toll on relationships

Earth Day, God, and Relationships

On this blog I talk about relationships. Almost every week (not quite as regular this month since I immersed myself in writing the final chapters of my book manuscript!) I write about how our relationships impact us, or how we can impact them. Today, with Earth Day coming up this weekend, I challenge us to see the planet as one more relationship we are called to care for. And, while I have yet to write a piece on our environment, I find that the subject is actually very much in alignment with our friendships.

Allow me this moment to explain...

A Story of Our Beginnings

One of the stories of our beginnings comes from the book of Genesis in the Jewish scriptures.  In that version, Adam & Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, introducing sin into our world.

Sin is often described as disobedience, conjuring up images of preachers pounding podiums and warning of hell. But I find that definition to be too narrow for most of us.  Indeed sin can be wrong-doing that needs forgiveness, but there are many other metaphors used throughout sacred scriptures that sometimes speaks to us better at different times including: exile and return, slavery and liberation, fear and peace, missing the mark and staying the course, rejection and acceptance, and the one I want to focus on today: disconnection and reconciliation.

What Adam and Eve experienced that day was, among other things, a profound sense of disconnection. In so many ways, the wedge of what we call sin in this world, impacts all four of our relationships:

  1. Our Relationship to God: This is often the one that gets the most attention-- the message often being that we have to re-prove ourselves to God or find ways to please God. But really I think it's the next relationship, the one we have with our selves, that actually can mess up the one with we have with God. It becomes increasingly difficult to believe in a Love that is bigger than anything we can imagine or see.
  2. Our Relationship to Self: How we see ourselves, the ego that starts to motivate us, the defensiveness and fear we live from, our deep sense of never being quite-good-enough. We rarely feel the alignment we seek, often feeling at war with ourselves, distracted, torn, and pulled toward different values.
  3. Our Relationship to Others: As soon as fear entered our world, it became impossible to not look at each other with suspicion and distrust. In our need to feel good enough personally, it's impossible to give the gift of acceptance and love to each other. The Other becomes a threat to our personal survival.  Even with those close to us, who we commit to love, we struggle our entire lives to live it out in ways that don't hurt each other.
  4. Our Relationship to the Earth: Perhaps one of the saddest, and least talked about relationships that experienced deep wounding because of our fear is that with our planet. In the story of the Garden of Eden, a perfectly created earth began to grow thorns and experience it's own form of death and decay. God commissioned the first humans with the responsibility to be stewards of the earth, working with God to reverse this decay rather than contribute to it. We have lost the very real sense of connection and responsibility for this home of ours-- often seeing it as something to use, not seeing it as something to protect.

Every Relationship is Connected

My personal belief is that all the four relationships above are inter-connected. I actually don't think we can segment ourselves, compartmentalizing some relationships as separate than others, and live full, abundant, healthy and love-filled lives.

In other words, you hear me often say that I don't think we can decide to have healthy relationships with others, without having a healthy relationship with ourselves. Conversely, I don't think we can fully be at peace with ourselves if we have angst in our relationships.

I know the God-piece throws off many of us-- perhaps we're uncomfortable with that particular title/label or how we've seen others use it for their purposes.  But whether we call it Bigness--the Universe, Spirit, Mother Nature, Karma, the Sacred, or God--the truth remains that whatever worldview we end up adopting, whatever belief we hold about what runs our world, or what we can expect from this life, this relationship with that which is outside of us cannot not impact our relationships with others and ourselves.

And in honor of Earth Day, I sound a clarion call that one more relationship we are called to attend to is that of our planet. Like any relationship, we have to figure out how we can enter into a healthy give-and-take-- growing ever conscious of what we use versus what we replenish, restore, reuse, and grow. This call extends to how we treat and protect animals, how we view our forests and our farmland, how we share resources with others, and how we protect the eco-systems, water supplies, and every other gift our planet has offered.

Our Calling

I shared the story of the Garden of Eden because it beautifully ties all four relationships together. Our own distrust of God and our desire to grab whatever we want brings pain and consequence to all four relationships. What we do in one affects the others.  We are not separate.

The story of our beginnings that says that we will toil and hurt in all four of those relationships is picked up again, at the end of the same Bible, in the story of another New Beginning.  This one, in the book of Revelation, says that God wants to bring reconciliation to all that is disconnected. And every story in between those pages, for Jews, Muslims, and Christians is about our call to be, what one of the New Testament writers Paul describes as, "Ambassadors of Reconciliation."

We are invited to carefully evaluate all four relationships and then do all we can to bring love, healing, safety, joy, and peace, wherever we can.

That means that if we say we want healthy friendships with other women, then part of that is getting healthy and pro-active about our relationship to how we give, protect, and love this planet that we call home.

Happy Earth Day!

 

 

My Name is Shasta. I'm a Recovering People-Pleaser.

I am a recovering people-pleaser. I Am a People-Pleaser.

My mom was visiting last week and told a story about me from junior high.  One of those random snapshot memories that revealed just how strong my people-pleaser tendency was at such a young age. Apparently, I had been upset that morning so withpeanuts cartoon a tear-streaked face I insisted I couldn't go to school "because everyone expects me to be the happy one who cheers them up. And I simply can't today." My mom said it was one of those moments where she saw just how serious I was, how her heart broke to think how much pressure I felt to ensure everyone's happiness, and how she couldn't figure out where I ever got such a "silly notion." I was a natural people-pleaser.

A people-pleaser is one who gives in order to feel valuable, who gains approval by giving to others. Warning signals include: feelings of resentment, a sense of depletion, and a fear that we mustn't say no. We are scared to show up in any way other than as the giver.

I Am Recovering!

But the word recovering is definitely a part of my DNA now too.  One of the gifts of my twenties was growing from a huge personal failure of mine.  Not only did I have to accept that I could actually hurt and disappoint people that I loved, but I realized that if I waited to only show up until I was happy-- it might be several years before people saw me again!

I had to learn to show up in my messy life with my tear-streaked face.  Acknowledge that I could hurt people even when I hadn't intended to.  That I couldn't be responsible for their happiness.  That I couldn't fake my own. It was an era of disappointment that I now cherish for the clarity it brought me about me, others, and life. Needless to say, I earned every letter of the word recovering as a badge to precede people-pleaser.

What Does That Mean Though?

As with any addiction, we are trying to use a substitute to fill a hole. In people-pleasing,  we lose sight of our inherent worth and are trying to feel valuable by monitoring how others feel, rather than on what we know to be true about us.

Unlike a recovering alcoholic who chooses to never have alcohol touch her lips again... I can't pull an all-or-nothing in my healing.  To be in my form of recovery doesn't mean that I never please people.  It doesn't mean that I always say no, that I make people mad, and that I don't try to bring joy wherever I go. Which is a relief as I certainly wouldn't want to be an anti-people-pleaser!

So determining whether I'm acting out of my people-pleaser mode could be more difficult because it's less about avoiding a specific substance, and more about determining my motives. Am I saying yes so that she likes me more? Am I offering this to win her over? Am I exerting all this energy so that I feel more valuable and needed? Am I over-extending myself because I'm out of touch with how I feel and what I need?

Notice that in all those questions we ask ourselves, there is a sense that when we give we are expecting something back. We give so that we feel better about us. We kiss-up so that we receive kudos and rewards. We please so that we feel needed or valued. And to point out the obvious-- when we give with a need to receive, it's hardly a gift, as much as it is a commodity exchange (where the other person may not even know or agree to the terms!)

5 Ways Recovering from People Pleasing Actually Pleases People

There are many resources for why we are this way, how to awaken to our worth, and how to start practicing the "no."  The angle I want to take is within our relationships... a few notes of encouragement to give you hope that saying no doesn't risk you losing what you value most.

Here are five ways your friendships can be enhanced when you learn how to metaphorically say no when you need to:

1)  No relationship is healthier than the lowest common denominator of the two individuals in it.  You simply can't have two depleted people and end up with a healthy friendship. Even one depleted person who can't hold her own worth ensures that her experience of the relationship is never healthier than her own personal health. The lowest common denominator between a 3 and 9 is a 3, not a 6. You getting healthy enhances your relationships, it does not detract from them.

2)  Your friends want a mutual friendship, not a doormat/slave/depleted martyr. You might think they prefer to have you doing them favors, but they wouldn't if they saw the price tag: resentment, a sense of imbalance, fear, scorecards, feeding your low self-esteem, your exhaustion, etc.

3)  Holding the belief that we live in a universe with enough love for both of us. I've also heard it called a "win:win universe" or as Einstein said "a friendly universe." It means that we trust that when we do something loving for ourselves, it also gives love to others.  Sometimes saying no is the most loving thing we can do.  Sometimes leaving a relationship is the most loving thing we can do.  Sometimes letting someone else hit their bottom without us trying to fix them is the most loving thing for them.  We are arrogant and foolish if we think we're the best judge of what's truly best for everyone else... especially when we obviously don't even know what's best for us. We simply don't know. All we can do is try to make the most loving and compassionate choice for our health and happiness and trust that when there is love present it's ultimately good for both parties.

4)  Saying no to them gives them permission to do the same. I had a friend thank me for my no to her requested favor this week.  She said it not only increased her trust that she knew she could ask me and I'd be honest, but that it modeled for her that it was okay to evaluate her own choices, too.  Interesting that what we fear saying may be the healthiest and most loving gift of permission to them!

5)  When we show up honestly, it tells them we will accept them when they do too. When I was in 8th grade, I thought if I could make people feel better that it was the loving thing to do.  I made the mistake of thinking sadness wasn't good-- that we needed to avoid that.  We don't.  Sadness isn't bad, it's a real feeling that gives us important information.  By refusing to show up with my tear-stained face, I, in essence, was saying to my friends that it wasn't an acceptable way to feel.  Which is hardly a place of love.

As with anyone in recovery, we still know our tendencies.  Someone from AA can be sober for 30 years and still describe themselves as an alcoholic.  To face your demon doesn't mean it's gone, it only means you can see it more clearly.

My name is Shasta.  I'm a Recovering People-Pleaser.  Anyone else care to introduce yourself?  :)  Nice to meet you.

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On a similar theme, I previously posted on Huffington Post a two-part series on Giving & Receiving: Do You Give More Than You Receive? and 6 Ways to Bring Balance To Your Relationships

Also, note that the 21-Days of Friendship Curriculum that I guide in September helps you evaluate what you should be giving and to whom.  Not all friends are equal! Be sure you know your own energy and where to best give it!

 

 

 

 

It's Hard to Maintain Friendships Through Stress & Change

I'm tired. May was one of those months for me. A month where so much energy was spent planning, thinking, deciding, wondering, processing and aligning. Change, Stress & Transitions

I'm sure you've had those life phases where there is just a lot going on?  Sometimes your call to change is prompted by something external (job loss, break-up, lack of funds, a move, a death), but sometimes it just starts inside as a whisper, a question you ask yourself about your own life.

We are called in these times to invite alignment in our lives.  Whether it's catching up our heart/mind to wherever our bodies are, or influencing life events to align with whatever internal decision we've already made--we're trying to line up life with what we feel. And while it all sounds important and valuable, that doesn't mean it's not mentally, physically or emotionally tiring.  Even good change can exhaust us. (I posted on Huffington Post last week that a move across town takes 6 months for your body to recover from the change!)

For me, this month to step into alignment meant making some tough decisions.

I know from my own life experience as a life coach and pastor that many people pull away when they have stuff going on in their lives.  It's always struck me as unfortunate that sometimes when we need people the most is when we withdraw.  And yet, I get it.

The Toll Our Stress Can Have on Friendships

Loss of Energy: For me, the most obvious was that as my energy flagged, it was harder to keep engaging with everyone.  Even a very social person, I kept feeling a need to pull away, conserve, withdraw.  Having commitments on the calendar felt stressful to a life that felt up-in-the-air. Hard to keep up friendships, or forge new ones, when my energy feels used up in other endeavors, real or imagined.

Unsure of What to Share: I think part of the hesitation to "get out there" was connected to the fact that my ability to engage in small talk decreased during this time.  When you have big things going on-- everything else seems to pale in comparison.  Harder to flippantly answer "fine" when people ask how you're doing. And yet, sometimes those big things aren't ready to be shared with the world, are still being processed or simply aren't appropriate to talk about with every person.  And so the conundrum-- if I don't want to talk about the small things or the big things-- what do we talk about?

Self-Focused: There's no question, when you have things going on that matter-- it's harder to be present for everyone else.  Which is understandable-- you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first.  But still... hard to show up on their doorstep with the proverbial chicken noodle soup when you're sick in bed yourself.

My Stuff Brings Up Their Stuff: Undoubtedly, this is one of the hardest part of being in a relationship. We're so inter-connected that it's difficult to have a conversation about anything that matters without it reminding us of our experience or feelings on that subject--divorce, having kids, career choices, dating, retirement, health. My friend talks about moving away... I just think what I'll lose if she does.  One friend decides to take a job for the money and it makes me re-evaluate my own career.  When I went through my divorce-- it brought up all my coupled friends greatest fears.  When we're under stress-- it invariably will be felt in their lives.

I'm sure there are so many other ways our stress impacts our friendship and countless nuances to the ones I've named. (feel free to name others in the comments!)  We simply show up differently when we feel insecure, scared, and tired.

The Commitments that Helped Me

If left to my own feelings this last month, I surely would have been inclined to be a bit more of a hermit.  And to be sure, I certainly did pull back.

But there were some commitments in place that provided me the support of friends whether I had the energy for them or not.  Which was a good thing.  For friends, even though they take energy, end up giving us more energy.  The investment is worth it-- you stick five friendship dollars in the stock and you'll ten back.  (Compared to say, watching TV, where it might only cost one dollar of energy, but neither will it give you more than one dollar back, if that.)

And by the word commitment, I mean things that are routine in my life.  The things that I have put in place because they are important so it's never based on my mood whether I engage or not.

For me, talking on the phone every Wednesday at noon to my girlfriend in Texas is one of those things.  It's not that I wanted to call her those days when I was tired.  It's that I didn't even ask myself if I wanted to.  Hanging out with four friends (we didn't all start as friends!) every Tuesday has taken on sacred significance-- we schedule our lives around that night.  We show up-- no matter how yucky our day was or how intense our PMS symptoms.

My friendships were still impacted by my stress, undoubtedly.  But I still showed up.  (granted, not always full of energy, but still...)

In Latin, the word crisis means "to decide."

Which is ironic because usually in a crisis-- we are prone to feel like a victim, not necessarily someone ready to make choices.  Yet, choices we do have. We still get to choose-- no matter what we're grieving, deciding or feeling-- how we want to navigate it, and with whom.

As you encounter your stresses and life bumps, may you build in the routines that can help sustain you!

p.s.  In the ebb & flow of life, I'm thinking I'm headed back into the flow... :)