opposing forces

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Am I mixed, or just mixed up? I used to think the answer was the latter, but now I’m not so sure.

Have you ever felt conflicted about the role of people in your life? On one hand, you want to have friends, a romantic partner, and the kinds of close connections you see romanticized in TVs and movies–because we all need people. We need connection. It’s wired into your being. But then, on the other hand, you can’t fight the gnawing feeling that people are selfish and gross, and you want to push everyone away, because people often hurt you, and many times, don’t give a shit about it. Why do I even care? you think. Why bother? People suck. Being alone is better.

Throughout my lifetime, and more acutely in the past two years, I have been shuttling between the two extremes. With all the spiritual and self-work I’ve been doing in those two years, I now find myself firmly in a place where I am experiencing both states frequently and with an awareness I never had before. One moment I am struggling against the hunger and need for people in my life, and in the next moment, I want to shove everyone away because people hurt, they flake, they’re self-focused, they spit on me without care. So again, I think, why should I care?

Yet my current state is made all too clear in context of the past. Enduring emotional abuse. Being bullied at school. Having no safe place, no one to turn to for support at a young age. Struggling with depression as a result. Almost attempting to kill myself by age 11. Living in gray throughout my adolescence, because my family prioritized their own needs and emotional states over mine… the needs of a child. What we grew up with is what we come to believe about ourselves, others, and the way the world works. So my experiences have created within me a stark divide: one side, embedded in my human nature and human wirings, with its need of human connection and a story that has a happy end. And the other side, embedded in the environment I was born into, with people proving themselves time and again as self-focused, unsafe, hurtful, damaging, and unkind. Hence the pull, and the push away.

In my head, I know that there are good people. Kind and selfless people. Others often comment that I am one of those people. But there are days like these when I struggle to fully believe it. People consider themselves above all else. So why bother to be kind? People take it as an invitation to take advantage of you anyway. People still insist on treating you like shit anyway–tossing any concept of reciprocity out the window.

But I also know the answer to my own question. I choose to be kind, because of what I believe, of what I choose to stand for. Because of the kind of person I want to be–regardless of what another says, or does, or how they treat me.

So, no, I don’t think I’m mixed up. I am understandably mixed, two sides that are indeed in apparent opposition… yet still both attached to the same Whole that is Me. I am human. But I am also deeply affected by the environment around me. I am a sensitive soul.

Carl Jung spoke of the individuation process that entails integrating all aspects of our personality in order to become whole. I’m inclined to think that if we are open to it, the universe will give us many opportunities, in the forms of good luck and of conflicts, to become our true, whole selves through our integration. It’s not easy. But believing is what gives me the strength to carry on.

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a lesson in faith

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In the past week, I have been finding myself facing battle with an old friend–depression.

Yet it is in stark contrast to the youthful, immature depression I once knew, when I believed the cloudy gray life I lived was all that there was and that there was no true escape. Fast forward to now, after years of self-growth, self-improvement, and therapy, I have now what I would call a “mature” depression. When I get in my depressive episodes, I am acutely aware that I am roaming minute to minute in the gray, with the knowledge that I am not the depression, and I am not really stuck. Feelings pass. Situations change. The things my depression are trying to convince me of are false. But it does not make the depressive episode any easier to bear through.

It is like someone hijacked your brain and is steering your thoughts and feelings down paths you know is not realistically accurate. But because you’ve been taken over by D, your stumbling down them regardless. Then you are left feeling so overwhelmed–overwhelmed by sadness, loneliness, hopelessness, and a feeling of bleakness about your life and where it’s headed. I know that I am doing great things with my life, that I am making a valuable mark on this earth. My mind is aware. But still, it is difficult to fight through the feeling of dissatisfaction with yourself and the world, or the feeling that things will never change.

I was driving home from work today, and I found myself asking God, “How do I get myself out of the black hole I’m in? What are you trying to teach me through this? What are you trying to bring forth through me?” I know well enough by now that God teaches us through pain. But at that moment, I could not gather what I was supposed to learn. So sitting in traffic, I paused and listened. Then I could hear God replying back, You need to have faith.

With that, I had an epiphany. Here I was, fighting and fighting to make things work, to get what I’ve always yearned deeply for, but to no avail. Losing friends, people going MIA, stress where ever I go… it has felt as if nothing I do would give me the life I have been aiming for. Things have been falling apart instead. So I have felt hopeless and helpless, like I am stuck with this unsatisfying life I have been trying so hard to change. But then it became so clear. There are no options left at this point, because faith is all I have left. Nothing else is working, because God wants me to choose the one last option. I can either stay where I am, or walk out onto unknown waters.

This has always been my problem. I am Peter, who is afraid and does not trust that God will allow me to walk on water. I am fearful that I will sink and meet my death. So of course God sees it fit that I learn to have faith–to face my fear of sinking. The God who calms the storms. The God who can move mountains. The God who splits seas. I must have faith.

So, my fellow readers–for those of you who know what I speak of, who are also struggling: when it seems as if there are no other options, perhaps that is because God is bringing you to the one option that will help get you through whatever you are going through. Allow your courage to rise, and have faith. You’ve been through worse, and just as it has before, this period too will pass. Life is impermanent. You’ll get through this.  And in the meantime, let yourself go, walk out onto the water, and have faith that God will give you strength to conquer the waves.

an open letter

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You say my vulnerabilities are a warning flag of “emotional instability.” That I am sensitive. You use my emotions against me to prove your created perceptions of me (and your fears) right, using them as evidence for your weak arguments. Arguments, that are tailored only to buffer your fragile ego–while simultaneously putting me, and others around you, down.

Well, let me be perfectly frank with you.

My sensitivity is both a gift, and a curse. While things affect me easily and elicit deeper responses than you may feel comfortable, it also helps me to love and care very deeply, to reach to people in the midst of their pain, to let them feel they are not alone. My passion and vision walk hand in hand with my gift/curse. Yes, I take your words and actions seriously, and I feel them in my heart. But honestly, someone who believes instead that words and actions should be tossed around without care and “taken lightly”–like throwing knives freely around a crowded room–tells me there is something grave to be said about you.

Second point. I am a human being. Which means I hold both strengths, and vulnerabilities. Which means I will not always be consistently happy and perfect all days of the week. For you to use my vulnerabilities against me, again, speaks to your issues and fears. It is easier to judge and criticize another, than it is to face yourself and your insecurities.

And if I may add: I’ve been through a lot of shit. Some very, very tough shit. It is through God’s grace that I am a survivor, and thriver. I have my moments of weakness, and my scars–I will not deny that. But despite everything I’ve been through in my life and despite the struggles that continue to come up, I am standing strong here today, doing what I’m doing and radiating resiliency. I live out my passion with every breath I take. I endure whatever life throws at me and always seek to reap wisdom and knowledge from those experiences. I expand my consciousness with every moment of suffering and despair. I use my experiences to increase my empathy and counsel others. I choose to live with pure authenticity and courage–giving people me and nothing less. I allow the hard times to come like waves, and I fight, and fight, and fight, to hold onto faith, hope and love. I don’t give up. I never give up.

You can make whatever judgments you want, hon. Call me sensitive. Call me a bitch. Call me unstable. Call me whatever you please. Because if this letter does not show you who I truly am and speak to my indisputable strength and solidity, I don’t know what does.

Perhaps you are just too blind to see it.

overcoming what other people think

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Oftentimes people will say ad nauseum that you shouldn’t care what other people think. My response to that used to be, “Easier said than done.” I think this is a sentiment that echoes with many people.

But during my self-revolution quest in the past five months, I began to ask myself, why is it hard to not care what others think and not take things personally? And that is a very loaded question… everyone’s answer to that would be different. But if I were to attempt to boil down the reasons in an overview, it would be this:

Family of origin. Any issue or problem in our relationships can be traced back to our family of origin. Why? Because that is where every human being learns how to relate to another human being–be it functional, or dysfunctional. Maybe you were abused, and in your search to feel like a “good boy” or “good girl,” you try to please others. Or maybe you were shamed by your parents or family when you attempted voice your thoughts or assert your individuality. Or maybe your parents pressured you to be someone who they wanted you to be, regardless of what you wanted or how you felt–so you learned other people matter above you. I could write a book on all the possible ways family can affect us. But bottom line, it is helpful to look at how your family may have taught you–explictly or implicitly–to care what people say or think.

Lack of personal boundaries. Although this can be traced to your family of origin, boundaries are important to mention because they affect us in our present relationships. When you have too rigid of boundaries, you don’t allow people in and you suffer a dearth of intimacy and social connection. On the flip side, when you have too open of boundaries, whatever anyone says goes, and you give up all power over yourself and your choices. Both extremes are dangerous spaces to be in. Someone with open boundaries will be the one who overly cares what others think, because they have not yet learned that not what everyone says is right or true (in actuality, a lot of what others aggressively claim can be flat out wrong or illogical). But people with open boundaries don’t consider that possibility, and operate with the belief that everyone else is right and true, and they are wrong. Boundaries are necessary in this light, because it is essential to know where you stop and the other person begins.

Lack of identity. This too can go back to your family of origin. But for whatever reason, a person has not developed a strong sense of self, so they depend on others for acceptance and approval–it is like the cocaine hit to your sense of self. But then it disappears, and the person looks for the next hit, the next person to give them approval. They conform to what “sounds good,” sometimes borrowing others’ identities to gain a semblance of stability. On the flip side, someone with a strong sense of identity may face criticism or rejection, but is able to consider each individual instance with rationality, judging what is true or untrue to them. They can support a viewpoint they agree with without hesitation, or they can reject another’s opinion without growing angry or reactive.

I write this in hopes that this may inspire others. I, like many others, cared what people thought–I would seek to please others and make them happy at the expense of myself, while growing reactive when people said hurtful things. My last relationship was a perfect example. But it is by enduring that dysfunctional relationship I realized how much my thoughts and behaviors were hurting me.

If I were to simplify the many lessons I learned from that experience, and provide some tips to others who may be going through the same journey as me:

1. Boundaries are essential to a healthy relationship, not just for the other person, but for you. You do not have to put up with hurtful or abusive behavior from others if it affects you negatively. Everyone has different tolerance levels, so find what yours is. Our well-being matters and it is up to us to take care of ourselves.

2. How people act or react to you is a reflection of who they are, NOT OF YOU. I would bold this one ten times more if I could. If you’re like me and have a tendency to blame yourself for everything, this is important to know. Even if by chance you are being hurtful to someone else, there are healthy ways of asserting yourself in those circumstances without disrespecting them. And it works conversely. How you treat others is a reflection of who you are.

3. Your thoughts and feelings matter. ALWAYS. What matters most though, is that you understand that within yourself. If someone disagrees and invalidates you, as long as you validate yourself, it won’t matter much what others say. Even if the person doggedly tries to convince you that you should feel something different, or that your needs are not important, remind yourself that that is untrue, because everyone’s needs, including yours, are always important.

4. It is okay to reject another person’s worldview. People have opinions, it doesn’t mean they are always right or true. If you’ve considered someone’s worldview and it does not resonate, then you are allowed to reject it. All of us are trying to find our truths, and not every shoe will fit.

There is hope for change, if you are willing to do the work. I personally am still a work in progress, but I feel like I’m arriving to a place in my life now where people’s thoughts and reactions don’t matter as much to me anymore. The reason for that is because I’ve taken time to know who I am, and in that knowledge, I feel assured in trusting myself and my judgments. Sometimes people are right, sometimes they’re wrong, but it really comes down to discovering yourself and what you stand for–then the answer you seek will come easier and clearer.

 

Self-Empowerment

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Any woman will tell you, it’s almost expected to take a hit to your self-esteem when you break up with someone. Even for the most evolved human being, it is hard not to hurt when any kind of attachment is severed, especially if you were not the one to do the cutting. Particularly in those cases, it is difficult not to think, was it something about me? Am I not good enough?

That same old tape plays, over and over again. All the negative thoughts and beliefs about yourself. It’s been the same since childhood, it comes up without you having to push play. Like some sick joke, it plays during the worst moments of your life, and during your best. When the kids taunted me as a girl and called my ugly. When I make a mistake at work. When I trip on the sidewalk. When someone asks me out. When someone pays me a compliment. The tape goes on, and this break-up is no exception.

But there is a clear difference this time around. I’ve had years of self-awareness of my tape, but oftentimes struggled to press stop. It was too overpowering, it sounded too true to my ears. However, after a long time in this battle, I have now finally found myself at a point in my life where a still voice is breaking through the noise, saying, I’m done. I’m so over beating myself up. I’m so over letting people treat me like shit. It ends today. It’s done. This is it. No more. We all have our own journey and timing, and now, I feel truly ready to throw the tape out. It is no longer serving me. It is killing me. And with that, the truth sinks down to my very bones: I am good enough. I am worthy. I am a human being, prone to make mistakes, but I also have so much to offer. I take responsibility for my actions. And most of all, I always strive to do better. There is nothing more the universe could ever ask of me. No one will ever get me to believe otherwise again. Absolutely no one.

At the beginning of this process, my favorite word in the English language came to mind: empowerment. It is a value I’ve come to hold, and in this season, I am challenged to live up to it. And that also speaks to one of my other values. Integrity. It means living and always remaining true to your values and what is good, even in the face of temptation. My tape tempts me. My ex’s words reverberate through my broken heart. The pain sometimes clutches too tightly. But I will not waver. I will stand strong, knowing what is right and true, and never let go of that.

And this is how I empower myself. I remind myself of all my good qualities… I am intelligent, good-hearted, compassionate, empathetic, resilient, beautiful. I refuse to put up with any kind of abuse or ill-behavior. I speak out against injustices. I give kindness to those I meet, yet never allow anyone to take advantage of what I have to offer. I value every single fiber of me, physical, mental, spiritual, or otherwise. I give thanks to the good the world offers me, and use the lemons I am given to build strength and character. I will not allow for any person or circumstance to define me; I will define myself. In everything.

This is my path toward self-empowerment.

the stand

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Area of self-growth: standing up for myself.

Self-awareness is a constant choice, and I am a strong believer that there will never be a point in time when we have ourselves “completely and thoroughly” figured out. In actuality, those I see who think they do, end up blinding themselves to the deeper crevices of their inner selves. Sometimes I feel the temptation of falling into that trap. But then I encounter another aspect of myself and I realize, yet again, I have so much to explore. So much growth to do.

After talking to my friend on the phone today, I realized something about myself: although I am a strong advocate for others and passionate about speaking out for those who are oppressed or do not have a voice, I am horrible at being my own advocate. The voice that comes to my head is, “Well, I don’t want to step on any toes. I don’t want to make them angry and make waves. I’ll just go along with what they want. I’ll focus on making them happy.”

After coming to this realization, I began laughing, because I teach and encourage others all the time about the pure necessity of advocating for yourself, but then, I cannot do the same for others. I think of Maya Angelou, and how she asserted that we must not only give our teachings to others, but actually live those very teachings out in our lives. And the truth of the matter is, there’s still a part of me that seeks approval from others, that worries about what other people are going to think, and pressures me to just “go along” with whatever they want. After getting this puzzle piece, it became a lot clearer to me why I was feeling frustrated and resentful of others. Or why lately I’ve gotten triggered by people in my life… the common denominator being that despite their good intentions, they keep pushing me to do something I do not want to do, or think “their” way, even when I verbalize what I feel is right for me.

I’ve become angry, frustrated, annoyed by these people, because I’ve spent my whole life going along with what people wanted and doing what they told me to do, at the expense of myself and what I desired. I get pissed off, because I know what’s right for me, and instead of hearing me, people keep forcing me to “see it their way” because “it’s the right way”… forgetting that the “right way” is a relative concept. I just want to be and do me, and I’ve let other people push me around to benefit themselves. I think of Sara Bareillies’ song lyrics: “All my life, I’ve tried to make everybody happy while I just hurt and hide, waiting for someone to tell me it’s my turn to decide.

Which brings me here to present time. Although I’ve learned to rally and support a healthier way of being for others, I have not yet let it soak in my own life. Instead, I am brewing in my anger and frustration of all those years of people not hearing or listening to me, and pushing me around. But I need to start advocating for myself. I need to start speaking out for my wants and needs, because that is my responsibility, and mine alone. No one will tell me it’s my turn, and if anything, many people will take any opportunity to control you. So, I need to start owning myself.

I can’t make my life about people-pleasing anymore. I’m so tired of the anger and resentment I constantly feel, and I see now that the only way to change that is to start pushing up against people, step on a few toes–if that means standing up for myself and owning my identity. I’m the one who has to live with the consequences of my choices. So instead of letting other people call the shots without any consequence on their end, I need to start taking the wheel of my life. And not be afraid to say fuck you to those who try to take it from me.

As Sara Bareillies sings, “Who cares if you disagree? You are not me. Who made you king of anything? You dare tell me who to be? Who died and made you king of anything?

facing the unconsious

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The fear inside me grows heavier and heavier. All the darkness and pain scare me, yet I have no idea why. It’s as if I am staring into the eyes of a monster, but I can barely make out its face. It resides in the deep recesses of my unconscious, and my startling inability to discern its name, appearance or nature leaves me without any words. All I know if that when I sense its presence, I am overcome by a deep need to abort. I run the other direction.

And here, is where my insight falls short, my awareness runs out, my tendency to shift toward positivity breaks down. Nothing works. I am up against an enemy that I do not know.

Freud argues that our unconscious is composed of unrealized, and often socially unacceptable, desires and wishes, along with traumas and painful memories that our mind has worked to repress. Most of us are only aware of things existing on the conscious plane, unless our developed defenses are challenged and/or we work to build our self-awareness of the ways our unconscious leaks out in our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Considering this, my current situation is pushing me up strongly against my normal defenses. I am sitting in the in-between, within the tension of what I want to do, and what is best for me. I am at the brink of self-sabotaging, and I know it, but the other, darker part of me is fighting for control, pushing me to run. Run from what? What truly scares me is my inability to answer that simple question. I don’t know. But here I am, pushing, running, numbing, kicking and scratching, anything to keep me from falling in too deep, from being captured and seen. If I move enough, never stay in one place for too long, I’ll somehow be safe. There is safety in my evasions. And this is why I cannot settle. There is something in the water that will get me if I do.

Nothing makes much sense, because logic and intellect sink like swords in quicksand when you are up against the creatures of your unconscious. There’s a reason why we are running away and repressing them in the first place.

There is one thing I do know for sure. In order to get to the healthier, better place, we have to venture through the thick of the unknown forest. We have to rise up to our monsters, our demons, and make the choice to push up against them. If we run, they win. If we repress, they’ll continue to control us in our ignorance. It’s so much easier to run… but by running, we are choosing to live in bondage. This is uncharted territory, and this is the difficult call: to trust, and to have faith. Trusting in God, trusting in yourself, trusting in the fact that despite the arduous nature of the journey, if you keep trekking, you will make it out of the forest. You will overcome someday. The call is for you to submit yourself to the unknown, and have faith that through all the dark and pain, you are reaching a better place, coming closer to a healing you so desperately need… closer to becoming a better you. The more you challenge and push up against yourself, the clearer your inner self becomes. The more control you end up gaining.

The journey, therefore, calls upon courage. Courage is not a personality trait, as some may believe it to be, but an act that anyone can do. It’s about making a choice. Despite fear, I will press forward. I will enter the tension and allow myself to be moved. Here we stand at the precipice, faced with our choice: to jump, or not to jump? That certainly is the question.