The Otherness Blog

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.

 

A Time for Psychological Shedding

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For those of us in the northern hemisphere, September 1 marked the start of meteorological autumn. It’s a great time to harvest the things we wish to take forward in our lives and allow the rest to be left behind for rot and decay. It is the time for psychological shedding.

If we’re to go about this psychological shedding, we must begin by determining that which must be  shed. What have you held onto that doesn’t belong with you anymore? Old resentments? A space in your heart for someone who’s not coming back and never truly deserved that space? The part of your life that’s the one you don’t like to face because it just feel gross and funky, but not that good kind of funky that makes us think of disco?

In this 5-part blog series, I’ll provide creative solutions you can can use for a psychological shedding of that part in your life that needs no longer to be with you.

This week, you’ll begin the process of determining what stays and what goes.


Here’s what you need for psychological shedding:

  1. A few pieces of paper or a notebook that you can keep private
  2. A pen or pencil

Okay, let’s get started!

Picture yourself as a tree. Go with me on this one. You are a tree. It’s late summer. You’ve blossomed, leafed out, and fruited over these last several months. Your limbs are heavy from the burden of all you now carry. Much of it, you’ve chosen for yourself; while other parts you’ve not.

 

Draw the tree, leaving a lot of space in the canopy. It doesn’t need to be beautiful. This is self-help, not art class. Draw the two parallel lines vertically for your trunk and a bushy thing on top to represent the tree’s canopy. If you’re artistic, by all means make a tree that’s as branchy and lush as you wish. Clearly, I am not artistic.

 

 

 

Spend a moment and notice the parts of life you chose for yourself. Notice first the good choices, the successes, the things that must remain with you. Think of a word or short phrase that captures each of these: “Kids,” “Hubby,” “Girlfriend,” “Mostly peaceful,” “House,” “Left him,” “Engaged,” “School,” “Rowing,” or whatever else. Place these words in circles around the top of your tree canopy. These are the positive fruits of your life. Save yourself room to continue listing these as they pop into your head over the next few days.

 

Next, notice the things that no longer belong with you, the parts of your life that have worn out their welcomes. There may be some that get your attention more than others: a bad relationship, a life problem you’ve carried too long, or something else. Again, think of a word or short phrase for them: “Resentment,” “Him,” “Her,” “Job,” “Jealousy,” “Toxic sister,” “Sorry for myself,” whatever. Cluster these items toward the bottom of the tree’s canopy. These are the negative fruits of your life choices.

 

Look at your tree and decide if, for now, this looks like a full enough representation of the choices you’ve made for your present life. If you struggled to complete the top half of your canopy but ran out of room from all the rotten fruit hanging at the bottom of it, this blog may be especially timely.

Over the next week, spend some time thinking about the positive choices that are reflecting in your life and continue to list these fruits in the top of your tree canopy. Being clear on our strength, our positive choices, and our ability to continue deciding good things for ourselves is essential to mental health. Just as there are things that are overripe for psychological shedding, there are those parts of our lives that we need to honor, celebrate, and carry forward.

To prepare for psychological shedding, I want you to also really consider that one item in the bottom of the tree’s canopy that you’re ready to drop. This is the fruit that’s most rotten and ready to be fed to the worms from whence it came.

Of course it’s the case that all the stuff hanging at the bottom deserves to drop. For now, pay attention to that one worst fruit in your life. Once you’ve let that first rotten fruit drop and decay, your tree gets a little healthier, stronger. Others will follow in time. This happens when we begin the healing process for our lives. It’s a natural occurrence. We get healthier and refuse to tolerate areas of our life that hinder us. We become more skilled at psychological shedding.

Get clear on this. What’s the one thing on your tree that bothers you most?

Follow next week’s blog, “Letting Go of Rotten Things,” when we’ll be dropping that biggest and nastiest fruit from your tree.

Paying Dearly in the Chance for Love

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Those whose stories have included the Otherness of adolescent peer rejection and humiliation due to our body shape or size, our gender behaviors, our social awkwardness, or whatever other features marked us as the kid who was different often are willing pay a very high price to be loved…or in the absence of love, to relieve our experience as completely touch-deprived.

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I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Laura Brown’s keynote address at a clinical conference last week. As a therapist who specializes in trauma work, she shared some of the amazing insights from her book, Not the Price of Admission: Healthy Relationships After Childhood Trauma.

The price of admission. Just sit with that one for a minute. Those whose stories have included the Otherness of adolescent peer rejection and humiliation due to our body shape or size, our gender behaviors, our social awkwardness, or whatever other features marked us as the kid who was different often are willing pay a very high price to be loved…or in the absence of love, to relieve our experience as completely touch-deprived.

How much have we given of our physical and emotional health, our dreams, our very identities so that we might participate in relationships that offered us little?

Some of us didn’t believe that love could be ours so we accepted sex. Sometimes, we did things with our sexual bodies that were significantly beyond what we wanted or were comfortable doing because we believed we must.

Some of us sacrificed major financial resources to a relationship. We may have worked extra hours, even more than one job, to win someone and keep her or him in our life. We may have allowed the person not to work. To our way of thinking, if our partner depended on us financially, we’d never be left behind.

Many of us gave up other significant relationships with friends and family who were trying to help us see how harmful the relationship was for us. We knew they were right, but pretended they weren’t. We told ourselves that whatever we were enduring from our partner was part of his way, how she showed love because she’d endured so much, that the love that came our way was real. We knew we could change things for the better if we just stayed in long enough and worked harder.

On and on goes the list of things we paid up as admission into these relationships. Reflecting back on my clinical experiences, I recall so many stories such as:

“Cassandra,” who struggled with obesity her whole life. She learned early in her adolescence that if she gave enough of herself sexually, she could have attention. Her last boyfriend told her that she “fucks with total gratitude.”

“Ronald,” who bore a major scar across his face and jawline, and willingly searched out and rescued destructive women because he still believed he believed that if he eventually rescued the right one, she’d love him for life. He allowed his most recent girlfriend to bankrupt him, and he stayed in the relationship even after he found out she was cheating on him.

“Sherene,” a transgender woman who until her current relationship, had believed she’d be single forever because as the last man she’d loved told her, “no man wants more than sex from a tranny.” She worked two jobs to support her live-in boyfriend because she believed that this was the only way she could keep him; foregoing her dreams of going back to school.

Each of them, each of us, lost so much of life’s joy, creativity. The stories mix and match genders and backgrounds.

The most important piece that I want readers to take away from this is that you’re not alone. You’re not crazy. Most importantly, you’re not damaged; and you don’t have to pay dearly just to be loved.

This is a good place to leave off for the week. I’ll pick up next week with a continued discussion of how we start moving away from paying high admissions for love.

A Parent’s Guide for Understanding and Responding to School Bullying

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I’ve come to view school bullying as a general cluster of activity that are willfully carried out by others to punish a child for some aspect of her or his being. Certainly, this includes the obvious forms of bullying like physically shoving a child, name calling, or practical jokes that aim to humiliate. It also includes use of social media to send denigrating and hate-based messages. Less obvious but also potent methods include willful exclusion from group activities, malicious gossip about a child, and picking a child last for a team in gym class. Sometimes, teachers are active participants in publicly shaming a child (teachers, check yourselves on this. When you dislike a child or parent, seek support to ensure that this isn’t coming across in how you teach or discipline).

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As our nation’s children return to school, what sits with me is a need to talk frankly about the impact that school bullying, exclusion, humiliation, and other actions have on child development. The kids who are different, outcasts, Other bear the legacy of social pain. This doesn’t have to be the case, and parents’ awareness about the impact of bullying and how to recognize and respond to it can prevent problems from developing later in life.

For many adults, being cast as Other during childhood had a long-lasting impact on our social development, with legacies of never feeling good enough still reflected in our self-esteem and the beliefs we hold about who we are and what we deserve in relationships. We came to believe that we were “less than” during pivotal moments as the only child who was Black/gay/poor/non-Protestant in our school, because we were very fat or very short, or because we learned to read and write differently from other children. Sometimes we were highly sensitive or introverted children, and therefore easy to target. We were the kids who were conspicuously different, and the people around us never let us forget it.

Indeed, our stories of Otherness are many. As it was with us, there is danger that it will be for children today; yet it doesn’t have to be.

The good news is that we’re talking more and more about this stuff. Many schools have made strides in protecting individuals and groups who were previously targeted, offering infinitely more resources for LGBTQ youth, for example, from what even existed a decade ago when I was presenting on this stuff to school counselors in Texas. I’m grateful to everyone who’s made it easier for these kids to stay in school and who’s been active in addressing the high incidence of depression, drug abuse, and suicide among this population.

Even in my gratitude, I wonder about those children whose experiences aren’t represented by concerted advocacy efforts. What happens for the child whose conspicuous differences aren’t part of a protected group? I maintain that as important as it is to continue the good fight for LGBTQ youth, the effort must extend to address a broader set of bullying behaviors for the children who are outcast for other circumstances.

I’ve come to view school bullying as a general cluster of activity that are willfully carried out by others to punish a child for some aspect of her or his being. Certainly, this includes the obvious forms of bullying like physically shoving a child, name calling, or practical jokes that aim to humiliate. It also includes use of social media to send denigrating and hate-based messages. Less obvious but also potent methods include willful exclusion from group activities, malicious gossip about a child, and picking a child last for a team in gym class. Sometimes, teachers are active participants in publicly shaming a child (teachers, check yourselves on this. When you dislike a child or parent, seek support to ensure that this isn’t coming across in how you teach or discipline).

It’s with these thoughts in mind that I offer the following points for parents in protecting children from school bullying:

  • Talk to your child about the school’s social climate, paying attention to discussions of friends old and new. Who’s coming and going in your child’s life, and how?
  • Be aware of your child’s use of media as a tool for communication with peers. What’s new and now, and how does it work? Who else is using the platform in addition to your child’s age group?
  • Look for subtle changes in behavior that aren’t attributable to other issues you’re aware of in the child’s environment.
  • Notice the child’s relative anxiety about separation from you. Is the child becoming more clingy or requiring more attention in spite of no changes in the home?
  • Be aware of compounding effects that home life has in school functioning. If the child begins misbehaving because of a family divorce for example, the acting out at school may lead to a teacher humiliating the child in the classroom as a form of behavior control. Humiliation creates its own set of problems and can be especially traumatic for a child who’s already experiencing upheaval at home.
  • Talk to the teachers and school counselors when you see changes happening in your child’s life. Work with them to get buy-in for the protection of your child. Don’t accept anything other than a full commitment to your child’s safety.
  • Talk with other parents in a non-defensive way about the general problem of school bullying and seek buy-in by inviting them to consider “If this was your child who’s bullied, what would you want?”
  • If problems persist, or if the teacher or school administration is in fact contributing to a child’s problems in school, seek a therapist who specializes in work with children. A therapist can not only help identify the sources of a child’s problems and provide treatment in response, but can also let you know of community resources that might benefit you and your child. The Association for Play Therapy is a great resource for locating a therapist who specializes in work with children: http://www.a4pt.org/
  • Above all, make time and listen to your child. Be flexible with the changes that occur during development. Having a home that’s a physical and emotional refuge from whatever is happening in the world is a significant factor in providing for healthy child development.