I have learned that we develop defense mechanisms early in life as part of our survival instinct. These defense mechanisms evolve from very early experiences it could be from a traumatic incident like abuse or a significant loss, or just repetitive well-intentioned but ill-delivered messages from important people early in our lives. Why they exist is not quite as important as how we experience them now.
I have named my primary defense mechanisms (DMs); they are Martyr Bitch, here’s what she sounds like, “that figures yes I will just have to do it myself because no one else gives a damn, it’s always me I always have to do everything.” My other DM is Lazy Procrastinator here’s what she sounds like, “oh my gosh I have to do that and that and that and that well its just too much I can’t handle all of that, oh look at this over here you need to pay attention to this and that other stuff can wait.” My last DM is Chicken Shit Escape Artist, she comes out when times get tough and here’s what she sounds like, “just get the hell out of here this is a mess and it’s not your fault just cut bait and run, no need for confrontation just leave the situation while you can, it’s all too difficult to deal with.”
Martyr Bitch comes out most often and I hear her tapes in my head often. I have been working with an amazing ontological coach, Lynn Erlinger (http://successtrekcoaching.com), for a while, she has helped me to understand that while these DMs were very useful when I was growing up they don’t necessarily support what I am up to now. I have a lot of compassion for these DMs they obviously supported me at one point in my life and so it is with love and compassion that I recognize these old tapes when they start playing in my head and then bless them and send them on their way. Because they in many cases, no longer support my present life. This was not as easy as I am making it sound here it has been a long road to DM recovery. Last year while my dad and stepmom were dying and my aunt and uncle were having health problems it was so easy to listen the Martyr Bitch I mean really if there were ever a time I could have embraced her logic and snuggled up to martyrdom that would have been it. Thankfully, I had done a significant amount of work with Lynn and realized that DM would not serve me now.
I was able to really be fully present to my stepmom, my dad, my brother, my uncles and my aunts and the rest of my family and friends during this very emotional and difficult time. Because I was able to recognize the tapes when they started to play and from there remember to choose what my intent was, which was support, compassion and love. I discovered it is difficult to be fully present and support myself and others if I am only concerned about me, how it impacts me, how it feels to me, martyr, me, martyr, me, martyr, me.
Lazy procrastinator while it must have saved me at some point in my life from doing something rash and harmful, now if I listen to that old tape it can hinder me from doing things I really want to accomplish like running a marathon, starting a blog and writing a book. Again it’s all about being present when those tapes start to play and I recognize oh yes there you are, it’s ok I don’t need you right now I am up to something else right now.
Chicken shit escape artist (CSEA) really did serve me well in my youth during some very tumultuous times and I am very grateful. In fact, there are some very difficult episodes of my life that due to CSEA I have relatively few bad lingering memories. My brother and I will talk about our childhood and he will have vivid memories of bad things that happened to me that I really only have vague memories of, I believe, thanks to CSEA. I want to add here with all integrity and honesty, I would not change a single thing about my childhood, we had marvelous adventures, and it help mold me into the person I am today. CSEA tapes visit me when things heat up and confrontation is eminent, or life is difficult. So when CSEA tapes flood my thoughts I again am present enough now to recognize what is happening and choose from there.
I will confess there are times will all my DMs I still choose to listen to those old tapes, but now I am doing it with awareness, so I am living my life conscientiously and I also ask myself “what is your intent, is this consistent with your intent?” I see so many people struggling and I used to instantly wade in and try to “fix” things for them. I still have the urge, but now I realize how disempowering that is both for me and for the person suffering. If I wade in and “fix” things for them it is no different from giving a drug addict more of their drug, this is their opportunity for growth. There are many well-intentioned people keeping their close friends and family from living their full, beautiful, engaged lives under the guise of helping them. I know, because I did that very thing. Now I recognize the beauty and perfection of each person owning their own experience and being the master of their own journey. No two journey’s are created equal, your journey is your journey, embrace it, be present and empower your life and take action from there.
So what old tapes are you listening to? May I suggest to you simply be aware, notice the tapes, remind yourself what you are up to, is that tape supporting your journey or is it creating more chaos in your life? May I also suggest working with an ontological coach, you will focus on now, the present, how powerful is that, you can’t change the past even yesterday is gone, today is what we have, make the most of it. Working with Lynn has changed my awareness, I can now say if you meet me on the street you will meet the authentic Marsia, the real me, not a reflection of who I think I should be or doing what I think others feel I should be doing, I am me, perfect, just as you are. My own experience is the more comfortable I became with who I am, the more comfortable I have become with everyone else as they are. So please come out, come out wherever you are!!!!
“An authentic life is the most personal form of worship. Everyday life has become my prayer.” ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach
Last year during a very difficult time in our family I had an encounter with a member of my extended family. She was very angry about not being told right away about my stepmother’s cancer diagnosis. Why she was not told is not germane to this discussion but there was a reason, right or wrong. While she was very crossly explaining to me why her anger was justified she told me “we will forgive but not forget, ” the we referring to herself and her husband.
That statement has stuck with me since, I remember saying to her, “that doesn’t sound like forgiving to me.” There was no response to that statement only a continued diatribe justifying why she was right and we were wrong. I do believe it would be very difficult to absolutely forget a situation where someone feels wronged. I have forgiven a very painful situation from my past and while I haven’t forgotten it, when I do remember it, there is no bitterness or resentment attached anymore so I guess I remember it with grace.
Today a friend said she was contemplating the words forgive and forget and how both words have give and get in them and how interesting that is and what does that tell us. I thought how profound her observation was, to forgive is in essence giving, when you forgive someone you are give-ing a gift to those you forgive. When you forget you really are get-ting peace of mind.
Of course I flashed back to the encounter I shared with my extended family and I remember when I was talking to her I felt an overwhelming sadness for her and her husband. I knew at that moment no matter what I said they were choosing this path of not forgetting and I believe not forgiving. Regrettably they no longer speak to any of us.
So what does it mean to forgive and forget?
Well the interesting thing is forgiveness and let’s say graceful forgetting has very profound health benefits according to recent studies published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine and the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. I think the biggest obstacle people have with forgiveness is the feeling that if they forgive they are saying whatever the other person did is ok with them. Actually I do not believe that is the case and truly the act is not what is forgiven. In my case I connected with our creator and said I have been wronged but I trust you, you got me through this and now I need to continue on to do your work and unburden myself of this resentment. In a way if I had not forgiven it was as if I was now perpetrating an ongoing wrong against myself.
In my own situation the act that resulted in my forgiveness was quite grave. So I did not condone the behavior then, and I do not condone that kind of behavior today, but I still forgive the person. I can also give testament to the health benefits of forgiveness and graceful forgetting. Immediately after I truly forgave the person I felt lighter, as if weight was removed from my shoulders. Occasionally I have had to be near the person that wronged me, and while I generally choose not to, because they are a member of my family there are rare times it would be very complicated to avoid. So I make sure it is a safe situation, but I no longer feel any resentment, anger or dread.
I noticed right away after this act of forgiveness I was able to “get” more in my life. My relationships benefited because my interactions were no longer clouded by this haze of umbrage. I began to notice that I could more fully engage in relationships, it was as if, until I could forgive the one person that wronged me, everyone else was being judged as a potential co-conspirator. I know forgiveness is not easy and forgetting with grace is even more challenging.
Consider this, what if I told you that if you trained and ran one marathon you could add ten years to your life, you would have stronger relationships and you would feel better about yourself; would you take on that challenge? Interestingly I think many would feel more inclined to run a marathon than let go of a well entrenched injustice. I believe you can add years to your life through practicing authentic forgiveness, and it’s not just the quantity, it’s the quality of those years that you will be adding.
We get so caught up in drinking the right water, taking the right supplements, eating organic, or not eating this or that to improve our health and I happen to be one of those people who does all these things. But I also look at the other side of my well-being, my mental health. Many of us focus on exercise and nutrition but overlook the most accessible way to improve our health and station in life, a well-balanced mental health.
Give the gift of forgiveness, forget with grace and receive love, peace and expand your universe beyond your wildest dreams. What are you holding on to that its time has come to let go? Where does your power lie, in the keeping or the getting?
“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” ~ Paul Boese
Our company has some amazing core values and the really beautiful thing about them is that we as a group developed them when we were first starting out. One core value, however, gratitude, was added after the group process. At first I was hesitant to add it, not because I do not believe gratitude is important, but because I felt by adding it we would be saying we expected gratitude and that felt strange to me. I want to own that this was solely my interpretation.
Since then I have a very different understanding of gratitude and am so thankful it is part of our core values. My feeling now is that it is not about expecting people to feel gratitude, and honestly I feel someone else’s experience with gratitude is really none of my business. It is about creating my own amazing life experience through practicing gratitude.
I have a gratitude practice I started a long time ago, I strive each day (usually in the shower, since I can’t sing) to recite all that I am grateful for. I always start with the people and experiences that have given me the most angst, discomfort or challenge from the previous day. I feel those experiences and people were gifts given to me to either; recognize some aspect of myself I loathe, to provide me the opportunity to learn a lesson I have been reluctant to receive, or to provide insight for a later experience along my journey. This is not easy but I find it is essential to my well-being. I also feel if I reject these gifts they will continue to be offered until I do accept them or even worst may not be offered again for some time, leaving me stuck in a rut.
One thing I have kept in mind during the past year is all the things that I am grateful for, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in who or what doesn’t feel good or right. However, I realize all the challenging events in my life have served a valuable purpose in helping me become the person I am. I often wonder what would my life look like if I had not experienced some of the more difficult episodes. It is almost like polishing a rock, it is a rough and brutal process but in the end out comes a beautiful shimmering gemstone.
I think of it this way, we are all born naked and pure, our life is complete possibility and potential. As we go through life we cloak ourselves with certain fabrics and tools we need to survive. I see the early part of our lives as the period when we acquire these objects of survival. Then I believe we come to a point in our lives, where we have to make a decision. Do we continue carrying these cloaks, tools and supplies or do we trust that we can shed these because we have finally reached the promised land and no longer need these to survive the journey?
I believe this is where we are faced with the most important choice in our lives and it truly shapes our journey from this point on. There is no right or wrong answer or path, it is simply how we choose to go from here. I am at this point in my journey. I have to say it has been the most powerfully rewarding and frightening process I have been through so far.
The reward is shedding the extra load, simplifying. I did not necessarily get to this point willingly. Over the past year my cloak, tools and supplies were stripped out of necessity, I did not have the strength to carry them anymore. I was like a hot air balloon losing my buoyancy I had to cut ballast to continue on my flight path. My family needed me and I knew I could not be there for them if I carried all this weight.
So here I was stripped naked and fully exposed before my peers. It is a very humbling, scary and also enlightening experience to be stripped down to your purest, most raw state of being. I could no longer keep up my defenses, I had to speak in truths I did not have the energy or desire to cover up my self-perceived warts. As my amazing ontological coach says, I was way out on the skinny branches of the tree. As I sat with my dad during his last days there was no room for anything but authentic, transparent discussion. How would anything but that serve us now?
I have heard people say after profound experiences; the food tasted better, the sun was brighter, colors were more vivid. I thought I understood that and had experienced it myself and maybe to a certain degree I did. However, what I am experiencing now is very new to me. My sense is that I cannot properly explain it without feeling I am making a mockery of the experience or not treating it with the proper reverence it deserves. So please bear with me as I fumble through this because I feel it is worthy of sharing and may be of value.
My senses feel fully engaged, the filters I put in place, which served me well, I don’t feel I need them right now. They are getting a well deserved rest, they will still be with me, but are dormant for now. I experience people, events and encounters differently, I am becoming, as Eckart Tolle says, “intensely present.” Most of the time it feels magnificent, I feel light, but it has also felt uncomfortable particularly when I am with people or experiences that previously I had my filters on in full force. What will their reactions to me be now? How will I handle it if someone is deeply uncomfortable with how I am being? Do I have the strength and courage to continue on this uncharted path?
I believe I will continue and at times I will stumble, skin a knee, fall off the path or I will tire due to the steep incline and rough terrain, but I will proceed with gratitude that I chose this path. It’s funny how hiking really is an interesting metaphor for life. We can continue hiking the same path or a well-worn path and that’s not all bad, you know what to expect and occasionally you see something new, or you can take an unfamiliar path and while filled with trepidation, unexplored worlds and knowledge awaits you.
So I go forth with gratitude and appreciation for what brought me here and what keeps me moving forward into unfamiliar but glorious territory.