Friday, February 19, 2010

When you have come to the edge...

This week I posted I am...NOT powerless. Why? Because for too long I "felt" powerless.

Where did that "feeling" come from?

Well, I suppose it started when I was trained to not speak up for myself as a child. In "normal" healthy families, autonomy is encouraged...even insisted upon. But in a dysfunctional or abusive situation this is typically not the case.

In a healthy environment we are encouraged to speak up when something hurts or feels uncomfortable. We are encouraged to learn to set our own boundaries and to respect the boundaries that others set for themselves. (Click here for a summary of autonomous v. controlling relationships)

In other situations where parenting is viewed more as a "do as I say" situation often with serious consequences if we dare to buck the authority of our parents. Often we are not given the choice to say "no" to hurtful words or actions of those around us. We develop a tolerance for being mistreated that becomes the blueprint for other relationships in our lives.

We may become dependent on first our family to give us an identity and give us "permission" to speak, to think to live life. In some situations we can incur much wrath if we dare to speak up about what we want, believe or think if it is different than what our caretakers believe we should have. Then as we grow we come to depend on external forces and others responses to define who we are and if we are ok.

I remember the day I came to this realization - that I could not exist unless the world around me and those in it "validated" my existence with some sort of acknowledgement that I was "ok" or had done or said the "right" thing.

I was well into my journey of self discovery... (I hesitate to use the word "recovery" for the simple reason that I have not had anything to "recover" as I truly had no sense of self or life situation that I wanted to repeat or regain).....

...I had learned to be mindfully aware of my thoughts and was slowly becoming aware that I had feelings that were influenced by my thinking and thus behaviors Ie choices I made, actions that I chose that were directed by my internal communications system of thoughts and feelings.

In other words I was starting to listen to "me".

What I found was that even in the simplest of circumstances that overwhelming feeling of anxiety and the emotional torment I experienced when around others was fueled not by anything other than the fact that I was looking to any external response that could tell me that I was doing it right....that I was ok to exist in the space that I resided.

I had for years experienced severe anxiety in public. I did whatever I had to do to avoid dealing with people. Having a car was not only transportation for me but it was a form of armour, a shield to hide from the greater world.

But my car had recently "died" and I was forced to either walk or rely on public transportation; a nightmare for me.

On this particular morning I was walking to get somewhere...I became aware that I was feeling anxious, as though I was exposed and naked to the world around me. I kept my eyes down and my shoulders curled up around my neck. I walked on in shame as though I had done something wrong by simply existing.

Yet I was determined to understand why I felt this way, why it was nearly impossible for me to venture outside and be a part of this bigger world.

I stood at the corner, waiting for the light to change so I could cross the street. A car approached and as it came nearer I listened to myself; my thoughts, my feelings.

As this car with a single man inside it approached I felt a small surge of anticipation as I looked not at the light or the crosswalk but I searched out the face of this anonymous person. And I suddenly realized that I was searching to be acknowledged, I was craving that my existence be confirmed by the smile I received as this person drove by.

Yet I also became painfully aware that to not be acknowledged by this stranger would reinforce the misnomer that I was not "enough"; that I had no right to exist.

As I stood there on the corner that warm spring morning, the sun warming the pavement and fueling the rebirth of spring I realized that if I could become aware of this conection between my thoughts and the way I felt - then I could learn to be and be ok.

I - was no longer powerless.

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