Web Camel Transport 43

Yes Happiness

Wednesday March 15, 2017

“yes is a world     and in this world     skillfully curled    live all worlds.” ee cummings

A favorite little phrase, and packed with meaning, cummings’ stanza expresses the stamina of yeses to open doors of possibility.  When we say “yes” to meetings, adventures, trying our hands or our minds at something that scares us, then wondrous vistas and opportunities as well as creative expression await our arrival through those doors of YES.

When we say “yes” to something that might thrill us but also produce anxiety, we will have gone through an emotional maze of reasons why we might want to avoid such a challenge, or bar ourselves from the attendant risks involved.  But finally, perhaps with trepidation taking the backseat to curiosity or ambition, we take the leap of faith.  We say, “yes!”  Most great human ventures come with risk.  The oft stirred cold feet of betrotheds, standing at the threshold of their marital life together, as an example.  Or the wary investor about to press “buy” on these promising mutual funds.  Or, the shy actor auditioning for his largest role yet.  Or the quiet employee seeking fairer compensation for her diligence and brilliance.  Or the person scared of heights facing the rock wall finally.

When we have wrestled with all of the “no’s,” and “yes” has claimed the victory, then we decided on “yes.”  We align ourselves with “yes,” and that “yes” represents our best self, pushing the envelopes in which we have wrapped our dreams and aspirations, our hopes and our curiosity.  This is a decidedly different kind of “yes” than the yes of our people-pleasing selves.

Some yeses, when they issue from a place of people-pleasing, happen on autopilot, reflexively, reactively.  They have nothing in common with victorious yeses which are proactive, and often hard won.  To have a good “yes,” one must have a good “no.”  If “yes” exists as the only one of those two words in our vocabulary, then yeses, habitual yeses, can take over our lives and dominate our efforts and how we spend our time.

Except in rare circumstances, even if you are one of those people for whom serving others constitutes your main purpose, no one needs to service others at the expense of oneself.  When serving others—saying “yes” to others—on a routine basis means depleting your personal resources of time, energy, emotional and physical well being, then saying “yes” has turned into a bad habit.  The consequent and inevitable anger, resentment, and feelings of deprivation that yes-people experience illustrate a misalignment in relating to oneself.  If you find yourself too busy, too fatigued, too stressed, or too harried or overworked to do everything you need for your self-care and well being then your life raft looks like NO!!!  “No” to others when “yes” to yourself has a dignified place in your embrace.

One young woman, Sally, said she felt angry at herself for being such a people pleaser who put herself last.  “I’m not cheap about spending money on others for gifts when I want to show them my love and appreciation.  But I find every excuse not to buy something for myself.”

She had recently started a boot camp class and needed exercise clothing.  Yet, “I made every excuse for why I should save the money instead.”  Sally had a talent for evaluating the benefits of purchases and I certainly didn’t want to discourage such useful reflections.  But at the same time, she acknowledged that she placed great value on her health.  Appropriate exercise clothing was part and parcel of accomplishing that goal rather than a frivolous purchase.

Often, virgins at giving a “no” to others, require a concrete reason to say “yes” to themselves.  It is far easier to protect one’s time, energy and quality of life if you have something you really want to do, like Sally’s wanting to take the exercise class.  Another client, who thanklessly, both at work and with her elderly parents, spent all of her time and energy, found it nearly impossible to set any boundaries on her altruistic output until she wanted to take a class in psychology, something she had wanted to study for years.  Between class attendance, studying, and homework, she finally found herself capable of guarding her own resources of time, energy, and emotional output.  She had a reason to say “no” to others.

But shouldn’t our rest, our peace of mind, our freedom to be spontaneous or to relax be reasons enough?  It may take some time to work up to embracing those more abstract notions of wellbeing.  But people-pleasers have to start somewhere, and it often begins with simply slowing down the automatic process of saying “yes,” and instead, going through a decision making process.

Because Sally had the ability to think through the issue of the exercising clothing, she saw that this purchase would manifest an investment in her health. She felt able to tolerate the discomfort of making these purchases for herself. Sally and I discussed the often misunderstood notion of selfishness among people-pleasers.  People-pleasers tend to associate anything they want or do for themselves as selfish.

In my view truly selfish people almost always put themselves first, even going so far as to discount or diminish the needs and wants of loved ones as well as failing to consider whether or not higher order principles or values might prevail.  Extremely selfish people have taught themselves not to care too much about the impact of their selfishness on others.  Sometimes, in the background of such a person, deprivation—of love, of attention, of care, of things—shaped experience, and the prevailing narrative of the world took on a dog-eat-dog theme.

Some selfish people function like battering rams.  Battering rams prove difficult to deal with, particularly for people pleasers who, eventually, might find themselves at the very limits of their envelopes to keep saying “yes” to a person who constantly exploits their kindness and generosity.  Even people with the ability to say “yes” and “no” find battering rams difficult, since the need to constantly apply boundaries gets inconvenient if not exhausting after a while.  People who, sadly, ask too much of others, eventually find doors closing in their faces, subjecting them to feelings of rejection and abandonment, without realizing how they have co-created the problem.

Taking a healthy and buoyant interest in oneself I call self-interest.  I encouraged Sally, and encourage those like her in that respect, to revel in healthy self-interest.  To be interesting to oneself in all of one’s possible expressions exercises one’s fullest capacity to live wholly and well. Sometimes it proves difficult to balance one’s self-interest with caring about the interests of others, but keeping that question alive fosters emotional freedom and decision-making capacity.

Someone who shares and also listens well, who gives to others but receives from others with enjoyment and appreciation, who gladly does service to and for others but does not shy away from asking for favors on occasion, models sterling emotional freedom.

Compassion fatigue is the professional equivalent of what many people experience on a daily or weekly basis in their personal lives—an overextension of one’s servicing of others’ needs and wants to the detriment of oneself.  Sequelae often include feeling drained, exhausted, wiped out, resentful, exploited, trapped and frustrated.

To deeply want what one wants, but to be able to take into consideration the impact of those wants on others and on the planet, and to make decisions on the basis of that, as well as on one’s highest principles, results in the best possible yeses and the best possible no’s.

Camel Saddle:  Are you a person who tends to say “yes” out of habit?  If you were to think more carefully about your yeses, would you revise any of them?  Or, do you say “no” with an equal lack of careful thought?  How would you like to recalibrate your yeses and no’s to be more fully aligned with the ways you want to show up in your life for yourself and for others?



Web Camel Transport 42

Settling for Happiness

March 11, 2017

“Love is the affinity which links and draws together the elements of the world…

Love, in fact, is the agent of universal synthesis.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1955)
French philosopher and priest

Love does make bridges and link people.  Love allows us to embrace “otherness.”  But continuing to love another person the way we loved them at the beginning of our relationship does not happen as Hollywood fantasies would suggest.

When we fall in love, we often fall dramatically; we experience a euphoric sense of connection and attraction to another human being and dance together to create a bond of mutual interest and eventually attachment.  Over time, a relationship–like everything else that lives–develops and matures.  The heightened and intimate revelations of the courtship phase may give way to other kinds of closeness that feel comfortable and nest-like.  And with ongoing togetherness a beautiful gift of companionship and trust may coexist with some sadness or grief over the loss of that gorgeous intensity at the beginning comprised of novelty, lust and relational ambition.

At some point, staying with one’s partner constitutes a decision.  We feel lucky if chemistry still unites us, but it won’t unite us strongly enough, all by itself, over a long period of time.  After ten, fifteen, twenty or more years, we will inevitably decide whether to settle in for the duration, because we feel differently about this other person than we did so long ago.  We experience our love differently—in some ways more than, and in some ways perhaps less than before.

When people refer to settling (“I don’t want to settle this time,” or, “Am I just settling?”) the question floats in the air:  “Is there someone better for me?  Is there someone who will make me happier?  Is there someone who is a better match?”

Certainly no therapist would encourage someone to settle for something as negative as maltreatment—abuse, neglect, derision, malicious manipulation, forced isolation, brain washing, pattern of disrespect and invalidation, and so forth.  But there is, indeed, some realistic settling that has to do with our ability for tolerating “otherness.”

“Otherness” refers to how we experience people, since everyone else is not me.  We see our partner as having quirks, habits of thought, levels of emotional expressivity, different degrees of awareness, as rather more self-minded or other-minded, as messy or chronically late or lazy about doing chores, as too strict on the kids or too lenient, as having different levels of interest in sex, as relatively grumpier and moodier or not good at putting up with our grumpiness and moodiness.  Our partners ski or not, like car shows or not, want to spend all their time with us or not enough time with us, are nurturing or tell us our problems are not theirs to worry about.

Some of us have a wide window of tolerance for typical kinds of differences we observe between ourselves and our partners, and for some of us that window has more narrow measurements.  We have fantasies about our perfect partner and often, in real life, our partners fail to subscribe to, or look like our fantasies in hundreds of little ways or in hundreds of moments throughout our relationship. We are all perfectly imperfect and so is our match.  And what would we even mean by finding someone we could call our perfect match?  Is that person much like us?  Very different from us, but only different in the ways that we admire?

The couples I meet in my therapy room, even couples who have lived with one another for a long time, and who feel devoted to their partnership and want to work on growing their connection as well as understanding their disconnects, agree sub rosa to an ongoing life in which they must agree to disagree sometimes and agree to dis-argue about those things which distinguish them in less than felicitous ways.  They settle.

We settle for this perfectly imperfect person who is not me-like enough at times, or who could have left a lighter footprint—meaning, washed the dishes or did the laundry we are now having to do.  We settle for a relationship in which our lives together don’t always feel harmonious, seamless, in tune, or give us the delicious love or consideration or thoughtfulness or conversation or mutual interests or personality flavors that we prefer.  We settle for an imperfect match.

The good news is that we tend to grow, ourselves, and to really develop our interpersonal skills right at the edges where our desires and preferences do not get met!  We develop greater adaptability and strength, and all of the personal traits we hold in high regard—patience, sacrifice, tolerance, understanding, empathy, flexibility, kindness, integrity, etc.—when we experience friction between ourselves and our partner.

All beings shrink, erode, degrade, and sink over time.  Our bodies shrink in height and muscle mass just as sand erodes from a cliff, as shore gets swallowed by the sea.  We are all subject to gravity and to wear.  Our “fur” thins like that of the Velveteen Rabbit, from love and exertion, from disappointment and fatigue, and from work.

Settling is mostly about tolerating differences, even appreciating them, and discovering flexible and adaptive ways to interact with our partners that incorporate our differences and make the most of them.

We feel somewhat attracted to “otherness,” which is novel and exciting, but the counter tension we experience runs also:  “Why can’t you be more like me?”  When we live with someone who has marked differences, there are multiple, even subtle ways in which we try to cajole, beg or request that they be more like us.  Take a talkative partner and a quieter partner.  Often the talkative partner will “try” to get their quieter partner to open up and talk, thus developing greater skill and adeptness in getting others to open up.

We tend to advance our own skill sets with someone who functions in a way seemingly “opposite” or different from ours.  Quiet individuals learn how to guard their secrets better, on one hand, or on the other, benefit from learning to become more transparent and revelatory with their feelings and thoughts.  Partners “stretch” each other through the friction and interaction between their differences.

When it comes right down to it, settling serves the function of maintaining a couple over time.  The gift of settling has to do with the cultivation of tolerance for differences, the development of empathy, and the flexibility to see things from our own, and the other person’s perspectives.

In some instances, a person may not find enough room, emotionally, to settle for differences that seem too marked or too much of a polar opposite.  Sometimes the energy match is too strained—a highly reserved person and an intensely effusive one, as an example.  Or each person’s fundamental beliefs feel too different to reconcile—be they religious, political, related to parenting, or to life’s priorities.

That we co-create all of our relationships means we have both accountability for, and are the beneficiaries of, what gets created.  Settling involves, not only the more passive giving in to the gravity and significance of a relationship but also involves active processes of developing one’s emotional intelligence about the other person and learning to tolerate and appreciate their otherness.

Camel Saddle:  For what in a significant relationship have you settled?  What qualities or quirks about you must your past, present, or future partner likely have to tolerate (and hopefully appreciate)?  What are the differences you find easier or harder to live with in another person?