What are You Letting Determine Your Worth?

Back in the day I loved to walk around bookstores. A bookstore was my happy place. I loved flipping through books, feeling the pages in between my fingers, discovering new authors and paperbacks filled with wisdom. Oh it was like a little slice of heaven here on earth! But those days are gone, so now I scroll through Amazon. I scroll and scroll and excitedly click on the books that say “Look Inside.”

Several months ago, I was on a tangent of scrolling because I kept clicking on the books in the “Customers who bought this book also bought…” section, and I came upon a book by Geneen Roth. Geneen Roth is a psychologist and author who specializes in writing on women, food, and body image issues. (Her books are excellent if you are interested in those topics.) Anyway, I stumbled upon a book of hers I’d never heard of called When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair. I thought that was a funny little title so, of course, I clicked on it, and lucky for me, it had a “Look Inside” button- score!

I scrolled through the book and began reading the introduction where Roth relayed a story from one of her workshops. She wrote that a woman at a recent workshop gave this honest admission:

“If I woke up tomorrow and this whole issue with food was gone, I wouldn’t know how to measure myself. Right now, being thin is how I know I’m good. Feeling fat is how I know I’m bad. If I didn’t have this system of fat and thin, I would feel terribly lost.”

I wouldn’t know how to measure myself.

Right now, being thin is how I know I’m good.

If I didn’t have this system…I would feel lost.

How do you measure yourself? What is your system? What is the thing you hang your worth on that determines if you are good, good enough each day, each hour? What is your prerequisite for feeling worthy?

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Maybe it is food and weight- I’m good when I’m thin, when I don’t eat that but do eat this. Maybe it is how much you do- I’m good when I get a lot done. Maybe it is exercise- I’m good when I workout X number of minutes each day. Maybe it is when your house is clean and all the laundry is put away and everything is in order for the next day- I’m good when I’ve got it all together. Maybe it’s when you’re doing well at your job- I’m good when my numbers are the highest in the office. Maybe it’s when your children are doing well- I’m good when Johnny is doing well in school and Sally makes the cheerleading squad and Sarah is the first to learn to read of her friends.

So many of us hang our worth on something. We let our to do lists or our relationships or our successes and mistakes determine our worth and how we feel about ourselves. It is so natural that we don’t even realize we are doing it half the time.

And maybe you’re wondering, what’s the danger in feeling better about yourself when you’re eating right or doing well at work or hitting homeruns in the parenting department?

Those things by themselves are great; they’re fabulous. Thumbs up to you if you’re doing those things. But when we allow the externals in our lives to determine how we feel about ourselves, then we are allowing those things to determine how we FEEL in general, how we interact with people, and what we do. It’s not a coincidence that you find everything annoying after you put on a pair of jeans that fit perfectly two weeks ago but now feel too tight.

When we hang our worth on external things, we easily fall into a spiral of feeling less than and not good enough. We allow these things- the scale, the bank account, the invitation to the party, your child’s performance- to put a stamp of “Enough” “Never Enough” on our lives, and we are left feeling anxious, frustrated, and defeated. We end up on an emotional roller coaster because how we feel about ourselves and our lives changes with every number on the scale, interaction with a colleague, and check on our to do list.

If we want off this roller coaster, WE MUST STOP OUTSOURCING OUR WORTH. Meaning, our worth is not determined by what we do, what we’ve done, what we look like, what type of house we live, where we went to school, how much money is in the bank, or how much debt is on the credit card.

Our worth is separate from all of that. Our worth does not hang on anything. It stands alone. It is internal, not external

The thought isn’t Being thin is how I know I’m good. The thought isn’t I’m good when _____.

The thought is… I’m good. I’m enough. I’m loved.

There are no disclaimers or qualifiers to our worth. Our worth is unshakable, unchangeable. It is the same today as it was the day we were born before life had a chance to tell us otherwise. It is the same at the end of a chaotic day where we binged on chocolate, got nothing done, and snapped at a loved as it is at the end of the day where we crossed every T and dotted every i.

The truth is our worth is unaffected by our actions, our failures because our worth is a grace-infused worth breathed into us in the beginning.   We must protect and shelter our worth from those external factors the world likes to tell us will make us better, more likable, more lovable.

What are you hanging your worth on? What is the thing, or things, in your life that you give the power to determine how you feel about yourself? There is true freedom that comes with separating our worth and how we feel about ourselves from what we do and what others think. Give yourself permission today to let go and let your worth stand in the undeniable, irrefutable, beautiful truth that you are enough, you are lovable, and you are loved.

You Have a Seat at the Table

Ten years ago this week I left my job teaching high school history and went back to grad school. One week later, I started a Masters of Professional Counseling program feeling equal parts excited and anxious. It felt like such a leap to leave the security of the classroom for the unknown of a new profession. I wasn’t entirely sure what life would look like upon graduation, but I knew that whatever form my life as a counselor took, I wanted to walk alongside women in their journey from brokenness and to wholeness, from heartache to redemption. I wanted to help women discover, or rediscover, their voice. I felt that desire deep in my bones. Over this past decade, I have been privileged to hear so many beautiful and powerful stories. There is truly no greater privilege than holding someone’s story as they wrestle and search and mourn and surrender. I’ve had the honor to witness women come to life, take giant leaps of faith, give hard no’s and hesitant yes’s.  Often, I sit in awe of the courage and strength I see demonstrated in my office.

But what I have consistently noticed over these years is our continued struggle with question Am I enough? This question can take so many twists and turns, but I feel like for so many of us the question of being enough is closely tied to how we see and feel about ourselves as women. What does it mean to be a woman? What does that really mean??  And… am I enough as a woman??

Our minds have been flooded with messages and images as to what it means to be a woman. A short surf on the internet can tell you how you can and should have a curvy figure like Kim Kardashian, how you can and should have it all, how you can’t and shouldn’t try to have it all, how to get a date, how to keep a man happy, how to be high school skinny, how to climb the professional ladder. We’re given all of these messages, and they create a very black and white view of life and womanhood- you either are or you aren’t. You either are these things that make you a woman- scratch that… make you a “better” woman- or you aren’t.

In wrestling with this question in my own life, I’ve always felt like I was vying for a seat at the table... as if life was nothing more than a giant middle school cafeteria and the table where you sit determines everything about you. If I could just figure out the right steps of what it means to be a woman then I could sit at the table… then I’d be accepted, I’d be okay, I’d be enough.

I have tried on many hats trying to earn my seat at that table.

I have tried to become some sort of distorted version of a Steel Magnolia where I stuffed all my feelings. I have tried letting all my feelings hang out and saying whatever came to my mind.

I have tried being hip and trendy attempting to emulate the pages of fashion magazines thinking that would answer my question. I have wanted to be the granola girl with a free spirit hoping that was the key.

I have lost my voice for the sake of a relationship because I believed the lie that there is nothing worse than not being in a relationship. (Sidenote- there is something worse than not having a boyfriend, partner, spouse; it’s not having a voice.)

I have ridiculed myself for not being sweet enough, thin enough, pretty enough, thoughtful enough, quiet enough, content to let others lead enough, cooking enough, not having enough children.

I have downplayed my intellect, my curiosity, and my ambition because I didn’t think they were feminine.   I have shouted that I’m right, I have railed against stereotype, and I have tried to act like one of the guys thinking that would make me strong and finally heard.

I have tried on many hats in this department of what does it mean to be a woman and I have come to one conclusion- trying to be the woman other people want me to be and I think I should be in order to gain approval and acceptance is exhausting.

Trying to become the woman God created me to be is freeing.

How do I learn to become the woman I was created to be? Maybe a more accurate way to look at that question is how do I learn to give myself permission to be the woman I was created to be?

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know that my faith plays a giant role in my life. As much as I rely and lean on my faith, if I am honest, what I have heard growing up in the four walls of the church has sometimes only frustrated my efforts to discover these answers. Growing up Southern and Christian, it has sometimes been challenging for me to identify what descriptions and expectations for women are cultural and which ones are scriptural. In the South, it is easy to confuse and combine the two.

When I think about what it means to be a woman, I think of words like strong, multitasker, highly capable, intelligent, caring, leader, loving, hard working, outgoing, creative, and introspective.

But if I am vulnerably honest with you there is a whole other list I think of that often has hung over my head like a guillotine blade. Sweet, quiet, soft, unassuming, pretty, thin, married, mother of multiple children, peaceful, self sacrificing, a great cook, always happy/pleasant, never angry, never sad, not too opinionated, not too ambitious, not taking up too much space, secondary.

Now, is there anything wrong with some of the descriptors on the second list? No. Absolutely not.

Are some of the descriptors on the first list “better” than some of the words on the second list? No.   Absolutely not.

There’s nothing wrong with being sweet, with being attractive, with being a great cook. We cannot stigmatize qualities just because we fear we don’t have them or they intimidate us. That is bullying.

It is not better to be an outgoing leader than to be a quiet mother. One is not better, more worthy, more valuable than the other. The problem is we fall into the trap of thinking one list is better than the other and some of the words on both lists become sources of identity and worth- there is no flexibility, there is only have to be, must be, if you’re not then you’re less than.

But here’s the thing… giving yourself permission to be the woman you were created to be does not involve checking items off a list. It does not require you to perform for your seat at the table or play a part like an actor on a stage.

Your place at the table is not determined by whether you’re a Ms. or a Mrs., whether you have 0 children or 10, whether your resume has thirty years of corporate experience or no college degree, whether you are Betty Crocker or Sheryl Sandberg.

You have a seat at the table. You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to pay for it. You don’t have to act for it.

You have a seat at the table because you are you and that is enough. You have a seat at the table because you are a daughter of Creation. You were knit together and set apart well before the world could tell you otherwise.

The roles in your life will eventually shift. The job that gives you worth will eventually go away. The relationships that give you identity may change. But WHO YOU ARE- who God created you to be with that grace-infused worth- that is unshakable.

Just because your reality may not fit a certain picture, that does not mean that you are less than. You are a beautiful creation put here to fulfill a unique role and purpose.

So pull your chair up and claim your space. Use the sense of humor God gave you, the intellect He gave you, the sensitive and nurturing spirit, the quick thinking, the opinions, the skills, the talents. Use all the gifts and life experiences and be you.

My friends, that is what it means to believe and live as you are enough- to live as you were created. Created with purpose and for a purpose.  Go ahead… take your seat. It’s been prepared especially for you.

How have you struggled and made peace with the question Am I enough? How have other’s expectations negatively impacted your view of yourself as a woman? What does being a woman mean to you?

Is It Safe? (Six Characteristics of Emotionally Unsafe Relationships)

“Sweetheart, that’s not safe. Be careful. You might hurt yourself.” I, along with countless other parents, have said many variations of the above statement. As a parent, one of your main jobs is to keep your little one safe. You point out the things that may be a danger- the sharp edges, the deep holes, the hot surfaces. Sometimes kids instinctively know what is safe and what is not safe, but often they have to be taught either from their own life experience (yep, the stove is hot) or from someone who has already walked the path. That is how children learn what is safe.

Adults aren’t much different. Only in adulthood, hot stoves and riding too fast on our bikes aren’t the only causes for concern. Relationships can be the real danger lurking around the corner, and they can do all sorts of damage to our hearts and minds. In adulthood, are hearts can be as easily broken as our wrists and ankles. To heal our hearts and to protect them, we need to know what is emotionally safe and unsafe. It seems like this would be common sense, but in reality it can be very difficult to know what is safe and unsafe behavior in a relationship. Love has a funny way of disguising the unsafe people in our lives. So we end up wondering Is this normal? and staying way too long in drama filled relationships only to find our hearts tattered and our voices silenced.

Do you know what makes a relationship emotionally unsafe?  Do you know when you are in an emotionally unsafe relationship? If you find yourself feeling that you’ve lost your sense of self, are always walking on eggshells, or wondering if a relationship is supposed to be this stressful, then chances are you are not experiencing the safety and security you need and deserve in your relationship. Here are six characteristics I have observed in my years as a therapist that create an unsafe environment in a relationship.

  1. “Me?? What about you?”- Defensiveness

We all get defensive, but defensiveness in a relationship blocks any vulnerable communication. It is difficult to share anything with someone who reacts defensively. Such a reaction immediately changes the course of the conversation. Defensive people need to be right, which also creates a power struggle in the relationship. If the defensive person needs to be right, then you are wrong… you are always wrong. This is so dangerous to our sense of self because it leads to doubting our own thoughts and feelings. We lost touch with our intuition and gut. When we have been in relationship with a defensive person too long, we eventually stop speaking up and are riddled with self doubt.

  1. “You think your day was bad. My day was much worse!” Lack of empathy/always making it about them

It is hard to feel emotionally safe enough to be vulnerable in a relationship if the other person is always making it about them. This can occur in a variety of way- the person doesn’t give empathy but instead one-ups your experience, he takes on your emotion and makes your experience about him, she always focuses on her life without learning and knowing more about you. For example, let’s say you try to share something that is going on with you- you’re feeling sad, you’re frustrated with work- and then your loved one may talk about how much worse his situation is than yours OR he may become annoyed with your emotional expression. This type of pattern of communication leaves little room for sharing and vulnerability. When you are on the receiving end of this dance, it can feel like there is no room for your feelings or experiences because it always comes back to the other person. Overtime, we share less and less of ourselves because we are afraid what we say 1.) is going to be dismissed, 2.) is going to be twisted, or 3.) it is once again going to be about the other person.

  1. “You didn’t ask so I didn’t think I needed to tell you the whole story.”- Dishonesty

Unsafe people in relationships often don’t see the danger in dishonesty/half truths. They may say they didn’t tell you because they were trying to protect you or didn’t want to make you mad. And then when the truth is revealed, they will often minimize the event writing it off as “no big deal” or “you’re overreacting which is why I didn’t want to tell you in the first place.” These types of rationalizations for dishonesty are highly controlling and manipulative, and they put you back in the position of feeling you are wrong for being upset that the person you care about withheld information from you.

  1. “I apologized! What more do you want?”- Apologizing without action to back it up

Apologies are important but meaningless if they aren’t backed up with a change in behavior. An unsafe person may apologize but they will be reluctant to follow through with changing the behavior that caused the hurt in the first place. A healthy apology is one in which the wrongdoer acknowledges her actions, how her actions impacted you, and follows that up with committed behavior change. This sustained (that is a key word… one week is not sustained, by the way) change in behavior shows there is true recognition of the harm done. It is the changed behavior that rebuilds the trust that was broken.

  1. “You should trust me!”- Demanding trust rather than earning it

Where there is drama and unsafety in a relationship, you are also going to find broken trust. The two just seem to go together. In repairing a relationship, you must repair the trust, but trust CAN ONLY be repaired with time. An apology is a step towards repairing trust but it does not/should not completely restore trust. Feeling entitled to someone’s trust is an indicator that the person is not willing to do the long, hard work to rebuild trust. If entitled trust is an issue in your relationship, ask yourself shouldn’t the person who is demanding your trust be more concerned about why there is a lack of trust (in other words, why you feel unsafe around them) rather than immediately wanting your trust back.

6. “If you weren’t the way you are, I wouldn’t act this way!”- Holding others responsible for thoughts, feelings, actions

Unsafe people often do not take responsibility for themselves. Instead, they blame others for their feelings, thoughts, and actions. If you would just do this or that, THEN I wouldn’t get angry, have to have a drink, etc. When the unsafe person blames you for their actions, this creates yet another cycle of guilt and manipulation. Over time you begin to believe that the other person’s anger, drinking, feelings, etc. are your fault in some way, and if you just do this or don’t say that, then everything will be okay. You begin to feel responsible for the other person’s emotions and you work harder and harder to keep the peace. This pattern is the ultimate control and manipulation tool. It is how you find yourself walking on eggshells no longer knowing who you really are.

See, that’s the dangerous thing about an emotionally unsafe relationship. Yes, it’s stressful. Yes, it’s hurtful. But the long term danger is that you lose you. You lose your voice. You lose sense of your needs, likes, dislikes. The relationship, and trying to keep the peace, trying to be who the other person finds acceptable so that you can win his/her approval, buries your true self.

On the other hand, emotionally safe relationships invite us to be all that we were created to be. They are equal and reciprocal in terms of their love and care for one another. Vulnerability is a strength rather than a liability. In an emotionally safe relationship, you feel known and seen… you feel it is safe to be known and seen rather than thinking you need to be someone else.

It is so easy to stumble into an unsafe relationship. Many of us have done it. Like we said earlier, love blinds us. Love blinds us because we innately want to love and be loved. And that is a good thing! It is a good thing to want love in your life. But inviting love into your life at the cost of your own self and voice is a dangerous exchange.  Like hot stoves when we were little, we end up learning about unsafe relationships either through experience or trusting someone who can see more than we can.

If you find yourself wondering Is this normal? Is this right? or wondering if there is something wrong with you, you deserve to start rediscovering who you really are separate from whom your relationship has convinced you that you are. You deserve to share your story and let someone come alongside you to speak truth and love into you life. You deserve a safe, reciprocal, life-giving relationship.  You deserve healthy love.

The Truth about Anger (Part 2): Getting to the Root of Our Anger

Has this ever happened to you: you are going about your day and something happens that totally ticks you off. You become completely frustrated and irritated as if from out of nowhere. The dust settles, some time passes, and then you wonder Why in the world did I just get so angry? Why do we get angry?? What is our anger really about?

Last week we started a discussion on anger. We defined anger and discussed that anger does not have to be destructive. Stuffed anger is just has harmful to our spirits and relationships as out of control anger. We keep anger from being destructive when we learn to identify what anger feels like in our bodies and how we act in anger.   It’s normal to feel angry; it’s what you do with and in it that really matters.

We left off last week by saying that anger is a secondary emotion. Of all the things I’ve learned about anger, this little fact has been the most helpful. What does it mean that anger is a secondary emotion? Like an iceberg with it's tip rising above the ocean, there is much more going on than initially meets the eye.  It means that there is always another emotion behind anger, and that emotion goes much deeper than the anger that is exploding above the surface. Yes, you may feel angry… really, truly angry. But there is another emotion that is fueling that anger.

Learning to manage your anger means digging past your anger and identifying that root emotion. It is that root emotion that needs to be recognized and shared. Staying in your anger rather than taking the time to understand the true emotion that is fueling that anger will block anyone, including yourself, from really knowing and understanding you. Your anger then becomes a mask that keeps your authentic, vulnerable self from being seen. If we want to develop closer, more intimate relationships, we must learn to lower that mask.

The three emotions that I find are often at the root of our anger are fear/anxiety, shame (feeling insecure or not good enough), and hurt (specifically disappointment). Let’s take a closer look at how each of these feelings can pave the way to anger.

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FEAR/ANXIETY

Anxiety is a feeling of fear or dread of something unknown that may or may not be real. Anxiety and fear are parts of life. Yet, so often when we are angry, if we dig real deep we may realize we are actually feeling anxious or scared. We can feel anxious over everything from running late to church (confession: I snap at my husband more on the way to church than any other time we’re in the car. Lovely I know) to worrying if our children are going to grow up to be serial killers because they won’t eat to green vegetables to wondering if our job is in jeopardy. When we are feeling anxious or stressed, we are much more likely to respond to someone in anger.

Let’s look at how this might play out… Work has been particularly stressful lately and there has been talk of layoffs. The environment is tense, and you are taking on extra projects trying to prove your worth and value to the company despite the air of uncertainty. You also notice that everyone in your life just happens to be especially irritating lately, and you have been arguing more with your spouse and family members. Simply put, you just feel crabby, irritated, and all around angry.

What is going on here is not that you are now an angry person or that everyone you know is all the sudden irritating, but really you are feeling anxious about the uncertainty of your job. Anxiety and fear leave us feeling weak and exposed. We counter that powerless feeling with an emotion that makes us feel “powerful”. All that adrenaline pumping through our veins certainly does make us feel powerful. In truth, though, it is a false sense of power… a false sense of power that is very seductive. That seduction is why we keep returning to the trough of anger again and again when we feel weak and powerless.

If you can slow yourself down and identify the anxiety, then you will be able to handle your anger in a more productive way. You will be able to communicate that you are feeling nervous about your work situation, and you will connect with your loved ones at a deeper level. Understanding that we are angry but then understanding what is actually behind that anger is what allows us to build emotionally honest and vulnerable relationships. Recognizing this connection between anger and anxiety/fear can be a real a-ha moment and learning to honestly and vulnerably communicate your fears can prevent all sorts of unnecessary conflict.

SHAME/INSECURITY

There is nothing that sends us into anger quicker than feeling insecure, unworthy, or not good enough. Feeling inadequate quickly triggers both our anger and anxiety, and in these situations we are inclined to either withdraw or lash out. Take a second and think of a time when you felt insecure or unsure of yourself? In that moment, how did you react to those around you? Did someone else bear the brunt of your feelings of inadequacy?

When we are feeling insecure or wondering if people are judging us, it is so easy for us in turn to become disgruntled and critical of others. When we are feeling bad about ourselves we are much more likely to use criticism and shame as our weapon of choice. We spew our shame onto someone else as a way of disconnecting from the pain of that shame. Looking at this root of our anger takes a lot of courage because we do not like to admit we feel insecure, and we really do not like to pinpoint the things that make us feel insecure. We feel insecure about our insecurities.

Slowing yourself down and learning to identify that your anger is masking deeper feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy, allows you to begin to address and heal those painful feelings. You can then share what is truly bothering you rather than picking a fight with someone and covering them in your shame-induced-anger.

HURT/DISAPPOINTMENT

Feeling hurt is a raw and tender root of anger, and hurt is often linked to disappointment. Whether we mean to or not, we have expectations. We have expectations for everything from a trip to Target to what our future is going to look like to how a dinner or a conversation or a vacation is going to go. When things do not go as planned or hoped, we feel disappointed and that disappointment may manifest as anger.

This happens all the time, and it is a great example of how we try to bury sharing our true feeling and deflect that disappointment by getting angry. Disappointment-induced-anger can be especially dangerous when we are unaware we had any expectations to begin with. It is in those scenarios when, if we are unaware of our own expectations, we are more likely to react defensively and blame another person. We do this because we are in a fight/flight response and our mind’s automatic response/goal is survival. We try to “survive” this disappointment by shutting down the emotion and turning it into anger. We have to teach our mind’s automatic response that there is another way. In sharing our true emotion, in this case disappointment, we are actually practicing vulnerability and openness, which will create more intimacy in the relationship.

Are you seeing a pattern here? We use anger to shut down and mask the emotions that leave us feeling weak or exposed or uncomfortable. But ultimately, this mask does no one any good. We have to slow ourselves down from reacting impulsively in our anger. Anger that is impulsively fired off injures individuals and relationships. But when we slow ourselves down, peel back the layers, and look at the true emotions behind our anger, we build awareness in ourselves and intimacy in our relationships.

So here’s our challenge. Everyone is going to have a bad day. Everyone is going to have a day where they have a little less patience. Everyone is going to feel frustrated, anxious, insecure, disappointed at times. It is normal. It is okay. The challenge is what are you going to do with those feelings. Are you going to let them turn into anger or are you going to spend some time understanding and sharing them?

Yes, we get angry, but anger is not always our true emotion, so to speak. Often, anger is a mask hiding our genuine heart. If you want to live authentically, if you want to be known and understood, if you want to practice vulnerability, you have to name and share the true emotion behind your anger. That is being emotionally honest. That is letting people really see you. That is how you find your voice.

Think about the last time you got angry. What was the true emotion you were experiencing? What would it be like to share that truth with the person who received your anger?

How would your life change if you made it a practice to ask yourself when you get angry, “Am I feeling anxious/fearful, insecure/not good enough, or disappointed/hurt?” and then shared those feelings with someone you trusted.

Finding Beauty... Fighting Comparison

The more beauty we find I came across this quote by Bob Goff last week and it really has had me thinking. Aren’t those words so true? We hear and read so much these days about comparing ourselves to others and how things like social media only seem to exacerbate that habit. I think we all pretty much agree that comparing ourselves to others is destructive. Comparison is corrosive. It kills joy, courage, and spirit. We know this yet so many of us struggle to stop doing it, and we are at a seeming loss as to how to stop doing it. It seems, though, that Bob Goff has beautifully stated how we can stop comparing ourselves to others.

We look for beauty. We find joy. We celebrate instead of resent and envy.

It makes perfect sense if you think about it. It’s next to impossible to fall into the slimy pit of comparison when we find beauty in someone’s work or when we find joy in a friend’s accomplishment or celebrate a loved one’s good fortune.   We rarely compare ourselves to the friends that we are genuinely happy for. But we tend to compare ourselves to those friends or co-workers that we secretly envy, or even resent. It’s real hard to find beauty when we are pea green with envy regarding someone’s promotion, relationship, or windfall.

Our habit of comparing is not just rooted in envy and jealousy but it is also rooted in fear and scarcity. We compare because we are afraid that we are not enough, that there isn’t enough “room for us”, that somehow we aren’t going to get our piece of the pie. It is amazing how strong the fear is in our lives that there “won’t be enough room”. All these people are getting engaged; there’s going to be no one left for me. All these people are moving up in their careers; there’s not going to be any space left on the ladder for me.   We simultaneously feel compelled to mark our territory and fear that our territory is not big enough/good enough. These mind games are exhausting!

A wise friend shared with me today that rather than fighting for a piece of the pie we should create a new pie. Rather than fearing you aren’t going to get a piece of the pie and comparing your slice to someone else’s, what if you believed in yourself and your calling enough to create your own pie?

Let that sink in.

That right there is freedom, folks. Freedom from comparison. Freedom from envy. Freedom from fear and scarcity. What you have been called and ordained to do, you will do. We have to dig deep into our faith and rest in that truth.

So the big question these days is how do we break free from the comparison quicksand. How do we do it? We find beauty and we find joy. We find beauty and joy in other people’s journeys and gifts and ideas, and we boldly embrace our own journey, gifts, and ideas.

What would it look like for you to find joy and beauty in other’s lives rather than comparing them to your own? How would that change your sense of peace and contentment for your life? Are you ready to take on that challenge? I am.

What Are You Good At?

I have found the quickest way to bring deafening silence to a therapy session is to ask this question: What are you good at?

Let’s be honest, this question brings any conversation to a grinding halt. My guess is that even the thought of having to list your strengths elicits an internal groan. I’ll tell you anything about myself, but don’t make me say out loud for the world to hear what I’m good at!

Why is it so hard for us to verbalize this very basic and important fact about ourselves?   Why is it so hard for us to say, “I’m good at ________ ”?   It’s like we have convinced ourselves that we aren’t supposed to think we are good at anything and somehow that is the marking of humility. We seem to be caught in this trap of either not believing we are good at anything OR fearing that other people are going to think that we think we are good at something. Heaven forbid! (Insert sarcastic tone) As a result, we walk around thinking things like…

I don’t want people to think I’m a know-it all so I’m just going to keep my thoughts to myself during the meeting.

I don’t want people to think that I’m bragging so I’m not going to tell anyone about my promotion.

I am scared to try this new venture because I don’t want people to think that I think I’m all that.

I don’t want people to think that I think I’m good at that so let me add in how I mess all these other things up and how I can’t do this or that.

I think we all fall victims to this twisted logic at some point. I know I certainly have! When I was creating the copy for my website I basically had to rock and hum I felt so uncomfortable writing about myself. It just feels so vulnerable and exposing, doesn’t it?  What will people think? What will people say? So and so is much better at that so I shouldn’t put that I do that.  All those lovely thoughts raced through my head as Adam Sandler’s voice echoed in the background saying, “They’re all going to laugh at you.” Ugh! The ways we mentally torture ourselves!

And yes, sometimes we really don’t think we are good at things, but sometimes we do not let ourselves think we are good at things, or even try new things, because we are worried how it will come across to others. Sometimes we even struggle to say thank you after a compliment because we are afraid that by saying thank you, the person may think we are agreeing with them! Again, heaven forbid!

And we wonder why we don’t feel good about ourselves and why we are swimming in a sea of low self worth?? Are we even giving ourselves a chance? Are we even leaving a crack in the door that we could… wait for it, wait for it… be good at something?!

Where in the world does this come from? Where did we get the idea that by naming and claiming our strengths we are crossing into this horror of horrors zone of egotistical boasting?

I think women, in particular, have a fear of being perceived as arrogant. As much as we fear being not enough, I think we have an equally intense fear of being too much.   We don’t want to be too loud, too opinionated, too needy, too confident. We find ourselves dancing this delicate cha-cha in which we try to assert ourselves while at the same time downplaying every strength and gift. We live shamed into silence by the question who do you think you are-   Who do you think you are to try that? Who do you think you are to offer that opinion?

Additionally, I think we struggle to name our strengths because sometimes we mistakenly associate having a strength with being the best, and if we find someone who does something better, then we automatically discount that characteristic or ability in ourselves. Well, that isn’t necessarily a strength because Sally Sue is much better at it than I am. What a disservice we are doing to ourselves by minimizing, discounting, or even down right rejecting our strengths!

But again, where does this come from?

Like most of our baggage in life, I think this lovely little suitcase originated in middle school.

In Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, Rachel Simmons discusses how bullying and silent treatments function in female adolescent relationships. She says the worst thing a peer can say about an adolescent girl is

She thinks that she’s all that.

The phrase alone sends shivers up my spine because I know Simmons is right. Simmons says that once a girl is given this label she is deemed as arrogant and cocky and is shunned from the group. It is the social deathblow to a woman of any age and has been repeated in school hallways, dorm rooms, conference rooms, and neighborhood streets across the land as a way of demarcating us vs. her. Every woman, if she is honest with herself, knows the power of this statement because she has either used it to negatively describe another woman or she has feared it being said about her.

We are socialized to fear that if we come across as too confident then we will be ostracized, we will lose the very connection we desire. We end up caught in death grip of feeling not enough and fearing we are too much all at the same time. And so… we start to cha-cha. We try to be confident, but not too confident. We name our gifts, but we give nineteen disclaimers. We accept the positive feedback, but we follow it up with a rundown of how the presentation could have been better and what we left out.  How destructive this thinking is to our hearts and minds!

What if we started thinking differently? What if you gave yourself permission to say, “I’m a good _________”? What if you sat down and named your strengths without disclaimers and explanations? And then- this is the biggie- what if you believed them to be true? What if you believed you really had innate, God-given gifts that have been refined and enhanced by your life experiences? How would your life be different? How would that slice of truth change your interactions, the things you try, how you feel about yourself?

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Discovering your voice, clarifying your purpose, and breaking free of the chains that hold you back, starts with allowing yourself to recognize your gifts and talents. For some of us, that is a scary and uncomfortable task because we live our days downplaying and doubting our abilities. But your life does not have to be defined by the fears of not being enough or being too much. Your plans do not have to be shot down by the shaming question of who do you think you are. You can start living and seeing your self differently. Identifying your strengths and talents is not being arrogant; it is showing acceptance and gratitude for your unique abilities and gifts. Buried talents end up being just that- buried. They do not grow. They do not blossom. They just stay buried in darkness.

What do you need to do to start owning the truth that you are good at, not just one thing, but many things? Do you need to give yourself permission to claim that truth? Do you need to let go of some the old messages that planted negative seeds in your soul? Do you need to take time to discover your strengths and talents? Your strengths need light shining down on them. They need you to boldly name and claim them rather than burying them out of fear, insecurity, or misguided attempts at humility. Steward your strengths, cultivate your strengths; don’t bury them.

So… what are you good at? Come on, you can do it.   I know you can. Take a deep breath and let me hear you say it.

Here’s your challenge: List 10 strengths. Write them down and share them with someone. (In fact, share them below- I’d love to read them!)   It will be the most empowering, exhilarating, and scariest thing you do all week! You’re gonna love it!

You Learn Courage by Couraging

A year ago today, I sent an email that set in motion a series of events I never could have predicted.  Here’s the backstory… In the Fall of 2012, I started reading and thinking more about what it means to live brave and be courageous.  I’ll admit when I think of courage the name Mazi Robinson does not immediately come to mind.  I am still afraid of the dark.  I don’t see scary movies.  I still have weird fears about attics, crawl spaces, and storage rooms and will not go in them by myself. (It is a hard and fast rule… much like my no fruit policy.)  I have no desire to jump out of a plane, bungee jump, or do anything that is remotely adrenaline rushing.  So when I started thinking about courage and living brave, my instant thought was I am not a brave person.  And my next thought was I want to be.

Over the next several months, I learned that living brave was not just jumping out of airplanes, but living brave had a deeper meaning to it.  Living brave means letting others really see you.   It means letting yourself be vulnerable and leaning into that vulnerability rather than running from it.  Vulnerability and courage go hand in hand-  anytime time you are being courageous, you are being vulnerable.   So I got honest about all the things I avoided and ways that I hid.  I started challenging my justifications for why I didn’t do or try certain things.  I started to identify and peel back all of my armor that I thought was protecting me but was really keeping me small and hidden.

How do you build courage?  You learn courage my couraging.  You stop hiding.  You stop avoiding and justifying.  You start doing.

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As I began to make little changes here and there, I noticed a shift within myself.  As I stopped doing some things and started doing others, as I tried new things and let go of old, I started wanting more.  I wanted to try more new things and let go of more old habits.  You learn courage by couraging.  I still felt some intimidation and second guessing- should I do that, say that, try that- but I learned to navigate through that dialogue in my head because I knew it was coming from my shame self, not my true self.  I was on a nice little personal growth journey, and then… and then I spent a weekend in January with a wonderful group of women.

Last January, I was asked to speak at a women’s retreat for a local church.  Let me say that it is not unusual for me to cry on the way home from a speaking engagement.  I usually feel so grateful for the opportunity to speak and teach that crying seems to be the only way to let that emotion out.   But on the way home from this retreat, I cried out of sheer awe.  Later that week a friend asked me how the retreat went, and I told her it had been the single most powerful experience of my professional life.  Because you see these women… these women asked for prayer.  They didn’t ask for prayer for their aunt or their neighbor’s cousin or their co-worker’s niece.  They asked for prayer… for themselves.  They said I’m lonely, I’m lost, I’m hurting.  With tears streaming down their faces they boldly admitted that they were tired and struggling to connect with God, with their husband, with their family.  And they didn’t write it on a notecard or say it sitting down with their head hung.  They stood up with heads held high and were vulnerable.  I have never seen such cut open, let-yourself-be-seen courage in all my life.  I was in pure awe of the vulnerability expressed and the courage lived out.

Brené Brown says that courage is contagious.  It certainly is.  These courageous women moved me, and I wanted to be brave and vulnerable.  I wanted to stop giving into my fears of I can’t and what will people think.  I knew exactly what I needed to do, what I had been avoiding doing for a year.  A year prior to this I had the idea for this blog.  I spent all of 2012 trying to convince myself not to do the blog, but the idea stayed with me.  I realize that for a lot of people starting a blog does not seem like that courageous of a step, but for me it was, and continues to be, the definition of vulnerability.    You see, I don’t consider myself a writer.  I have always been incredibly insecure about my writing.   (I am well aware that comma splices and other punctuation crimes litter these pages and am deeply appreciative that no one ever corrects me.  My deep issues with grammar are for another post…) Yes, I speak and teach all the time, but for some reason having people read my words, rather than hear them, feels much more exposing for me.  But the idea of this blog, and other changes I wanted to make in my  life, just would not go away.

February 5th, 2013, I emailed my friend, Kristen, and told her all that I said above.  I told her that this felt like a big step into the arena for me and that I believed she was the one that could bring my ideas to life.  Kristen has this amazing ability to infuse grace and beauty into everything she touches.  I wanted her fingerprints on my daydreams.  I knew that I could entrust my little brainstorms and hopes to her and that she would get it.  From that email, she began designing this blog and events started to unfold that I never could have imagined.  All of my little daydreams that I had silenced with thoughts of you can’t do it and what if you fail finally came to life when I started my own counseling practice in June and a whole new world of experiences and opportunities opened before me.

You learn courage by couraging.

You learn courage by being around courageous people.  I think of all the things I learned in this past year, the most important lesson was that you never enter the arena alone.  You never take your leap of faith alone. You enter the arena with the people in your life that have modeled courage for you.  You enter the arena with the encouragement of friends’ words ringing in your ears.  You enter the arena with the One who will never leave you alone or ill-equipped.

Have you been thinking about making a change recently?  Do you have a dream you would love to bring to life?  Do you want to start facing your fears and living more courageously?  Are you ready to step into the arena?  Do it.  Do. It.  Life inside the arena is riskier; it is more exposing.  Life is messier in the arena, but it is better than sitting in the stands watching others live bravely and boldly.  The stakes do get higher when you put yourself out there.  But let me tell you, it is so worth it.  Maybe it doesn’t feel like it in those first 30 minutes or hours or days when you are still wrestling with doubt and uncertainty.  But one day you will wake up, and you will realize I did it… I survived the uncertainty and I now taste the sweetness of being brave!  

You learn courage by couraging.

You never take your leap of faith or step into your arena alone.  The models of courage precede you, and the speakers of truth and encouragement walk beside you.  And maybe, if you are lucky, God will send you a special friend who can make it beautiful. :)

To those wonderful women last January… thank you.  To Kristen… Happy Anniversary.  Thank you for bringing this past year to life.  Here’s to more daydreams becoming reality.

Thoughts for Thursday- Becoming Real

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REAL is never ugly.

Ah the wisdom of the Skin Horse and the precious, inquisitive nature of the Velveteen Rabbit… I doubt there is a more poignant exchange in all of literature.  Many of us grew up with the beautiful story of the Velveteen Rabbit and his journey of becoming real through the power of love.  It is a story written for children, but I don’t think we grasp the true meaning and depth of the story until adulthood.

The famous conversation between the Skin Horse and Velveteen Rabbit begins as the Rabbit is struggling to feel settled in his new home in the nursery.  The Rabbit worries he isn’t as expensive or impressive as the other toys with their mechanical parts.  He feels he doesn’t quite measure up and feels insecure and less than.  One day the Rabbit decides to ask the wisest of all the toys in the nursery, the Skin Horse, what it means to be REAL.

The Skin Horse gives the simplest, yet most complex of answers.

“Real isn’t how you are made… it’s a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time… then you become REAL.”

The Skin Horse goes onto say that becoming REAL does not happen overnight.  It is a process.  Becoming REAL isn’t for the faint of heart.  It isn’t meant for those who prefer to be perfect, who prefer a safe life on the shelf.  Becoming REAL happens to those who do not mind the ups and downs life and the uncertainty of love.  REAL happens to those who accept that being hurt may be painful, but it is better than being numb.

Yes, life might leave you tattered and bruised.  Yes, you might have scars that remind you of missteps and fallen dreams.  But, as the Skin Horse so wisely states, once you are REAL you do not care that you are not perfect.  Perfection and having it all together are no longer the goal.  You don’t mind if people see your mistakes and heartaches.  You don’t mind if people see your tears and fears.  Why?  Because you know you are REAL and “once you are REAL you can’t be ugly.”

You can stay on the shelf and avoid any decision in life that may leave stretch marks.  You can keep love and people at arms length for fear of being hurt.  Or you can practice vulnerability.  You can show up and be seen in your life.  Vulnerability opens the doorway to giving and receiving love.  When you believe you are loved and lovable, you don’t mind if you’re “loose in the joints and very shabby” because you know you are REAL … you know you are enough.

REAL is never ugly.  REAL is beautiful and approachable.  REAL is courageous and strong.  REAL is contagious and inspiring.   REAL is never ugly.

How has life and love helped you become REAL?  How has becoming REAL freed you from the yoke of perfection? 

Daring Greatly with the first Book Giveaway!

Over a year ago, I had the idea to create this blog.  I thought and brainstormed as to what I wanted this blog to be about and the various topics I wanted to discuss.   The first thing I thought of was the title, Voice Lessons for Today.  I knew I wanted this space to be about finding your true voice and the lessons we learn along the way.  One of my main goals was to provide a place to continue the conversation… continue the conversation that starts between friends over dinner, the conversation that occurs within a small group, the conversation between confidants, the conversation that begins in the counseling office. I also wanted to incorporate some fun features into the blog.  I love books, as I have mentioned before, and I love recommending books that have spoken to me in hopes of passing on the lessons and insights.  But why stop with recommending?  Why not start a book Giveaway?   So today is our first Book Giveaway!

Recently, I attended a three-day training in San Antonio with Brené Brown.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am a huge fan of her work and books.  Brené Brown is a shame and vulnerability researcher, and she writes on such topics as worthiness, overcoming the feeling of not being enough, and learning to practice courage and vulnerability by living authentically and boldly.  I am in the process of becoming a certified facilitator of her new workshop curriculum, The Daring Way.  The Daring Way curriculum is based on material and research from all three of her books, I Thought It Was Just Me, The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.  Daring Greatly is her latest book and it is a New York Times bestseller.  The training was excellent!  I feverishly took notes and soaked up every ounce of information.   I gained a new way of looking at the age-old struggle of shame and heard powerful ideas on empathy, self-compassion, and learning to live courageously.  The weekend was inspiring to say the least.  Here are my Top Five Favorite Things I learned and heard over that amazing weekend:

 

1.     Until you are comfortable with the reality of failure as always a possibility, you will never have innovation, creativity, or freedom. Practicing vulnerability means embracing risk, uncertainty, and the possibility that you may fail.  Vulnerability is showing up and letting yourself be seen.

So true!  Nothing paralyzes us more than the fear of failure.  We can literally stop trying anything new because we are afraid of failing.  What if we accepted failure is always an option?  What if we grew comfortable with the possibility of failure?  What if we took all the power away from this concept and viewed it as merely a possibility that we can overcome and learn from rather than a reason to not even try?

 

2.    You can be brave or you can be comfortable, but you can’t be both.

Love.

3.     Comparative suffering is one of the main ways we shame and silence ourselves.

Comparative suffering is when we tell ourselves we “shouldn’t” feel a certain way because there is someone who has it worse.  Yes, there is always someone who has it worse than we do and perspective and gratitude are extremely important in building resiliency.  But comparative suffering silences our sadness, which does need to be voiced because it is only by truly feeling our emotions that we can be free of them.  More on this to come!

 

4.  You cannot offer others more compassion than you are able to give to yourself.  If you struggle to give yourself compassion, then you will eventually struggle to practice compassion with others because you will feel resentful when you are expected to give it to another.

So many good nuggets here, especially when you think about why you may struggle with being empathetic with certain people in your life or at certain times in your life.  If you are struggling to understand and be empathetic to others, perhaps that is a sign that you are starving yourself of self-compassion.  (This is particularly important for helping professionals to consider.)

 

5.     When in doubt, be human.

Well, that about says it all.

 

In honor of my excitement over the training, our first book to give away is Daring GreatlyDaring Greatly discusses the ideas above, as well as learning to courageously practice vulnerability by showing up and truly being seen in your life.  If we embrace risk and uncertainty, that inner critic has much less volume, and we will discover that life is much better when we step into the arena than when we are sitting in the cheap seats.

So here is how the Giveaway is going to work:  if you are looking for a great read for that upcoming vacation and would love to have a copy of the book or perhaps saw Brené on Oprah or heard her TED talk and are interested in learning more about how to live courageously in the face of uncertainty, then either leave me a comment below or send me a message through the contact form.  I will draw two names at the end of the week and mail the winners a copy of the book!  (Be sure and leave your email address so I can contact you for your mailing address.)  Happy First Book Giveaway and have a great week!

 

 

It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while Daring Greatly…”               Theodore Roosevelt

Skinny Jeans

Skinny jeans. I have stared at them for a few years. I have eyed them with suspicion and contempt. Can they really be that comfortable? Isn’t it exhausting pulling them on and tugging them off? Don’t you eventually start to lose circulation in your legs with that denim stretched around them? A friend of mine repeatedly tried to convince me of the benefits to a good skinny jean. I told her she must be delusional. She told me that I needed to get over myself and just get some skinny jeans. I told her never. Fast forward to this past Fall…

I love to read, and I tend to read in themes and seasons. Meaning, I like to take a whole season and read about a particular theme. This past Fall I decided to engross myself in the topics of shame and grace and specifically the work of Brené Brown. Brené Brown is a shame and vulnerability researcher and the author of Daring Greatly, The Gifts of Imperfection, and I Thought It Was Just Me. In her writing and research, she discusses the seemingly universal struggle with feeling worthy and believing we are enough because we live in a world that floods us with messages that we are not good enough, productive enough, thin enough, successful enough, etc. When we wrestle with feeling not enough, we grow quiet. We leave out parts of our story. We avoid situations that make us feel exposed. We hide in routine and people pleasing and attempted perfectionism. We try to live like an Impressionist painting in art museum- we want people to stay behind the red rope so we look impressive from far away.

The more I read, the more it forced me to come face to face with my own ways of hiding and retreating and the true reason behind them. I started honestly admitting why I avoided certain situations and things in life. I recognized that some of the rituals and routines I have adopted are really ways I was giving into this fear of not being good enough.

Oh and as for my suspicion, contempt, and adamant rejection of skinny jeans? Well that fell under the categories of hiding, retreating, and avoiding, too.

I realized I was caught in a cycle: every time I retreated or avoided a new experience because I felt insecure or unsure, the not good enough feeling won and got stronger. Our actions reinforce our thinking. If we never challenge the beast, then we’ll never believe it can be defeated… and we end up being the ones defeated.

Brené Brown goes on to say that the antidote to feeling not good enough is learning to embrace vulnerability rather than avoid it. What does this mean in practical terms? It means we have to first get really honest with ourselves about all the ways we hide and retreat. We have to admit the things we are waiting to do once we are (fill in the blank) enough. Are you waiting to have people over to your house once it is decorated enough? Are you waiting to share what has really been going on in your life once you are put together enough? Are you waiting to truly enjoy summertime and pool parties and beach vacations once you are thin enough? Are you waiting to finally pursue that calling or hobby or family time you desire once you are financially secure enough? Once we identify the ways we are hiding and what we are hiding from, we can start practicing vulnerability.

Vulnerability defeats the beast.

Practicing vulnerability means opening ourselves up to life and to others, which means opening ourselves up to risk and uncertainty. Practicing vulnerability is a choice. We choose to come out of hiding. We choose to have a voice. Practicing vulnerability means verbalizing the struggles and worries that race through your mind late at night. It means telling the parts of your story you wish weren’t there. It means trying something new despite your self-doubt or nervousness.

It means wearing the skinny jeans.

Practicing vulnerability does not always mean you make some major life change or unload your entire personal history over one lunch date. It may mean making just a slight change in your life that no one may notice but you, but that slight change begins chipping away at that deeply rooted not enough feeling. You then discover how to break the cycle: new actions help reinforce new thinking. One small step creates a ripple effect. I took my small step in a pair of Curvy Skinny Jeans from The Gap.  Each one of us has a “skinny jean” in our life.  Each one of us has something we avoid doing or don’t share with anyone or have stopped doing because we feel too exposed or are worried what people will think.

So what is your “skinny jean”? What is something you could try that you’ve never done before? What is something you could share that you’ve never shared before? Anytime you do something different, whether it is a big or small thing, and you feel that little wave of nervousness, you are showing courage and practicing vulnerability. Pushing yourself out of your rituals and routines builds up your vulnerability “muscle” and frees you from your not enough thinking. Embracing your “skinny jean” could start the revolution that just might change your life.

 

What are you not doing because you are waiting to be _______ enough? What is your "skinny jean"?