Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Page 35: "Let there be Peace, and let it begin with me"

The title of this page is the closing line of the book "Taking the War Out of Our Words" by Sharon Strand Ellison. It is a resolution that I have not felt so keenly as I feel it tonight.

As a domestic violence advocate, we are taught that domestic violence is not "communication problems" but an issue of power & control. In this book, the two philosophies are united to explore the power & control underpinning how we speak to one another. As it turns out relational violence is an issue of power & control in the manner we communicate.

I know it shouldn't have taken me nearly five years to arrive at this conclusion, and yet here we are.

Reading this book over the last three weeks has profoundly changed my life. Reading over journals I have kept for years, common themes kept emerging- defiance, anger, rage, venting, withdrawing, silent rebellions, silent treatments, threats of abandonment, hurt, manipulations, sabotaging, etc. Over and over again.

Frankly...I'm exhausted.

Never before have I read a work that so perfectly illuminates the sense of powerlessness and defensiveness that characterizes so many of my day to day interactions, and actually provides tools to claiming personal authority within oneself.

Slowly, step by step, I have started practicing these tools. Because I am who I am, I have to start slow...so I start by practicing on myself. I keep a journal of my internal narratives so that I can challenge them. Looking back on earlier entries, I discovered how I tried to manipulate and control my own thinking about myself. Rather than lead to greater self-awareness, it caused a psychological withdrawal where I was unwilling to continue to look at these narratives and thus set-aside the journal. With these new tools, I revisited the narratives and have written pages and pages. Changing behaviors I thought so entrenched it was hopeless.

This week, I have been truly quiet. I have tried for the last four years to harness by need to talk, to give advice, to have an opinion and expertise on everything. With these tools, I have not felt compelled to chatter, advise, or be an expert on anything. The relief...and release feels much like finding safety after a long, pointless war.

What was the tool?
Questions are just for gathering information, not to entrap. Be curious.

It turns out I was so busy brow-beating myself, I never bothered to be curious about when I started feeling/acting this way, who first made me feel these ways, where, with whom, how did I see it...and on.

As a Taoist story goes...I was trying to cover the desert with leather to protect from the heat, when what I really wanted and needed was to cover my own feet.

She continues by discussing boundaries. She explains how people tend to think of boundaries as this positive barrier that is hard to set and be consistent. But in reality, we make boundaries (a statement about what we will and won't do) for ourselves all the time and are strikingly consistent:

You can call me a disappointment, and I won't say anything.
You can yell at me, and I will do whatever you want to keep you happy.
You can make me feel small, and I will react by making myself smaller.
You can treat me like a child, and I will respond by acting like a child.

This blew my mind. Somehow, just the exercise of thinking about the boundaries I currently hold was enough to reclaim a large portion of my personal authority.

I feel more authentic now than I have in a long time. In many ways, this is the most authentic I have ever been because I feel like I have the tools now to assert myself respectively, actually articulate what I'm thinking/feeling, and keep the focus on growing my own character rather than trying to control everyone and every situation.

It is going to take a lot of practice, because this is so not how we're taught to talk to each other.

But life is a practice, no?