There are generally four different types of stories that we tell and that I talk about regularly. They are blame, shame, guilt, and victimization. When things happen in our lives, especially early on, we take them on and we spin them in some way as a means of protecting ourselves. That spin results in stories of blame, shame, guilt, or victimization that we either pin on other people or turn inward on ourselves. You either blame them or you blame yourself. You either feel guilty or you try to make somebody else feel guilty. You either feel ashamed or try to shame others. You either make them a victim or you victimize yourself.
Those stories aren’t just mental chatter. They aren’t just Academy award winning theatre and drama. They do in fact have a major impact on us and how we show up in the world. Whatever story or combination of stories you are telling determines how you react and respond to everything that happens in your life, good or bad. This is your behavior and your behavior matters.
Spirituality hyper focuses on emotions; it’s a heart-centered space that you get asked to find by swimming through all the pain. We call that doing the shadow work or having a dark night of the soul. Because it’s hyper focused on emotions, the mind gets to continue to offer chaos (which the person generally ignores) and the person is forced into a cocoon of solitude because they are unable to handle the world around them. How many people do you know that have gone this exact path? I can think of many people who have ended up in this place.
I want to challenge the idea of this path because I don’t believe it to be particularly effective or helpful. Anything that requires you to cocoon up and avoid the world isn’t helping you. If it doesn’t allow you to be okay in the life you’re in, then why are you doing it? It seems like it becomes an avoidance technique even though they are dragging themselves through a significant amount of internal pain to do it. What’s being avoided are thoughts and behavior. They are never dealt with and that’s why the person has to isolate themselves. Spirituality doesn’t offer techniques for how to show up in the world or how to balance unhealthy relationships. The solution is simply to abandon ship, avoid, ignore, and block.
The heart-centered path doesn’t seem to offer a stable way to be in the world without constantly needing to defend themselves and their limited internal stability and well-being. That seems like more of a problem than anything. So let’s change it by talking about it and what the steps are if you wish to avoid isolation; specifically let’s talk about this in terms of behavior and how we show up in the world.
When you don’t have control over your emotions, you need boundaries to protect them. While dropping into the heart-space seems like it should give a person emotional control, it doesn’t. It actually allows the emotions to flow completely freely without any sort of reigning in or management at all. The mind has also not been tamed, meaning it too is free to trigger emotions at will for no other reason then that it can.
Emotions to me are a double-edged sword of sorts. On the one hand they are a beautiful GPS system designed to guide us by showing us what we’re not happy with or don’t like. They are often the first hint we have that there is a problem. On the other hand they get wildly out of control easily, they take over everything very quickly (much like a nasty weed), and they don’t have a finite starting and stopping point if the person isn’t working on managing them appropriately. While we absolutely need emotion and they are part of our daily life, they need to be managed otherwise we just end up in chaos.
The need for boundaries is what forms the need to isolate. The person doesn’t have control and can’t handle the stimulation created in daily life where we’re surrounded by other people. The behavior used to manage that is isolation. There are better ways to do this, particularly for those of you that aren’t interested in dropping your lives and going to live in a cave somewhere. For those of you that want to maintain some version of the life you have, learning to shift your behavior as a means of managing the outside world and indirectly manage your emotions, can be an effective tool.
The world is responding to you all the time. That means that your reactions to other people, to problems that show up, to what happens in your daily life matter. Your reaction determines what happens next. If your reaction is out of control because you’re an emotional wreck, your life is going to feel out of control as well because everything and everyone is now responding to your lack of emotional control. People are tiptoeing around you whether you think they are or not. They are doing it even if you’re not intentionally making them do it.
I didn’t realize how much people were tiptoeing around me until I changed how I responded to people. It was only after I had changed my behavior that I realized how much my crazy antics had been making people change their own behavior because they were scared of what I was going to do next. I was an emotional train wreck. I didn’t have control over my emotions and they were affecting my behavior all the time. One of my major coping mechanisms was to avoid how I felt entirely, but that resulted in me blowing my top on a regular basis, making me a walking time bomb. Not to mention I was extremely defensive and anytime I was offered any criticism or new idea at all, I would cause an argument and rebel by doing the complete opposite of what was offered to me. The defensiveness was the boundary. It made people tiptoe around me. It happened because I didn’t understand how to respond better than I was. I didn’t understand what to do with the emotions I was feeling. I didn’t understand how to control my mind that wanted to tell the story of how everybody was out to get me.
I had made myself a victim of everybody’s ideas and criticisms. By doing that I created a scenario that required me to be in defense mode all the time. I was constantly battle ready because I thought I had to be. One of the major shifts I made was to drop the armor. That took some work though because I didn’t trust anyone or anything. I still have to remind myself that I don’t need to be looking over my shoulder all the time. I don’t have to constantly wait for the next bad thing to happen. Life doesn’t have to be like that and I’ve shifted it so that it isn’t like that. I’ve just had to learn to see that. That’s taken some time.
Being okay is very much a choice. I know that in spiritual circles we talk all the time about happiness not being circumstantial. That’s a really hard concept to grasp when you’re in battle mode all the time or telling stories of pain. What you’re really choosing to do is drop the stories of pain. When you do that and you choose to see reality as it is instead of as a battle waiting to be fought, it allows you to be okay in that same reality without changing anything except yourself and your perception of what’s happening.
One of the ways we can do this is by learning to understand what our emotions are telling us. What happens when the fear shows up? When happens when you get upset? What happens when you argue with it? What happens when it doesn’t feel good anymore? How behave in response to these emotions matters. When you just let your emotions control everything and you fly off the handle, it gets your into trouble. It turns reality into a battleground. What you end up battling is the external reality because you see that as being the thing that caused the emotion. Hint: Reality can’t make you feel anything. Your mind does all that heavy lifting for you.
Here’s an experiment for you. Sit on your couch by yourself with nothing going on. Now think up a memory that makes you feel bad. Make yourself cry or make yourself feel like crap. Can you do it?
Did those thoughts have anything to do with your reality on your couch in that moment? Was whatever you were thinking about happening right then? Probably not. Your mind was able to make you feel like crap without any help at all from the external world. It had absolutely nothing to do with reality. It was just you and your thoughts.
When things happen in your reality, is it the thing that’s happening that’s causing you pain or is it your thoughts about what’s happening that are causing you pain? Honestly, we’re so used to reacting to and judging our realities that we don’t get a conscious thought in very often. The emotions just show up, but that’s actually where the problem is because the emotion shows up and runs us over and we don’t do anything about that. We actually allow it all the time.
When you separate your emotions from your reality a little bit, it puts some space between you and what’s happening. Not only that, it gives you some control over your behavior because you’re no longer just blindly emotionally responding to things via your behavior. When you feel the emotion and immediately act on it, that’s where you get into trouble. Learning to put some space between your emotions and your experience offers you the opportunity to manage yourself better. You no longer have to just blindly fly off the handle.
Your reaction to what’s happening around you matters. It not only matters in terms of how you feel and what you’re thinking. It also matters in terms of what happens next because the other people involved are going to react to you in their own way. You may or may not create more chaos depending on how you react. Having your emotions in check by putting some distance there allows you to recognize what you’re putting into the situation so that you can manage that. You don’t have to pick up the snowball of pain and throw it back. But the only way you can do that is by understanding yourself within the experience and that means not getting run over by your emotions all the time.
Let’s go back to those stories of blame, shame, guilt, and victimization that we love to tell. How these are being used doesn’t matter; whether you’re projecting it or turning it on yourself, the story remains regardless of which way it’s being directed.
These stories are often very unconscious. The play out in our behavior in little ways that we don’t see. It happens all the time. Heaven knows I’ve had dozens of them and I still find myself catching them on occasion because they are very deeply ingrained within me. These are very deep sacred cycles that I’ve had in my life for years. I actually just caught one yesterday (as of when I’m writing this). It was the cycle I had of questioning my choices constantly because of the fear of doing it wrong.
You see for most of my life, my choices have been questioned by other people. Granted, I was a walking train wreck and I gave them all kinds of reasons to question those choices. But the unintended consequence of all that questioning was that I stopped trusting myself. I started looking outside of myself for answers at every turn.
I was still playing that out with my tarot cards. Every time I would get an idea to do something, I would question my cards about whether it was a good idea or not. I would question whether I was allowed to do it or not. Honestly, I didn’t need to ask the question. It was just a bit of a habit that I had. I would pull 5 or 6 cards, quickly realize they weren’t stopping me, and then just decide to do the thing anyway. I didn’t need the speed bump of asking the question. I could just make the choice and do the thing. I needed to let go of the cycle of questioning my choices.
I have more than enough power to do that. It doesn’t scare me to do it. It was a habit that was playing out and it’s easy enough to stop with a little bit of awareness. What was interesting to me was the amount of emotion that it brought with it. It was such a deeply ingrained cycle that recognizing it as being done was an important milestone. It affirmed the work that I had done on myself to find my power and step into it.
It was such a small behavior that wasn’t really stopping me anymore, but it was still an unnecessary behavior. As inconsequential as it seems, that little behavior mattered. It has an underlying effect on how I feel about the choices I make. It has an underlying effect on what I do when I make choices. That little blip in the radar makes a difference.
Your behavior matters; even the tiniest little behaviors matter. They offer energy. They offer emotion. They offer ideas. They offer ways of being. They offer habits and patterns. They are connected to cycles. Breaking even these small little behaviors has a massive impact on you.
Recognizing and breaking a tiny little behavior was an emotional experience for me. It shouldn’t have been. It was a pretty small thing to come across in the grand scheme of things. But the fact that it was emotional shows the impact that tiny behavior was having on me. It was a big deal because I had so much of myself invested in being insecure. I’m sitting here writing this and testing myself with this at the same time.
So I just made a choice and did a thing again. I didn’t check in with the cards. What’s interesting now is what that’s bringing up. My mind immediately wants to question everything. There is fear there as well. All of that’s being generated by simply making a choice that I didn’t question. I just trusted my own power.
It’s my awareness that allows me to keep going. I recognize what the mind does so I don’t buy into the crazy it offers. The fear can be there. I don’t really care about whether fear shows up or not because it doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. I’ve sat in far too much fear to be bothered by it now. I just keep going anyway. I have the power to override all the things that get stirred up within me when I break cycles or change patterns. I get what’s happening. I just kicked up the dust and so I don’t need to respond to that. I’ll just let it be there until it settles on its own, which it will.
If I get mixed up in all the emotions, it creates a kind of fog that doesn’t allow me to clearly see what’s actually happening. There is nothing wrong with the emotion, it’s how we respond to it, what we do with it, and whether or not we let it shift our perception that matters. It’s okay to feel the feels, just don’t get bogged down in them. Don’t let them hold you there. Don’t let them shift your perspective. Don’t use your emotions as the filter.
If I put the fear in as a filter, then I change what I do, I change how I respond, I grab the cards and question my choices because the fear will get me to do that if I buy into it. But if I don’t use the fear as a filter and I just let it be there, then I don’t need to question my choices. The fear is just my brain’s way of trying to get me to go back into the old habit. I’m simply too stubborn to do that.
My emotions don’t have to affect my behavior, but I have to have enough awareness of myself in the experience to see what’s happening not just blindly act out my emotions, and then make different choices. That’s what self-awareness looks like. You recognize your own emotion and you don’t necessarily throw it around.
Here’s what just came through. It’s the idea that when something happens, the immediate thoughts or feelings you have are fully based on previous experience, old pain, and split second judgment of what’s happening. Often much of this happens without any conscious at all, making it all old programming. What self-awareness gives you is the ability to slow this down and put a speed bump in front of it so that you can actually get a thought in there and question the old programming.
You see it’s not really the internal reaction that’s the problem, it’s more about whether or not you show it off. When somebody hands you drama and you pick it up and throw it back, you’re feeding the drama. You defend that because you say they came at you and you needed to, but that’s not true. That’s just the ego telling you stories about needing to defend yourself, needing boundaries, and not wanting to put up with crap from other people. Those stories make you mad. They make you react. If you would just stop reacting, stop defending, stop arguing, and recognize that you don’t need to throw the drama around, life would get easier for you.
Your ability to withhold your reaction and not feed into the drama is what will change your relationships for you. You don’t have to make other people change. You have to get control over yourself and how much of your internal reaction you choose to share. Not feeding the drama is the fastest way to change things. The ego just tells that it’s a problem if you do that because it wants to defend you. That argument is what keeps you stuck in the drama.
The concept of boundaries actually gets a lot of people in trouble because they think it means walking around with an armed guard all the time. It doesn’t. Boundaries give you the ability to stop taking on the energy of others that you don’t want. You stop feeding the drama. You stop picking up the pain that gets thrown at you. You don’t offer any energy back anymore. That’s what a boundary is.
When I changed the boundaries in one of my own relationships, I told that person what I was doing. I didn’t ask. I didn’t demand anything different from them. I just told them what I was doing and then I stayed there. I did what I said I was going to do and I didn’t budge. By standing my ground I created the boundary. I didn’t argue. I didn’t fight. I didn’t demand. I just stood my ground. When I was challenged I still didn’t move. I defended the boundary without requiring them to change. It took a few months and they came around on their own. Now all is well.
That’s what healthy boundaries look like. A healthy boundary is not demanding the other person change. A healthy boundary requires you to change and then stay put. You only engage to defend the boundary when they challenge you. That’s it.
Get your ego out of the way. Stop defending yourself. Stop making other people change. Stop demanding people be different than they are. To do this effectively you have to understand what you’re offering into the relationship. What’s the energy you’re putting into it? What dysfunction are you creating? Where are you reacting based on your own pain? Where are you throwing pain back? Where are you creating new pain? You have to be aware of yourself within the experience of that relationship. You have to be willing to change your behavior so that it is healthy and communicate what the means to the other person.
Our behavior doesn’t just affect us in relationships with other people, it also affects us in relationship with our goals and dreams. We all have some goal or dream that we’re trying to achieve. It doesn’t matter how big or small that goal or dream is. It doesn’t matter if the goal is just a feeling of personal well-being and happiness. It doesn’t matter if the goal is to be a billionaire. It doesn’t matter what the goal is, the important part is that you have something you’re working towards. That’s what gives us the motivation to get up in the morning and live our lives.
Do we ever find ourselves in a place where we have no idea what we want? Yes. I’ve been there myself. I’ll let you in on a secret. I’ve known for most of my life that I wanted something bigger, that I could have some degree of “fame and fortune” so to speak, and that if I didn’t want to just live the quiet anonymous life that most people live, I didn’t have to. What I didn’t understand was how to get there. I didn’t know what my superpower was. What that created was an unknown because it meant that I didn’t really know what I wanted. I never went around telling people I wanted to be famous because everybody just thought I was crazy. But I do want to be famous. I do want to be recognized. I want to be known. And I want to help people. And I’m a teacher at heart. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive.
The healing path that I’ve taken opened up the door to writing. Writing is a mode of teaching. The healing path showed me a method of healing that I could teach to other people. I had the skills. I could write. Suddenly now I had something to teach. The pieces started to come together. But I still had work to do because now I had to give myself permission to go after the big goal. I actually had to believe I could get there. That’s taken longer than anything else.
All the pain I put myself through in my life offered me clarity around what my dream was. To figure out what I wanted I had to heal the pain. To admit what I wanted just now I had to heal the pain. I was raised by parents that wanted to fly under the radar. They couldn’t believe I wanted to be at the front of the room. As a teenager going to church every Sunday, I used to read the readings. I used to be the one in the front. I loved that! It made me want to be in front all the time. It made me want an audience, but not a captive one. I wanted a willing audience. I wanted people who genuinely wanted to hear what I was saying or learn what I was teaching.
I still don’t know exactly how to get from where I am to where I want to go. But I know this much; it’s possible if I keep moving in the direction I’ve been going in. If I’m willing to stay in the room now and stop running away all the time, it’ll happen on its own. I can achieve the recognition that I want but I have to stop being afraid of the journey.
My relationship with the goal matters because it determines what I do about it. It determines my behavior. If I don’t think it’s possible, then my behavior will reflect that. If I believe it’s possible then my behavior will reflect that. If I don’t think I’m good enough my behavior will reflect that. If I don’t think I can then my behavior will reflect that. What you’re doing, your actions, are a reflection of what you’re thinking and feeling. So when your actions are showing you a problem, there is probably a problem for you to solve. There is something there to work through. But in order to catch a problem in your actions, you have to be aware of your actions. You can’t be flying on autopilot all the time. You have to be willing to question yourself.
There are two parts to every goal. The first is the overall goal itself. I want to be famous. That’s the bigger goal. The second part is the journey and each individual step along that path to get from where I am to where I want to go. My relationship with the bigger determines what the steps are on the journey to the bigger goal. If my relationship with my big goal is all wonky because I have no confidence in myself and I’m arguing with everything, then there will be lots of steps on the journey to help me work out all those things.
To get from where I am to where I want to go, I have to be willing to work on the individual steps. I have to be willing to follow the proverbial breadcrumb trail. My motivation to get to where I want to go has to be strong enough to pull me through the struggles with each of those breadcrumbs. When it’s not that’s when I have the potential of running away from what I want and giving up on the dream.
What are you willing to do to get to where you want to go? How bad do you want it? It comes down to your own willingness to do the work. When we run away because of fear it’s because the motivation isn’t overriding the fear yet. We’re still scared of the outcome. I get it. I sat in the fear, buckets of it, for months until I taught myself that there was nothing to be afraid of. I trained myself out of being afraid to exist. But I didn’t do it until I had something that motivated me enough that I was willing to do it.
Sometimes I ask this question on social media; how much pain do you need to be in before you do something different? I ask that question because when it comes down to it you will change it when the pain becomes too much or the goal becomes big enough. I found both enough pain and enough desire for a goal that it gave me the willingness to shift. The pain not only threatened my life (I was suicidal.) it also saved it. Without the pain I wouldn’t be here now. The pain offered me some of the willingness that I needed to do the work. To be honest, when I was intuitively told that I needed to heal myself, it sounded easy. That was just a reflection of how much pain I was in.