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What are you looking for? Cause that’s what you’ll find.

I don’t know about y’all but I really struggle with winter. The dreary weather, the short days, the amount of clothing we have to put on just to ensure that we don’t die going outside … Seriously, I cannot figure out what there is to like about it.

But Christine, you should try skiing, you will love ….’

Let me just stop you right there. No, I will not love it. I will not love it because I have made up my mind not to love it. I have made up my mind that winter sports are too cold, too dangerous, too expensive, and just plain stupid. Just like winter – stupid.

Okay, I am being dramatic. But sharing my ridiculous opinion of one of nature’s most magical seasons is a great example of the power of our perspective. Because in actuality, the only thing wrong with winter is my attitude towards it.

Our ability to choose our perspective or the lens through which we view the world is one of the most powerful gifts we possess. And, in my humble opinion, one of the most overlooked components of personal development.

If I told you that you have the power to control how your day goes, just by paying attention to how you choose to perceive it, you would likely scoff at me. But it’s true. And yes, it is very much a choice. The problem lies in the fact that many of us are so entrenched in a negative pattern of perception that we are often completely unaware that it is even happening.

We all know people who are perpetually negative. The ones who are always complaining about the traffic, their annoying neighbour, or how much dog hair gets on the couch when their sister-in-law brings her dog over … the people who love to highlight what is going wrong with their day. These people are usually kind-hearted, functional members of society but likely just unaware that they are looking at the world through gross, smudged up, fingerprinted glasses. And the real kicker is, if you pointed out how negative they are, you would likely get a response like, “I am not! I just hate it when she brings her dog over!”

Biologically-speaking, negativity is actually very normal as the human brain is wired to hang out on the more negative side of things. We have what is called a ‘negative bias’ meaning that our brains remember and react more strongly towards negative situations than positive ones.

We are literally born negative, winter-hating cranky pants which means we need to work a little harder to train our brains for positivity. Simply becoming aware of what ‘lens’ we are looking through or practicing gratitude through finding one positive for every complaint (ex: noting the joy on sister-in-law’s face when she looks at her dog) can be a great place to start in terms of shifting things toward a more positive outlook.

Sometimes however, things can be a little more complicated. Sometimes our negative patterns stem from old wounds and fears that we have not addressed yet. My disdain for winter doesn’t come from a childhood wound, that is just my choosing to be miserable when the temperature drops below 10 degrees. But my perception of relationships that I carried for many years, which was that I was always overlooked and undervalued, was very much related to childhood pain.

Overcoming past trauma and holding ourselves accountable for our lives is something that I have written about before. They are topics that I feel very passionately about, mostly because I have spent the last several years working on them. If you had told me 15 years ago that I was choosing to view my relationships through a lens of self-pity and victimhood, I likely would have lashed out at you. I felt incredibly justified in my hurt and anger, and to be honest, I had some very valid reasons behind it. The problem was that by not dealing with the pain and fear I had experienced as a child, I carried it with me into all of my future relationships, projecting it onto situations where quite frankly, it didn’t belong.

The lens that I viewed family relationships through was tainted and it skewed my view of things to support the negative belief that I held in my head, which was that I was not enough, and that I was not valued. Essentially, what I saw in my relationships is exactly what I went looking for. I ended up only seeing the evidence that supported my negative story. It was like my brain put a giant spotlight on anything and everything that would reinforce this belief that I was clutching so hard to. The crummy part is that it also seemed to overlook anything to the contrary. Any person or circumstance that made me feel valued was often brushed aside, or followed by a ‘Yea but ….“.

I responded to relationships from a place of pain and even though that pain was valid, in order to change my relationships, and my perspective of them, I had to heal it.

Becoming aware of my patterns and admitting that I was responsible for much of what I had previously blamed on others, was painful. As was confronting the wounds that lay underneath. But man, was it worth it.

Now when I catch myself in a pattern or telling the same story over and over again, I ask myself, “Is this true? Or is this an old wound talking?“. This doesn’t mean that any conflict or hurt I experience is all my fault but by examining my perspective, and being willing to look at the role that I might play, I give myself the power to make change. Either by dealing with an underlying wound, setting a firm boundary, or choosing a new lens to view the situation through.

Shit happens, there is no doubt about that. And we are allowed to have bad moods, bad days, and emotional reactions to things that piss us off. We are also allowed to have boundaries and hold others accountable when they hurt us. But, if there is a pattern popping up in your life, whether it is a disdain for a particular season or repeated conflict with a family member, don’t be afraid to take a step back and ask yourself, “what is really happening here? What role might I play?”

It is important to examine what we are looking for because whether it is reasons to be annoyed or reasons to feel blessed, nine times out of ten, that is exactly what we will find.

PS. I’m still find lots about winter that I don’t like, but I’m working on it. It is okay to be a work in progress too.

Uncategorized

A is for anger. And also anxiety.

**Disclaimer: The below blog is probably one of my most vulnerable ones to date. But, I think it is worth it. Perhaps someone reading this will feel a little less alone or find the courage to reach out for help. When we share our stories and silence our shame, we encourage others to do the same and if there is one thing I wish for you all, it is that you carry less shame.**

I remember the first time I really lost it on my kids. I’m not talking about getting a bit snappy with them, yelling a little, or having a ‘mommy meltdown’, I’m talking about full blown RAGE. The kind of anger that overtakes you like a tsunami, taking your breath away and leaving you gasping, sobbing, and absolutely exhausted. It was, of course, completely undeserved and although I tried to repair the damage I had done through apologies and gentle hugs, the guilt and shame I felt that day rocked me to my core. I chalked it up to a bad day and tried to carry on but then, it happened again.

Although thankfully not common, these anger outbursts occurred sporadically over the years and each time, I was left feeling more guilty, more exhausted, and more confused than the time before. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I mean, yes, each time there was some sort of trigger or stressor but they were always minor, nothing warranting a blowup of that magnitude. And stranger yet, it always seemed to come out of nowhere. Just like a tsunami, the wave would strike out of the blue and we (myself included) all just had to hold on to whatever we could and wait for it to pass. In those moments, I felt completely out of control.

Jekyll and Hyde.

It wasn’t until nearly a decade later that I finally began to gain some insight into these bursts of rage and was able to start to heal things a little bit. I was sitting in my counselor’s office, unpacking my shame around having put my children through yet another outburst when my counselor gently interrupted me, “Christine, when this happens, you aren’t a monster or a terrible mother. You are having a panic attack.”

I burst into tears.

As she went on to explain the correlation between anger, anxiety, and trauma, I found myself relieved, scared, and confused all at once. I knew that I had struggled with anxiety for much of my life and I considered myself fairly well-versed in mental illness. I had plenty of friends in the field, had access to lots of resources and mental health professionals, and had even taken psychology courses in college, yet I had been completely oblivious to the fact that bouts of rage could be a symptom of unmanaged anxiety and trauma. In fact, prior to that appointment, I would have told you that although I struggled with anxiety, I was lucky enough to have never experienced a panic attack. I thought that panic attacks were the classic heart-racing, clammy, hyperventilating that you see portrayed in movies and on tv. I had no idea anger could be present.

Realizing that I was not just a terrible mother allowed me to let go of some of the shame I had been carrying. But it also empowered me. Through therapy, meditation, and at some points, medication, I have learned the cues my body gives me to let me know I am on edge (turns out, there are a lot of signs). I have learned what is happening in my brain in those moments of panic (fight, flight, freeze), and the steps I can take to try to intercept it. I have learned the importance of decompressing, knowing my limits, and taking space when I need it. I have learned to tune in, even when it is uncomfortable, and to communicate with my family when I am struggling. I am now able to offer myself some grace and compassion while also holding myself accountable for managing my anxiety disorder.

If I were to guess, I would bet that anxiety will always be a part of my story. But now, I get to choose how it gets written. And I want my story to be one of vulnerability, healing, and hope. I can’t take back any of the mistakes I made in the past but if my kids learn anything from me, I want it to be that we are not defined by our mistakes … we are defined by what we choose to do with them. I want them to know that we may not be able to choose all that afflicts us, but we can choose how we manage it.

life, Uncategorized

The shine in our shadows

“Your life will be transformed when you make peace with your shadow.” – Debbie Ford

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in personal development. When I was a teenager my Uncle introduced me to the work of Tony Robbins and, although ol’ Tony wasn’t quite my cup of tea, I quickly realized that the world of self-help definitely was. I loved learning how the human brain worked, what made us tick, and most of all, I liked the idea that I could change all the little bits of myself that I didn’t like. I loved that, with a little help, I could be different. Someone better.

Now I know that there likely isn’t a person on the planet who hasn’t struggled with self-acceptance at some point. In fact, I think it is normal for anyone, at any age, to have a personality trait or characteristic that they don’t love about themselves. Perhaps we feel as though we are too opinionated, too strong-willed, too quiet, or too boring. For me, this characteristic has always been my energy level and hyperactive nature (ie. I can be a little too much). I have always been exceptionally enthusiastic and energetic and, as charming as that quality can be, it tends to be best tolerated in small doses. Kind of like blue cheese or kalamata olives.

As a kid, my mom was always telling me to ‘bring it down a notch’ and commenting that I ‘never stopped talking’. (which is true, by the way.) I used to drive teachers up the wall with my chatty, distracting nature. And at times, my excitability could cross the line into rudeness.

Growing up, I became embarrassed and ashamed of my spirited tendencies. Although I had a lot of people delight in my energetic nature, I also knew that I drove a lot of people nuts and I often wished I could reel it in a bit. Tone it down, if you will.

As a young adult, this is something I worked hard on. I often tried to imitate the poised, professional manner that I so admired in my colleagues. I would try to present myself as even-keeled, stoic, level headed, and organized. (I can literally feel anyone I have ever worked with rolling their eyes right now.) Just because I tried, does not mean I was successful.

The thing is, it never worked. The more I tried to deny or hide my excitable nature, the more it would find a way to come out. And often, in even more obnoxious ways than usual. I would get excited and interrupt a client, burst into my boss’s office while they were in a meeting, or drop an enthusiastic F-bomb at the most inopportune times (such as during a moment of silence at a funeral).

It was never pretty and it was always followed by intense feelings of shame. (Gawd, Christine, you are so annoying! WTH?! Pull it together). 

What I have since realized is that my problem has never been my excitable nature. The problem has been my attitude towards it.

I was in my late 20’s when I first watched the docu-drama ‘The Shadow Effect’ by Debbie Ford and learned the importance of not only accepting the ‘shadowy’ bits of ourselves, but to find the gifts within them. And that when we fight or deny these traits that are an innate part of who we are, they will find a way to come out anyway, often causing us more grief in the process.

When I reflected on my earlier years, I was able to see that this is exactly what I had been doing: Holding shame around a particular characteristic, trying to hide or ‘fix’ it, and then having it blow up in my face in obnoxious ways. And, when I finally started to accept my energetic nature, and explore it a little bit, I was able to see that it actually holds a lot of gifts. It is part of what makes me good at sales. It helps my writing. I can be lots of fun to be around. And if I had pursued a career in cheerleading, I think I would have done really well. The bottom line is, there are a lot of good points to having the energy of a ferret that is high on methamphetamines. And as it turns out, when kept in check, my energy is one of the things my friends and family love the most about me.

Embracing our shadow isn’t an excuse to be a jerk. I don’t get to run around interrupting people and dropping F-bombs at funerals because I am excitable and hyper. I still need to hold myself accountable and act appropriately. But when I accept all of who I am, and stop pretending to be something I’m not (ie: organized and even-keeled), I open up space for the light to shine in.

Whether our shadowy side is that we are bitchy, opinionated, lazy, or quiet, there are benefits to those traits. But when we deny those bits of ourselves, we miss out on the positive aspects and make the negative ones so much louder.

Self-acceptance isn’t just about accepting the fluffy, easy to manage parts of ourselves. It is accepting the prickly bits, too. And, when we do, we might find that they aren’t so prickly after all. Maybe ‘bitchy’ turns into ‘fierce’, or ‘opinionated’ turns into ‘passionate’. Just like the two sides to a coin, there are two sides to every trait and even the most ‘positive’ attribute can have negative impacts if not kept in check.

Personal development is fantastic and I will likely forever be a self-help junkie. But the very premise of personal development is not to change who we are, but to utilize our unique gifts to the best of our ability. To grow, to expand, to nurture, and to step into our light.