The Otherness Blog

Get Back to your Resolution, Shame-free

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Shame is the enemy of forward momentum, positivity, and light. It sucks us in; and before we know it, we aren’t just avoiding the gym and the keto diet we promised ourselves on Dec. 31. We’re curled up with Netflix, eating pizza and ice cream. Or, we break sobriety. Or, we try to shop our way out of shame through the January clearance sales.

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How’s that New Year’s resolution going? If you’re struggling to maintain it, you’re not alone. What’s more, if your struggle to maintain has become a source of resolution shame, it’s time to re-examine the whole thing and do some necessary shame-purging in order to move forward.

This all came to me during a conversation about resolutions with two women who work at my neighborhood grocery store:

Bagging clerk: My resolution is to drink a glass of milk every night. My doctor told me I need more calcium.

Stacee: So, are you drinking your milk?

Her face could have been the inspiration for that emoticon with a horizontal line for a mouth which conveys disinterest, dissatisfaction, or shame. Well, it’s easy to guess what she was conveying, because no, she hadn’t drunk her nightly milk.

New Year’s resolution shame was at it again.

How Resolution Shame Shows Up

You probably recognize resolution shame from your own lives. Every year at the end of December, we make pledges to change things that bother us about ourselves, or that we otherwise wish to improve. Like a Phoenix arisen from the ashes of what we considered our inactive, underachieving, overspending lives of the last year, we will tell ourselves that We. Will. Change.

Except. We. Don’t.

When we don’t make the changes we envisioned, we fall into shame. Shame’s power is that it doesn’t just come as a brief chastising voice that says ‘tsk tsk’ before sending us back along our path toward change. Not shame! Shame comes roaring into our lives, pointing accusatory fingers while whispering insidious messages that begin with:

“You’ll never be!”

“You’re not…!”

“You don’t deserve…!”

What Resolution Shame Does

Shame is the enemy of forward momentum, positivity, and light. It sucks us in; and before we know it, we aren’t just avoiding the gym and the keto diet we promised ourselves on Dec. 31. We’re curled up with Netflix, eating pizza and ice cream. Or, we break sobriety. Or, we try to shop our way out of shame through the January clearance sales.

This is how we hold shame in place. Whatever we learned at an earlier time in our lives to shield us from shame, whether food, porn, gambling, shopping, heroin, or simply isolating…is precisely what we return to when we re-experience it. The paradox of this is that our resolutions reflect efforts toward what we view as improvements. Even slight setbacks in achieving resolutions create the shame avalanche. Now buried in our shame, we return to the thing we tried to get away from in the first place.

Get how this works?

Returning to your Resolution, Shame-Free

If you truly want to create changes which are reflected in your resolution, the first thing you’ve got to do is remove the shame that holds you locked in place. Here’s how:

  1. Bring to mind your resolution once again and be clear on why you want this. What will it improve for your life? How will things be better as a result? It’s helpful to jot this stuff down in a journal, or to create a vision board with pictures from magazines. This effort will help you have a pictorial representation or written account of your vision. For the milk-drinking bagging clerk at my store, a vision board might include pics of a frothing class of milk, a few athletes, a healthy skeleton, and a gentle old Holstein cow blinking her lashes becomingly at the camera. Fun, huh?
  2. Notice what hinders you as you create this vision. What’s the message you’re noticing that themes around “You’re not…”, “You don’t…”, “This is stupid…”etc.? Nab that slithering monster! That’s your shame right there. What does it look and sound like? Who’s voice is it? Adults who were abused as children may recognize the shaming voice of a parent, coach, teacher, or other adult. Others of us recognize the voice as our own, coming from a particularly wounded time in our lives. Get clear here.
  3. The minute you recognize the shame voice, write down as many qualities about it as you can. Draw its form, if you wish…snakes and slithery things may be a way to represent this for some, a roaring beast may be real for someone else. Just notice shame’s qualities.
  4. Be clear that this is just an old part of you; but it isn’t you. You are not your shame. It’s really just an old collection of thoughts that someone or something tried to insert a long time ago; and that you’ve chosen to accept until now.
  5. Make a determination of what you want to do with shame. If you recognize it for what it is, you can notice it when it comes up, “Oh you! I know who are and what you’re trying to do. No thanks.” You can then consider your present circumstances and clarify what precisely it is that you want to achieve.
  6. Whenever you are less than perfect, which is most of the time for most of us, shame will try to set in. It will keep you believing that you must prove something, and that when you don’t, you’re less than.

Don’t let that shaming voice win. It’s time to put those thoughts to rest.

I’ll give some follow-up shame-busting exercises in future 2019 blogs. Stay tuned!

 

 

Storing Strength for Dark Days Ahead

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Toxic people and negative beliefs, when they show up, bear gifts of sadness, self-doubt, and the nemesis to so many, shame. Like the dead mice that our local stray cat leaves for my gracious neighbors who feed her, these gifts are unwanted and make us grimace when we discover them waiting at our front doors.

It’s here where I’ll teach you to use what’s been gained for those darkest days of the soul.

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In my final blog for the psychological shedding series, I’ll discuss how to go about storing all the strength you identified for your life in Week 4: Harvesting Positive Life Choices. This storing activity will provide you a resource during periods when you most doubt yourself and your worth, as well as all those other mind tricks we humans play on ourselves.

It’s been quite a journey over this series!

I showed you how to identify areas of your life that deserve to be shed in Part 1: A Time for Psychological Shedding.

In Part 2, Letting Go of Rotten Things, we covered how to go about the task of dropping those life areas that don’t belong.

Part 3 (the one with the cool fire picture for the cover) was about clearing things so that they don’t show up and re-contaminate your life. See Clearing Away of Old, Dead Parts of Self.

Part 4 showed you how to begin recognizing and claiming the positive parts of your life.

My hope is that these exercises have felt…fruitful! Of course, it’s easy to feel positive in the middle of cool, fun, artsy self-help work. To this end, I hope you’ll do plenty more of it! Read books, listen to whale songs and pan flutes, watch 35 years’ worth of Oprah shows, and of course continue following my blog.

It’s harder to stay in the positive when those rotten fruits that you swept away attempt to return. Toxic people and negative beliefs, when they show up, bear gifts of sadness, self-doubt, and the nemesis to so many, shame. Like the dead mice that our local stray cat leaves for my gracious neighbors who feed her, these gifts are unwanted and make us grimace when we discover them waiting at our front doors.

It’s here where I’ll teach you to use what’s been gained for those darkest days of the soul. Onward with our storing activity.

Things you’ll need:

Paper

A writing instrument

Your stacking exercises from Part 4

Take a look once again or otherwise bring to mind the positive, self-affirming parts of yourself that you listed in the naming and stacking of fruits for Part 4.  For each fruit you listed, it’s now time to consider when and how you’ll use this. Try these sentence stems, “When I’m feeling_____/when ________ shows up in my life, here’s how I’ll use ______ (your positive).”

Here are some examples of how that might look for storing:


If You Dropped a Rotten Belief

Maybe you had a belief that was old, rotten, and really creating some sadness and insecurity in your life and relationships. You kicked that from your life in Part 3 with the agility of a French FIFA- winning soccer player. Now you’ll use the positive fruit you identified in Part 4 as a resource.

For example, if a fruit you dropped was in feeling like an outsider in your own family, but you enjoy painting and listed “I make beautiful art” as a positive fruit of your creation, a storing for you might look like:

When I’m feeling like an outsider, here’s how I’ll use “I make beautiful art”: I’ll treat this as an opportunity to make a new color story for my work. I’ll surrender the moment to my love of creation, allowing shapes and textures to come to life. I’ll be with my art until I want to be with people again. I know the hard days come…but my art is there for me when this happens! I’ll trust it as a process of going within so that I can emerge when I’m ready. I get to choose how to take care of me. I’ll remember to eat and get rest so I can fuel my energy. 

[I recommend adding the eat and rest thing if these are problems for you during creative periods. This is an issue for many artistic people. If you take medications, remember to note these as well.]


If You Dropped a Rotted Relationship

Many of you selected to drop a relationship’s hold on you. This may have been a break-up that you’ve grieved for a long time. Note that if you’ve experienced a painful breakup and are acutely aware that the holidays hold particular stress for you, you’ll want to make your storing plan quite soon.

Using a breakup example, perhaps you wrote as a positive fruit, “I have real friends who love me.” In this case your storing of that love can result in something like:

When my grief about Sam shows up in my life, here’s how I’ll use “I have real friends who love me”: I will CALL Sharon, Veronica, Jeff, and Myron! I’ll say yes to the Thanksgiving invite, and in fact, I’ll reach out ahead of time to see if Veronica’s invite still stands (and because she loves me, I already know that it does!) I’ll also ask Jeff for that therapist’s name he said helped his sister through her divorce; and in fact, I’ll try and get an appointment as soon as I can so that I have a therapist during Christmas.

Sounds like a great plan to me for someone moving through the grief of a breakup!


If You Dropped a Behavior

Let’s do one more, here.

If you decided to drop something like “taking everything personally” or “making it all about me,” in life situations, here’s one for ya. Let’s imagine you listed “the house I bought” as a positive fruit for your life, in which case your storing might be:

When taking everything my boss says personally shows up in my life, here’s how I’ll use “the house I bought”: I’ll remind myself that I am a smart and resourceful individual who can be successful in my life. I’ve made a lot of good decisions for myself and will make many, many more. I’ll remind myself that someone else’s problems aren’t about me; and never were. Maybe his life is miserable, maybe he’s had a rough day. Maybe he never learned how to talk to people. I’ll know myself and trust myself so that if matters with my boss get out of hand, I’ll talk to HR, I’ll buff up my resume, and I’ll try to keep in mind that I am already successful. 

That’s a double affirmation of one’s strengths and the ability to make an affirming career choice!


Bringing it all Together

The point of all this storing work is to really help you during periods of doubt, shame, hurt; realizing all of the resources you’ve pulled together for your life and that represent you in all of your ability to create, to love, to be.

I hope you’ve had as much fun and insight with these exercises as I’ve had in crafting them for you! It’s an honor to have people read, share, and respond to my ideas that I cook up like fresh greens and cornbread in my kitchen.

Follow my blog in the next few months, as I discuss topics like seasonal affective disorder, thriving through the Holidays, and more!

Peace to all, and happy shedding!

Harvesting Positive Life Choices

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This week’s emphasis is about celebrating those healthy fruits of life and harvesting their potential for us. It’s about time, right? We spend so much time, so much energy focusing on the things that are sick and need fixing. Worse yet, we just exist in the stuff, feeling mired and unable to create change for ourselves. How important it is to celebrate ourselves, our lives, all that we are, all that we do.

In Part 4 of 5 for my psychological shedding series, I’ll provide you with tools for harvesting all of the positive gains you’ve made in your life. This will help you see and feel your life force with greater clarity and purpose, allowing you to move away from the tendency to re-create the old, negative, rotten situations that you discarded over Parts 1-3: A Time for Psychological Shedding,  Letting Go of Rotten Things, and Clearing Away of Old, Dead Parts of Self.

For this exercise, you’ll once again need:

A sheet of paper.

A pen or other writing implement. Maybe something colorful? It’s your tree. Work those branches in this harvesting, y’all!


The Setup

Bring your tree to mind.

Remember in Week 1 (link) when we identified your tree and you listed those positive fruits at the top of tree and the rotten stuff on the lower branches? In the previous exercises, I showed you how to identify, drop, and clear away the most rotten fruits of your life.

 

 

 

Today, our attention will focus on those positive fruits you placed at the top of your tree.

Once again, draw the tree with the positive fruits, paying more attention to the beauty, the robustness of the positive aspects of your life.

As you bring your attention to the positive things about your tree, I hope that you’re noticing more that’s fabulous in your life that what was visible to you in Week 1. Give yourself the time to draw as many of these positive fruits as come to mind.

 

 

 

Spend some time noticing that big beautiful tree, resplendent in the many positive fruits that you’ve made happen for yourself.


Harvesting

Select three of the fruits from your tree for our harvesting exercise.

Draw the fruit with its name, and list the many things you associate with it: the positive vibes, the affirming awareness that you made a great decision, the cool and joyful aspect of it. If you notice fun sensations in your body (butterflies in the stomach), go with that too.

 

 

 

 

Remember to complete the exercise for your top three fruits. No need to spend time agonizing if you have 4-5 ripe for harvesting. Go with these.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Stacking

Draw a line under the column of fruit and the amazing qualities you identified with each. When you add them all up, what do you notice is possible for yourself? Give yourself over to whatever feels real, and circle, star, confetti, color, and whatever else you want to signify your statement of all that you’ve made possible through your positive actions. Notice how good it feels to be in this space and name it in a way that feels real for you.

 

It’s a powerful thing to own our voice and make a decision to proclaim the power of our positive life energy. I hope you’ll continue to reflect on the amazing fruit from your harvesting, and select additional positive fruits you listed as you see fit. There’s no end to what can be stacked, here.

In Week 5, the final blog for the psychological shedding series, “Storing Self-Love for the Dark Days,” I’ll show you how you can overcome life challenges by drawing from these positive experiences we’ve worked to identify.

 

Clearing Away of Old, Dead Parts of Self

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Clearing Away of Old, Dead Parts of Self is the third in my 5-part autumn blog series on psychological shedding. The first two parts are linked here:

Part 1: A Time for Psychological Shedding

Part 2: Letting Go of Rotten Things

It isn’t enough to simply drop those things that no longer belong in our lives. As it turns out, allowing rotten fruit to decompose around a tree’s roots is actually harmful to the tree (I learned this from Steve Bender’s “Around the Garden” column in the September 2018 print edition of Southern Living). The rotted fruits can harbor diseases and insects, as it turns out. This is an apt comparison to the role of toxic people and destructive beliefs that we’re dropping!

Just as fruit farmers must clear the rotted fruit from their trees’ roots, we too shall undertake a clearing of the soul.

The parallel between our own experience and that of a tree makes a lot of sense; for if we dropped a relationship but still kept it close by, the person would continue to exert a force on us. Now, it’s important to get clear on intention for this one: If you dropped a person but kept her or him close, was the drop done to punish, to prove a point, or something else? Dropping but not clearing means that you’re not really ready to say goodbye to the drama and the hurt. We tend to do this when we leave a relationship but don’t really mean for it to be forever. Often in these cases, we can’t convince ourselves that we deserve better.

Of course, there are toxic people who must remain in your life for various reasons (such as if you share custody of a child with your ex).  In these instances when we talk about dropping and clearing, we’re really making the decision to clear the control the person has on your self-worth, your psychological health, and (returning to the tree metaphor) your ability to grow new and positive parts of self. The person may be physically present; but the control she or he has need be no more.


The Clearing Exercise

For the next exercise, you’ll need nothing more than your own silence, and perhaps some good meditation music. Here’s one I listened to today, and there are several more on YouTube from which to choose.

Taking in three good belly breaths that you exhale slowly, you’ll bring the image of the tree to mind. The tree is indestructible. Through all it endures, the tree survives. You survive. See your beautiful tree surrounded by the negative, rotten fruits you’ve dropped. Spend as much time with this visual image as you wish, perhaps looking closely at the fruits to really get clear on you’re about to sweep away.

Remembering that nothing can harm your tree, allow an element: fire, water, wind, to slowly take form in the near horizon. Begin to feel it as it creeps closer. This is your anger, and it is fabulously healthy; for anger is the natural emotional response to injustice. The burdens we carried, the nonsense other people sought to instill, the old beliefs that we allowed to hold us back…these are deserving of our anger.

As someone who’s often struggled to find my anger and use it to voice injustice in my life, I find that bringing fire to mind works best for me in the clearing. It starts slowly, and becomes an inferno that surrounds, then consumes the detritus I’ve dropped. I allow myself to feel the heat fully, awakening me and reminding me that I am at once alive and vital. I meditate on fire burning away the old and rotted parts of self and allow myself to sit with the image as long as I need. As it subsides, I notice the fertile ground that will allow new things to emerge in my life that reflect my love, my creativity, my passion and zest.

For others, a cleansing stream to wash over the roots of your tree may be a clearer image. The water surrounds you, yet you do not waver. Feel the water rushing around your trunk, and watch as the things you’ve dropped are washed away. As the water subsides, the ground is bare, cleaned, and nourished.

Perhaps it’s a wind that clears the detritus from your roots. A powerful gust carries these people and things away with a howling fury. The wind buffers you and you feel it fully against your bark; refreshing you and allowing your limbs to tingle. The cleared ground at your roots are bare and ready for whatever you will allow to spring forth.

Whatever works in clearing these things away from you is yours. Own the symbol of your anger, whether fire, water, wind. It’s powerful and will allow you to voice “Good riddance!” and perhaps a few additional choice words that reflect you in your most powerful self.

Spend as long as you wish in this space. Meditate on the silence around you, the cleared ground, the piece that comes with this choice you’ve made.

In Part 4, I’ll share how to harvest the positive fruits of your life.

Letting Go of Rotten Things

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In last week’s blog, “A Time for Psychological Shedding,” I introduced an exercise in which readers were invited to draw a tree and identify the fruits of life decisions you’ve made. The fruits that symbolize strength and positivity were placed in the top of the tree’s canopy, while the fruits that felt rotten were placed at the bottom. You were asked to consider which of your most rotten fruits gets dropped.

In “Letting Go of Rotten Things,” I will show you how to begin dropping the people, old beliefs, old ways of being that keep you from living fully. Let’s get started!

You’ve identified a rotten fruit, or two, or…twelve that you’d like to drop. Now’s the time to decide which gets dropped first. (Don’t worry. You can come back to this exercise for each rotten thing you want to drop, whenever you wish. Self-help is self-paced, after all).

Which rotten fruit in your life gets most of your attention? Following the tree metaphor, which is weighing most heavily on your limbs, causing you the most ache? I’ll give a few examples of the types of things that typically weigh people down.


 

Letting go of Rotten Relationships

Maybe you’ve been holding onto a relationship that hurt you long ago, and continues hurting you in some way. This can be an ex-partner, a former boss who demoralized you, a friend or family member…even a parent. Here’s an example of how it might look for someone whose toxic relationship is represented with the word “Her”:

For this example, I clustered some things that people experience following a break-up: beliefs like “I’m not enough” and “Why not me?”, those gut feelings like constant sadness and confusion, and some places where a person may experience these overlapping feelings and thoughts, like the shoulders and lower back.

Wherever and whatever you experience is yours to name as you wish. Use thought bubbles, hearts with cracks in them, or worms (it’s rotten fruit, after all) to represent this stuff in a way that tells your story of this relationship.

Note that if the Her or Him is still a part of your life and not someone who’s physically exited (or whom you can leave right now), you can still do this exercise. Doing so will allow you to begin separating yourself emotionally, psychologically, spiritually from the hurt this person brings.


 

Letting Go of Rotten Feelings

Okay, okay. Nothing we feel is truly rotten. Emotions are really our way of moving through the world. We have joy when we’re with things and people we love, we have anger when we’re with what we see as unjust.

Some feelings are extremely uncomfortable. By targeting an uncomfortable emotion, let’s say resentment, we allow ourselves to begin dropping the parts of our lives which hold resentment in place.

You’ll see with this example that I clustered some of the typical beliefs that sit with resentment, which tends to be a lingering emotion that can last years, decades, or the majority of a lifetime: “I didn’t deserve this,” “Why me, still?”, etc. Feelings like anger, sadness, even rage that comes complete with exclamation points and underlines are friends of resentment. Again, the words and gut feelings that go with resentment are up to you, as are any places in the body it resides (stomach, hands that clench, wherever).


 

Letting Go of Rotten Beliefs

I’ll give one more example that reflects a common belief: “I’m an Imposter.”

Again, you see the clustering of beliefs surrounding what’s called imposter syndrome or imposter phenomenon: not being good enough, smart enough, deserving enough of a job, a relationship, an earned opportunity at school. There’s often a big dose of confusion and perhaps fear, thoughts such as “Do they know?” and “Someone will find out.” Wherever you carry tension from looking over your shoulder may be the place where you feel this most.

 


 

Dropping the Fruit

Whether the rotten fruit you’ve selected to drop is a relationship that’s gone bad, an old and painful emotion that’s hung on your branch too long, or a belief that blocks light and keeps healthier parts of you from growing, you are the decision-maker of what gets dropped. You can really do this with whatever area of your life needs change.

Spend a moment now, considering what life will be without this rotten fruit hanging onto you. Maybe flip your piece of paper and jot words that describe this space you’ll soon occupy: peaceful, certain, free…whatever comes to mind.

With these thoughts in mind, allow a gentle breeze to blow into the orchard, enveloping your tree. Actually close your eyes and do this one. Imagery helps. Feel your limbs start to sway and feel their freedom.

And drop that nasty, rotten fruit.

Now take a deep sigh of relief and feel the freedom you’ve created in your spirit. Spend a few minutes here, if you have them.

We won’t leave that rotten piece of fruit on the ground by your roots, either. When we let go of things that are harming us, it’s important that they be allowed to leave our presence, entirely. In next week’s blog,  “Clearing Hurt Away from Our Roots,” I’ll show you how to clear away rotten fruits and other debris from around your roots.