Speak Up, Don’t Shut Up

My mother talks a lot. I mean, a lot. I’m not saying this to be mean; it’s a statement of fact. She will start talking and continue for an hour, repeating herself several times and not stopping even when someone leaves the room. As a child, I sometimes witnessed her talking to empty chairs if she didn’t think anyone else was home, not because she believed anyone was in the chair but because she needed to talk.

The problem was, she didn’t believe other people had any reason or right to talk. If someone was speaking and she had something to say, even something completely unrelated, she would talk right over them. If someone else started speaking and didn’t finish fast enough for her tastes, she would tell them they were finished and go on with whatever she wanted to say.

And heaven help anyone who interrupted her, even unintentionally or with something as innocuous as a deep breath.

Putting words together into a form I can speak that others will understand has always been a bit of a struggle for me. So you can imagine that my need to stop and think for more than half a second to form a sentence didn’t mesh well with my mother’s need to fill any silence–any at all–with her own words. Nor did my anger at being interrupted and disrespected mesh well with her belief that she had the right to interrupt anyone, but they had no similar right.

I learned early to shut up. Whether it was with my mother, or with people who bullied me, or with other family members. If I didn’t like something, I learned, I had no right to say a word. If someone treated me badly, I was expected to just accept it. As an adult, in my marriage to my children’s father before it ended, I learned that not only did I not have the right to speak up if he said or did something hurtful or harmful, but speaking up was a dangerous thing to do. I learned not to speak for the sake of my own safety and, sometimes, my kids’.

That “put up and shut up” tendency still follows me, having become so deeply ingrained that sometimes I don’t even realize when I’m holding in something I need to express. If someone hurts me, I often keep it to myself. If I have an issue with someone or something, I don’t say a word.

Of course, that doesn’t solve anything, and often worsens a problem. If I’m feeling angry or upset about someone’s behavior and I hold it in, eventually the lid is going to blow off the pot of anger and resentment. Usually at a time when something that seems, even to me, quite small happens, so no one, including me, can figure out why I’m “overreacting.” It isn’t an overreaction; it’s a built-up reaction from weeks or months of not expressing those emotions when I needed to. And obviously that isn’t healthy or helpful.

I am better about it, thanks to a husband and a partner who both have a lot of patience and have worked to show me that it is safe for me to speak. Because they have listened when I needed to express anger, even if I didn’t do it in a particularly constructive way, I’ve learned how to express it more constructively. To ask for a moment of quiet so I can put words together. To say, calmly and respectfully, “I’m feeling this way and I need to tell you why,” instead of just going off.

Having had to hold in anger, and having been told that “good girls don’t get angry” and other such bullshit, since early childhood, learning to manage anger in a healthy way has been a difficult but vital part of my journey. And I think it’s one a lot of us struggle with when we’ve been in situations where we weren’t allowed to show anger or other negative emotions. If you’ve had to bury something, sometimes it gets away from you–and sometimes you just continue to bury it because you don’t know what else to do.
You have the right to speak up for yourself when someone has hurt or harmed you. When you feel angry. When someone’s behavior is disrespectful to you. You have the right to speak those things instead of swallowing them and pretending they don’t exist. Obviously you don’t have the right to cause hurt or harm to someone else, but you can speak your feelings without causing harm. And not speaking them may be harming you.

Why Change?

Why change? Good question.

Life is a constant, ongoing process of change and growth. Unless you’re really, really determined, it’s pretty much impossible not to grow and change as you move through life. But some of that growth and change isn’t a conscious choice. It’s in response to things that occur in our lives, or simply the result of getting chronologically older and gaining more knowledge and experience. Change happens.

Conscious change, though, takes work, and to do that work, most people want a reason. That’s where getting tripped up and tangled in others’ opinions can happen. Changing solely for others doesn’t benefit anyone. For change to be effective and long-lasting, we need a self-focused reason to make it.

Sometimes we recognize something about ourselves that we think we might benefit from changing. We might not know how to start making those changes, but at least we know we want to make them. We’re consciously choosing to do something about a problematic trait or habit. We might need help figuring out how to change it, but it’s our decision, and if we do the work, it’s likely to become a permanent, positive change.

There are times when something about us is a problem and we don’t recognize it. Or we think it’s a problem that doesn’t require change when it actually does. In those cases, someone else might have to point out the issue to us so we become more aware. But even then, it’s still more effective to make the change because we see a reason to. Because we see a benefit to ourselves as well as others.

Early on after my kids and I moved in with my husband, when I was still working through some serious issues and still getting a handle on emotional regulation, sometimes I raised my voice when I was angry with my kids. I didn’t realize how much it upset my husband, or my kids, until my husband took me aside and told me it was really hard for him hearing me like that. My kids also told me they wished I would yell less.

I knew I was still working on effective emotional management. After nearly four decades of not being able to display any negative emotions for fear of what other people would do to me, I was finally in a place where I felt safe enough to stop suppressing the emotions. Unfortunately, that meant sometimes the emotion came out with an intensity that was out of proportion to whatever was going on. I knew this, but I didn’t always realize when the emotional display was out of proportion.

When my husband and kids had that conversation with me, I didn’t say or think, “I need to change for them.” They were the cause of me recognizing the need for change, but they couldn’t be the only reason for the change. I needed to change my behavior, and double down on learning better emotional regulation, for myself above all.

I chose to do the work and improve my emotional regulation because my behavior was hurting people I loved deeply and wanted to avoid hurting. Because the person I wanted to be was someone who took care of and protected those I loved. Because when I raised my voice and felt my temper rising to the boiling point, I saw in myself the people who had abused me, and I hated seeing that in myself. I wanted to build a life in which I could love myself. I wanted to create a space where my children might feel the love and safety I hadn’t had as a child or during my marriage to their father. I wanted to become the person I wanted to be.

When you identify a change you think you should make, take a moment to figure out why you want to make it. Are you doing what someone else has told you to do? Are you trying to change something about yourself that you’re okay with, but someone else isn’t okay with it and you’re trying to make them happy? If it’s a change someone else brought to your attention, do you have a self-focused reason to make it, or are you only doing it for them?

Ultimately, the one person on earth whose opinion of you matters, is you. You’re the one who has to live with who you are. You can’t “make” someone else happy, because you don’t control what anyone else feels or thinks. You can only create whether you are happy with yourself. So don’t just be the change you wish to see; be the primary reason you wish to see it.

10 Things I’m Thankful For

  1. My husband. He’s incredibly supportive of what I choose to do. Even when it’s something in which he doesn’t believe, like energy healing, he believes in *me*.
  2. My kids. Both of them are grown now; one’s out on their own and the other’s away at college. They are both amazing young people, and seeing how much they’ve done for themselves and others helps me feel like maybe I didn’t do such a bad job raising them after all.
  3. My cats. They’re cuddly and soft and warm, and sometimes that’s exactly what I need.
  4. My ability to write stories. Sometimes I do have writer’s block, as I blogged about a little while ago, but mostly those stories are there and I know how to tell them.
  5. Friends. It’s always wonderful to have people around with whom you have mutual respect and support.
  6. My part-time job. Even though I had to leave the job as of last Friday, I still learned a great deal from having it, and I made some great connections. I also got to teach theater to the kids there, and I’ll be continuing to do that, which is something I really enjoy.
  7. My home. It’s a nice, cozy apartment. I have heat. I have electricity, running water, and a kitchen in which I can prepare the food I buy. That’s a huge thing for which to be thankful.
  8. My car. I didn’t have one for over half of 2017, and that made getting anywhere very difficult. I was rarely even able to visit my kids, even though neither of them is far from me. Having a car, I can go places when I want to go.
  9. My computer. It enables me to write and edit easily. It gives me a means of keeping in touch with people. It’s an educational tool, among other things.
  10. The Ultimate Blog Challenge. I’m making some nice connections through it, and it’s been fun stretching my brain to come up with new content each day.

Family Acceptance

At this time of year, many people spend time with family members they might rarely see the rest of the year. That can be good, but there are times when it’s easy to remember *why* you don’t see them often. They question every choice you’ve made in your life. Argue with you about right and wrong. Judge you for not living your life exactly the way they live theirs.

And unfortunately, some people’s families are so judgmental that they don’t see them at all.

Being around family, or being reminded that everyone else is with family while you aren’t able to be, isn’t easy. Even if you have a life with which you’re happy most of the time, hearing your family’s opinions of it can cause you to doubt and question the way you live. Some family members also have a knack for making you feel like you’re ten years old again, and they treat you accordingly.

If your family doesn’t welcome you at the holidays, that too can lead you to doubt yourself. You might feel as if they would love you if you just lived/acted/loved the way they want you to, and might think there’s something wrong with you for not falling in line with what they seem to want.

Whatever your holiday situation is, and whomever you’re spending it with, practice accepting yourself this holiday season. If family members judge or question you, face it with acceptance. You are valid and lovable as you are, and it isn’t your fault that some people choose to place conditions on their love. At the same time, you can’t change who and how they are, so even when it hurts, try to accept that it’s something about *them*, not you, and that they don’t define who you are or should be.

I wish everyone the best of the remainder of the holiday season.

 

When You Want to Change

This has likely been posted on this blog before, but it seemed appropriate to share again.

We all, from time to time, reach points in our lives where something needs to change. A job, a living situation, a relationship, even something as seemingly small as how we style our hair.

A human life is an ongoing process of change, learning, and growth. We aren’t always completely aware of those things happening, but they always are. Change isn’t easy, though. It can seem overwhelming or frightening. Sometimes we hesitate to make a change, and it can be difficult to decide whether a change is really the right thing to do, or if we should just maintain the status quo. But if you feel strongly drawn to change something, it probably needs to be changed.

Deciding whether to make a change isn’t easy. Emotions and “what ifs” can interfere. If you’re facing a change and struggling to decide whether to follow through on it, talking to a friend or loved one might help. They might be able to give you a different, maybe objective, perspective on the situation, and talking might help you see how to make the change and consider the potential results, or the pros and cons.

You might also find benefit in making a written list of pros and cons, or writing or journaling about what your desired results would be if you made the change. You might also write about what you think that change would look like, how you would go about making it, and why you think it’s necessary. If you’re facing a major change, such as a job change or a move to another house or location, breaking the task into small, manageable steps can help lessen the fear or feeling of being overwhelmed.

When you’re considering making a change, or you’re faced with one due to external circumstances, many times changing can bring you a great deal of benefit. But it’s also all right to choose not to make the change. Ultimately, whether you change or maintain your current situation, it’s your choice based on what you feel is best for you.

Life is an ongoing process of growth and learning, and sometimes regression and forgetting.

Upheaval

As I write this, I’m preparing for a move to a new apartment. At the exact moment I’m writing this, I don’t know where that apartment will be.

It’s been a summer of changes and upheaval for me and my husband. I can’t speak for him, but for me, it’s been difficult and, at times, rather scary. We determined at the beginning of summer that we would have to move, and gave our landlord two months’ notice. But finding an apartment has proven more difficult than we’d expected. Staying here isn’t an option, because the landlord found a new tenant almost immediately, so we have to go somewhere. Right at this moment, though, we don’t know where.

This is a situation that in the not-so-distant past would have had me in full-blown panic mode. And, to be honest, I have had times of fear and panic. I am human, and no matter how much work I’ve done on myself or how much I trust the Universe to help me find the right place, I still feel scared sometimes.

Part of the story I tell myself is that I need to know what’s going to happen. Where I’m going to be. Who else is involved. All of those things. Although I can be flexible to some extent, I haven’t been particularly good at going with the flow, or at taking a leap of faith and seeing where it leads. That isn’t necessarily a good thing. Sometimes you need to take those leaps.

I’m reasonably sure that I’ve missed out on quite a bit in my life because of not being willing to take chances unless I have a pretty good idea of what will happen. That includes missing out on building River Flow Healing and A Story You Tell Yourself into amazing things that reach a lot of people. Reaching out and connecting with potential clients or with other practitioners requires a huge leap of faith, and it’s one I haven’t really taken.

If my husband had talked to me before giving notice to the landlord, we wouldn’t have given notice. I would have told him that we couldn’t do that without having another apartment lined up, and we would have ended up staying here. Not that this is a bad apartment, but there have been some unhappy times here as well as happy ones, and we don’t always get along well with our landlord and her family, who lives upstairs. It really is time for us to find someplace fresh, where we can start the next part of our lives.

I’ll admit I’ve felt pretty angry with my husband for giving notice on this apartment without talking to me. I still think he was wrong for not discussing it with me first, but what it’s shown me is that sometimes you really do have to take a leap and just trust that you’ll land in the best place for you.

The Best-Laid Plans…

Sometimes no matter how carefully you plan something, it doesn’t work out that way. I’ve had a few examples of that in the past week.

On Saturday, I was planning to go to an event I’d been looking forward to. That morning, I decided it was time to rearrange a few things, partly so I could put a couple of pieces of furniture up for sale. The rearranging led to more rearranging, and then to cleaning, and then to packing up some books…and the next thing I knew, four hours had passed, the event had already started (and was an hour away, so I had no chance of getting there even to show up late), and I’d missed the opportunity.

One of the reasons for rearranging was that my husband and I had planned to move out of our current apartment but had then realized we would probably be better off staying put. Saturday morning, my husband contacted the landlord to let them know this. A few hours later, he heard back that they had already found a new tenant. We have no choice but to move.

Not so long ago, either of those would have sent me into anxiety mode. The two of them combined would probably have led to me having a full-blown panic attack. But I’ve learned a few things since then.

Sometimes the plans we have in mind aren’t the plans that are meant for us. They aren’t what our heart wants, or what the universe wants us to have. We might *think* they are, but that’s because we’re used to trying to control everything that happens in our lives, and we want to be the ones making the decisions.

We aren’t always right, though. In my case, rearranging and cleaning led to me being able to list one of the pieces of furniture I wanted to sell, and to me finding a couple of books and some papers I’d thought were gone. It also led to a lot less dust and a far less cluttered living room. It’s going to get cluttered again, this time with boxes, but at least right now there isn’t much clutter. And there’s a bit less to pack.

Moving… Until last fall, I wanted to move. We’d talked about it, and had planned to move out of here once my younger child left for college. The upstairs neighbors are often loud, the street outside is busy, and the acoustics here are weird so that sometimes it sounds like someone else is in the apartment when no one is. We had ended up staying because apartment hunting isn’t fun, and because we were still paying the same rent as when we moved here several years ago. And I had moved things around a bit so I wasn’t sitting where I can hear the neighbors most of the time, and wasn’t seeing cars and people going past the window.

But we’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my adult life, and part of me feels restless. This place has been a good home for us, and we’ve had happy times here as a family. But we’ve also had conflict and negative times, and maybe it’s time to leave that energy behind. We can make happy times in a new place, in the new chapter of our lives where the younger child isn’t with us most of the time because of school and seeing other family members, and the older child has moved out entirely and is now a stepparent. Maybe the rent being raised, which is what led to us initially deciding to move this time, and finding out the landlord has someone lined up to take the place, is the universe’s way of telling us it’s time to stir things up.

So I don’t mind having missed Saturday’s event. There will be others. And I don’t mind having to move. The packing and apartment hunting will be a bloody nuisance, especially since we only have a month, but in the long run it’s going to be an adventure that will put us someplace we haven’t been before. And maybe that will lead to even better things.

Sometimes the best plan you can have is to not have a plan, and just trust that you’re going to get where you need to be.

Impact

NOTE: I have previously posted this on this blog.

In my previous life chapter, prior to moving to Massachusetts, I worked in special education. Teaching (including substituting and working as a teacher’s aide) was my career for the better part of sixteen years, with a year or so detour as I tried to find my footing.

Many of us have a teacher who stands out in our memories as someone who had a profound impact on us. I have more than one: my kindergarten teacher, who realized I loved writing stories and allowed me to do so as part of my reading instruction; the tenth grade English teacher who further encouraged my writing; my college advisor, who recognized my awkwardness with others and tried to help me correct it.

I never thought I was one of those impactful teachers, though. I just did my job, enjoyed my students, and did the best I could to help them get where they needed to go.

One of the memories that stands out most strongly for me was when I left my longest-term position, as special education teacher at a very small rural school in Maine. Some of my students made great gains while I worked with them, and I celebrated those while never really giving myself credit. As far as I was concerned, the kids were the ones who got there. I just helped a little.

(Sometimes we minimize ourselves far too much. It’s definitely one of my flaws…)

Because the school was so small, I was the only special education teacher there, and I had the same students throughout, with some changes as some went on to high school and others entered kindergarten or moved into the district. I became close to some of the students and their families, though “close” is a relative term because professionalism.

But on my last day there, the mother of one boy with whom I’d worked from my first day came to me in tears, put her arms around me, and said, “You have made a difference.”

Those are words we all should remember, whenever we look back at the people we’ve encountered in our lives. No matter what our role was with each other, no matter how much time has passed, we all make a difference in the lives of those with whom we become involved. And we all need to recognize how powerful that difference can be.

Family Conflict

I feel very sad when I see people who are living happy lives and in happy relationships encounter opposition and even hatred from their family. Unfortunately, it seems to happen a lot.

Obviously different people have different beliefs. They’ve been brought up in certain religions and/or cultures that have strong, ingrained outlooks on things like marriage, same-sex relationships, sexual orientations, genders, and so on. For some people, overcoming those beliefs is difficult. This might be because they don’t understand other points of view. It might also be because they just plain don’t want to overcome those beliefs.

When beliefs interfere with family, though, something is wrong. And it probably isn’t the person who’s happy in a same-sex relationship, or a polyamorous one. It probably isn’t the person who’s just come out as transgender. The “something wrong” is that rigid beliefs are causing family members to turn against one of their own.

I’ve always taught my kids that the one thing I want for them more than anything else is that they be happy and safe. If that means they’re gay, or trans, or polyamorous, or whatever, that’s fine with me. Even if I don’t understand how they’re identifying themselves, I can see whether they’re happy and confident, and that’s what matters most to me. I don’t have to understand. I can just love and trust them, and let them be happy.

I know too many people whose families don’t think that way, and sometimes I just want to gather them all up and tell them I’ll be their family. It’s okay to believe what you believe. It’s okay to believe what you’ve been taught. But I can’t see how it could ever be okay to completely turn against your child, or parent, or sibling, or whoever, because their happiness means they aren’t living by your beliefs.

Parenting–and Being–Adults

When one’s children become adults, and go from living in the same house and leaving dirty dishes everywhere to having their own home, at least part of the time, it’s an adjustment on both sides.

The now-adult child is trying to find their footing on their own. Going to college or moving on to a career. Living alone or with roommates or partners instead of parents. They might not want much contact with their parents; they are, after all, adults now. They don’t need to be parented, or at least have the perception that they don’t. Or maybe they still do feel like they need their parents, and they want to keep their distance so they don’t lean on their parents too much or don’t get too homesick. Even if they don’t talk to their parents often, though, they often miss them.

Assuming there are no younger children at home, the parents are dealing with suddenly having a much quieter house and a lot more time on their hands. Whether or not younger children are still living at home, the parents miss the child who has moved out. And they may mourn or regret all the things they wish they’d done with that child when they were young, because now there’s no longer a chance.

Much of the time, parents and children love each other. Family bonds can be very strong, and those bonds are tested when circumstances change. Not having daily contact with each other can lead to feeling disconnected. And sometimes it’s harder than one might expect to be away from the home you’ve had all your life, or to have someone no longer in your home.

This is a time to lean on others. To let friends and other family members help you get through this transition. It’s a time to find activities or social outlets where you can meet people and fill the time you now have on your hands.

Most importantly, it’s a time to remember that you’re family and you love each other, and distance and lack of contact won’t change that.