these perceptions, but in what underlies them, and we cannot reach these hidden roots unless we are sympathetic to what is shows above ground.  This is as true for ourselves as for the other–out of hand dismissal or critique will kill the process.  (We also have no basis for judging without understanding these foundations). This openness is not easy to do, especially if one is more assertive than the other, but real understanding depends on it.
  6. Discerning Subconscious systems.  The focus is always on deeper understanding, discovering the root system beliefs that establish our conscious behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.  This means working to understand the subconscious presuppositions from which our feelings and views flow, otherwise we are stuck on the surface, unable to grow personally and relationally in transformational ways.  The question “Why?” repeated (like two-year-olds!) at deeper and deeper levels is key to this process until a whole integrated system is revealed: values, priorities, fears, safety nets, and the like.
  7. Identifying family-of-origin values and dynamics.  This is a huge asset in self-discovery.  The most profound and opaque engine of our viewpoint is how we were raised, not the actual teaching of values (though that also counts), but the unspoken and unrecognized values out of which the relational dynamics were formed.
  8. Placing our role in the family.  After we begin to discover the overall picture, we begin to see how we fit into that schema–were we compliant or rebellious?  Over what issues?  Did we take more after our mother or father?  Regarding which values and with what impact on ourselves and our family relationships?  How did our siblings impact us and the family dynamics?  What did we hide from our families and why?  Who were we closest to (or fearful of) and why?
  9. Understanding our personalities.  Our families’ values are filtered into and out of us through our unique personalities.  We may be confident or doubtful, introverted or extroverted, pensive or active, cautious or adventurous, and each aspect causes us to respond to family values in different ways.  Our personality has a huge impact on our belief structures, self-perception, and relational patterns.
  10. Being patient with the process.  The more foreign to our minds or objectionable and threatening to our thoughts and feelings, the more the effort required and the longer the time frame to reach a new level of discernment.  All explanations are tentative until a system begins to form through repetitive confirming discoveries.  Our hearts can only go at a certain speed and to push them to go faster will undermine the process. It is the most difficult conflicts in our relationship that touch our most important beliefs, so these are key, but we may have to gradually work up to them.
  11. Using coping strategies in a healthy way.  Our coping mechanisms (people-pleasing, controlling, withdrawing, etc.) are crutches to help us heal.  They protect us from too much vulnerability that would set us back in our growth process.  But if we use them to avoid growth, our spiritual muscles atrophy, our personal and relational growth is stunted.  We need to push ourselves into what is uncomfortable, challenging, even scary, but not so far that we injure ourselves by pushing past our sustainable limits.  Most importantly we should recognize when we are using coping mechanisms and why–be conscious, deliberate, and strategic in their use rather than slipping into them by default without noticing.
  12. Finding support.  There are many sources of support and direction for this process: books, podcasts, friends, counselors, self-reflection, exercises, etc.  Support may come from the relationship in question, but often there is so much tension there when discussing conflicting feelings and views that outside support is needed. Pseudo-support is especially dangerous, posing as “for your good,” but ending up making us feel worse about ourselves (or feeling better like an opioid).  With less support, the process will take longer.

Posted June 8, 2017 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Surviving Christmas   2 comments

Every year Christmas is a cultural blitzkrieg of celebration, carrying many along in its triumphal sweep while capsizing in its wake those who cannot keep up with its jubilant spirit.  Be happy or be left out.  In our chipper American culture, that is the flavor of the year, as Ella Wheeler Wilcox so aptly described it:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.

Even those who are forgiven for a downcast spirit on an average day are expected to step up to the occasion when the band starts playing, which it does ceaselessly from Thanksgiving till the last relative shambles out the door and the long, bleak, cold winter blows inside.

I’m no sour-puss.  I like celebrating Christmas if I can bring all of myself to the party–the sad parts as well as the hopeful parts, the tears and smiles, winces and hugs, serious and silly words.  When my uncomfortable emotions are welcomed, my winsome emotions have room to express themselves genuinely rather than as a pretense.  Let me weep freely with you, and the laughter you hear will be deep-hearted as well.  My soul is chilled when I’m pressured to be false to myself, to express inflated or deflated feelings to please others who care more for an acceptable presence than a true presence.  Of course some contexts call for safe, superficial connections, and in that sense every office party is a masked ball, but then everyone enjoys it for what it is–play acting–and does not confuse it for genuine connection.

But even “genuine” can be a canny facade.  Many folks who think they are being real are so cut off from their own heart that they are simply reacting, sharing the surface emotions they feel in the moment that serve to disguise–even to themselves–the deeper underlying emotional currents, the submerged rip-tides that are too threatening to acknowledge.  Under the intense pressure of Christmas conformity, these can burst out suddenly and without warning.  Anger can cover for shame, tears can hide anger, cheerfulness can mask fear.  The underlying emotions which are unacceptable or painful are transmuted into acceptable or comfortable feelings. The intensity of those feelings may wake us to some deep lying issues but will fog up our skills for interpreting them.

The inflated expectations of the holidays is not a safe harbor to dry-dock the soul and begin to scrape away decades of clinging barnacles.  Sometimes the best any of us can do is try to ride out the storm of cross-current conflicts that arise.  But these family gatherings are rich with telltale signs of underlying issues, and once we get enough distance to look back with compassion and insight, we may be filled with fresh personal discovery.  Next year we can bring more of our true selves to the party and welcome the true selves of others as we grow into the grace of understanding and accepting ourselves and others more fully.

Posted December 18, 2014 by janathangrace in thoughts

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