Posts in Category: Self Worth

Decisions, Decisions, or Embracing your Inner Toddler

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When you’re feeling indecisive, instead of agonizing, or making your best guess, what if you choose arbitrarily to see what happens?  If there’s no right answer, there’s no wrong answer.  If there’s no wrong answer, there’s no way to fail.  If there’s no way to fail, there’s no fear of failure.

No right, No wrong, No way to fail.Okay, say you have a decision in front of you.  It can be a big one like which job to take, or a small one like what’s for dinner, doesn’t matter.  You’re not sure what to do.  It could go either way.  What if, instead of trying to choose the RIGHT thing, when it’s really not that clear what the right thing is, you see it as “need more input” and just choose SOMETHING.  Maybe the easy thing.  Maybe the hard thing.  Maybe the thing that you don’t usually choose.  Maybe the comforting thing.  Just something.  You have 2 ounces of energy to spend on the decision making process, ready, go.  Okay, have you chosen?  Great.  If you’d agonized over the decision instead, how much energy would you have spent?  10 ounces?  a pound?  6 tons?  (You knew the energy in your life was measured as a weight, right?)  Is this decision worth that much energy?  Would the wrong decision cause permanent damage?  Is it really permanent, or is it something you can heal from or apologize and make amends and move on?  Is this a safe place to fail?  To be uncomfortable?

Now we’ve created a split scenario.  In one, you’ve spent 10 pounds of energy making a decision with the intention of it being right; in the other, you’ve spent 2 ounces with the intention of gathering information.  Now it’s time to act on your decision.  You start to see that it’s not working out quite the way you’d imagined.  When the intention is to get it right, and it’s going wrong, there’s pressure for it to be right, there’s energy to correct whatever’s going wrong or save face, there’s probably some beating yourself up for choosing the wrong thing, and maybe a side of anxiety around the next time you need to make a decision or do the thing again.  When the intention is information gathering, then you can calmly observe the failure, see that maybe it’s not a failure after all, or maybe it is and you can laugh about it.  You understand what’s going on better because now you’ve lived it, and when the time comes to make a decision again, it’s a bit easier because you remember what happened last time.  When your intention is information gathering, you might feel a little younger, a little more like a kid, a little less in control.  You might need to admit that you have more to learn, and that might feel uncomfortable.  Or it might feel freeing, like a weight has been lifted.  You’re experimenting in this moment, living in this moment, gathering your set of life data, getting better prepared for next time.  You’re admitting that you weren’t prepared this time, and that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a fact, an observation.  And geez, maybe the decision was just what to eat for dinner.

When the intention shifts from making the best choice you can to gathering information, it’s so much easier to laugh at your mistakes, forgive yourself (well, there’s nothing to forgive in the first place) and move on.  You’re learning by experience and developing your intuition.  Instead of expecting yourself to know it all already and rely on your rational brain to figure it all out, you’re approaching life like a kid again with an air of curiosity and joy of discovery.  It means there might be mistakes, and there might be grand ones, but you’re not beating yourself up over them, and life moves on.  You can apologize if necessary, make amends if necessary, and try again if necessary.

Where did we get this idea that it wasn’t safe to make mistakes in the first place?  Why do we expect such high standards of ourselves?  At some point it really was a matter of life and death that we get it right.  Is it still?  In every situation?  At some point, it was society keeping us on the straight and narrow.  But now don’t we keep telling our kids that it’s okay to make mistakes?  That it’s about the journey?  Yet it’s so hard for them, and it’s so hard for us.  We’ve gotten stuck in this place of working so hard to do right and thinking we need to know or figure out everything, that it’s blocking our ability to be present in the moment, laugh at our mistakes, and save our energy for the important stuff.

 

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Revoking consent

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“This isn’t working for me anymore, I want you to stop.”  When I say this, I have revoked consent for the current situation.  Maybe we can find a way to make it work, or maybe not.  Either way, this, what we’re doing right now, what YOU’RE doing right now, I need it to stop, now.  And I will use my power* to make it stop.  Even if it makes you upset.  Even if you want to keep going.  Even if you don’t care whether I consent to this or not.  And so you learn, that when I say no, I mean no.

*I will use my personal power, I will ask respectfully first and and insist, and if that doesn’t work, I will move in physically to prevent you from continuing.  I won’t power over, I won’t shame, I won’t step on you.  I will do my best to keep anyone from getting hurt.

Assuming that I’m within my own boundaries and I have ownership over whatever it is I’m setting limits on (my body, my stuff, common spaces in the house, enforcing established rules…) this is my current mantra with my kids.  It feels awful and awkward and mean and like I’m making it too big of a deal.  And so I double down and do it more.  Because when I don’t, I’m enabling rape culture and power dynamics. When I don’t,  I’m modeling to my kids that my needs don’t matter very much, that their feelings are more important.  And when they’re older, and in questionable situations, I don’t want them to think that their needs don’t matter very much.

When I let my needs slip behind theirs, when I make exceptions to the rules, when I let them insist, when I give in, when I say no, no, no, no, okay just one – I’m trying to be nice and understanding and kind and reasonable.  But I’m not in the long term.  I’m compromising myself and my values, my needs, my own personal power in favor of their outward calm.  I’m telling them that their tension, their hurt, their upset is a BIG DEAL and needs to be avoided.  I’m telling them that their potential upset is bigger than my own power.  That they need to avoid getting upset.  That if they’re getting upset, then something is Very Wrong.

There’s a concept of consent culture that I’ve seen floating around, where parents ask their kids consent for everything, from the moment the kid can reasonably give it.  I have a few issues with this, but the one I want to focus on here is, what’s the end goal?  I don’t want to bash it completely, but I’m picturing this kid, fully grown.  They’ve learned to ask consent for everything.  Awesome.  They’re not going to be raping anyone.  Awesome.  But they’re also going to be expecting to be asked consent for everything, and that really isn’t the case I’ve seen in the real world.  What happens when someone else comes along and *doesn’t* ask their consent?  What happens when they ask consent but the other person doesn’t know how to say no?  And then, what about the times when consent was implied but never explicitly asked and now there is a victim?  Is it all up to the “attacker” to ask first?  Is the victim rendered a powerless victim as soon as the attacker doesn’t ask consent, no matter what ensues, questionable or not?  I’m finding that the ability and power to say no is just as important as the habit of asking.

My 10 year old is irritated and is bossing my 6 year old around.  He’s going along with it but I can see by the look on his face that this isn’t cool with him, and he’s not speaking up for himself.  I ask him, “Is this working for you?  Do you give her permission to boss you around like this?” and he slowly shakes his head no.  And so I tell her, “this isn’t working for him, find something else to do.”  And she gets angry and stomps and yells (which is why he isn’t speaking up for himself in the first place) and I listen to how outraged she is and I remove her from the situation and hold the limit.  I give her space to vent on me instead of making my 6 year old bear the brunt of her big emotions.  She learns that no still means no, even when it’s hard to say and even when the other person is intimidated by you.

When I notice the nonverbal cues and speak up for the kid who isn’t speaking up for himself, all sorts of magic happens.  I show that it really is okay to speak up for yourself, the world isn’t going to end when it makes the other person upset.  I show how to step in and help in a situation where it’s clear that one person is uncomfortable enforcing their boundaries on their own.  I show that the nonverbal cues matter.  I show my kids that I have their back.  And How it doesn’t have to be an explicitly spoken no.  All forms of no mean no.  Look for the subtle signs.  Even when one party is bigger and stronger or has more social power, that’s not an excuse to bowl over someone else’s needs.

I’m learning a lot through this revoking consent process.  I’m learning that my own comfort matters, and is worth actively doing something to achieve, and that *gasp* I can even make my kids upset over it.  I’m also seeing more clearly the converse – that self sacrifice and avoiding conflict don’t get you anywhere, that bending the rules and “being nice” and not upsetting people just keeps everyone miserable for longer.  I’m gaining confidence in speaking up for others, not just myself.  And I’m building my personal power as I see how much of a difference I can make.

When getting upset is Wrong and must be avoided at all costs, that sets a perfect stage for dangerous power dynamics.  The upset powerless person won’t stand up for herself, won’t make a fuss, might not even validate her own upset feelings.  The upset power-over person will be scared, panic, and see the other party as the one who is out of line.  An upset power-over person who is panicking and blaming others is a perfect recipe for senseless violence.

My comfort matters.  It’s okay to be upset.  I have your back.  Nonverbal cues matter.  It’s okay to stand strong.  Every no means no.

My favorite part of all this?  Is how it’s all done with modeling and in ways that I’m completely in control of.  I don’t need anybody else to buy in, I don’t need to lecture, nobody needs to understand anything.  I am empowered to enforce my limits.  I especially like how it models personal power and consent in a way that doesn’t require any cognitive load.  It becomes hard wired into the limbic system and sticks around as intuition even in times of stress or weakness.  There’s nothing to consciously remember.  No just means no.

 

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Big Rock Must Do Chore Lists

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How we make space for the important stuff and ditch the rest.

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In our family of 5, we have ongoing lists of things that need to be done, and important things that keep slipping through the cracks.  If I want a sense of calm and peace in the way we go about our days, I need to prioritize where I put my energy and how I plan my time.  I do want calm and peace.  I want my time to be valued and respected.  And I want to respect my kids’ autonomy along the way.  I’ve been trying to balance it all and this is what I’ve come up with so far:

We have the Must Do things that we’re committed to on a routine basis, the spontaneous extras we want to do (like making cookies, going to the movies, inviting a friend over), and the extras we want to add to our commitments (that extra class, that big project, the weekly teatime).

Of course then there are the things that we’re spinning our wheels with, taking up our time, that aren’t actually that important to us.  Like 10 hours of legos and minecraft and facebook and Harry Potter a day.  Not that those things aren’t valuable, just maybe we don’t want to be spending all day everyday doing them.

Are you familiar with the big rock analogy? It’s the story of the glass jar that fits big rocks and gravel and sand and water, but only if you put the big rocks in first.  

The Must Do list is our big rocks, the extras are the gravel, and the spinning wheels is the sand.  The things we mindfully want to be doing, vs the sand that we find ourselves choosing in the moment as the path of least resistance.  On our Must Do list includes things that everyone needs to do (eat), things that only a certain person can do (practice guitar) and things that it doesn’t matter who does them so long as they get done (feed the dog).

Every day, first thing, come the Must Dos.  These are our biggest rocks, our highest priorities.  Once all of the Must Dos are either done or scheduled into the day (I trust they’re going to happen – for example, we don’t have to be done with dinner by 10am, but we *do* need a dinner plan before moving on) we can move on to the Priority List.  This is the list of extras that we want to do.  The “Mommy will you…” list.  “Mommy, will you…?” “Yes, as soon as we’re set on the Must Dos.”  

When we’re on top of the Must Do list, getting it all done painlessly, we can add extra activities and commitments to it.  When we’re not finishing the Must Do list, then we start simplifying our commitments and making more space for the stuff that matters most.  In practical terms, this means dropping an activity, or decluttering the stuff that’s taking up physical and mental space in our lives, until we are really keeping up.

A note, all of these things are limits that I’m setting for myself.  This is what I need in order to maintain my peace and calm.  I am not willing to commit to paying for/transporting to extra activities until I know that the things that we’ve declared are the most important are being taken care of.  I’m not willing to go out of my way for someone else until I trust that my needs are getting met too.  Ooh, that’s hard to say without feeling selfish.  But the more bandwidth I have, the more I have to give, and everyone wins.  I’m not telling the kids what they can and can’t do – I’m showing them a window of what I am and am not willing to commit myself to.  If they want a class that they have the means to make happen completely without my help, I won’t stop them from doing it.  If they want me to drive them there however, then it needs to fit into my structure for me to say yes.

So that is the bare bones structure.  I can imagine it getting adapted in all sorts of ways, depending on each individual’s personal priorities.  

Here’s how it looks for us: 

My kids are 22 months, 6 years, and 10 years old.  My main priorities include quality meals, improving our circadian rhythms, a reasonably tidy house, hygge family time, and project time.  And so our Must Do list includes things like eating, getting outside, having a meal plan, dishes, laundry, tidying, taking care of the dog, and the fun things that keep slipping through the cracks, like reading books together, one on one time with each kid, board games, family adventure days.

The ongoing Priority List has all the one off things.  Some of them are boring, like returning stuff to the store or calling the dentist and others are fun like making cookies or going to the movies.  Anything can be bumped up to Must Do status if it becomes time critical.  For now, things on the Priority List only happen once the Must Dos are completely taken care of.  As we build up routines and trust stuff will get done, I bet we will open up more space to mix in some of the extras during the day.

We also keep an ongoing list of Activities that we would like to add to the Must Do commitments.  This is stuff like Scouts, Theater, weekly Poetry Teatime, and bigger projects like learning to sew a dress.  The way I’ve been balancing Activities is, we start at 0.  At the end of the day, when we’ve checked off all of our Must Dos, then we add (+1).  If there are any Must Dos that we didn’t get to, we subtract (-1).  If we get up to +5, then we’ve proven that we have space to add to our Must Do list, so we can add an activity (and reset to 0).  If we get down to -5, we’ve proven that we’re overcommitted and so we drop an activity, or else clear out a big box of stuff that isn’t sparking joy anymore.

Future notes: I can imagine a more advanced version of this, where different activities have different weights based on the commitment involved, and where boxes of stuff also have weights.  And activities and decluttering can be traded out as priorities become clear.  You really want to do theater (4 points) but don’t have the time to add that many activities?  Trade out one smaller activity you’re already doing (2 points) and help clear out two big boxes of stuff (2 points).  We’re not ready for the extra complexity yet though.  Another issue that’s coming up is, how do we make it fair when one person is pulling all the weight and others are just reaping the benefits?  I don’t have a solid solution for that one yet that balances honoring the person doing the work without leaving behind the person who can’t find it in them to help out.

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Review: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

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Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown follows Mr. Tiger who lives in a drab world of animals walking on two legs.  He decides he needs something more, and starts to act truer to his tiger nature.  Enough is enough, however, and his friends ask him to take his wild to the wild.  He loves the idea, and goes.  Soon he misses home and comes back to discover that his friends have been inspired to act just a bit more wild themselves.

Pros: This is a great story of Mr. Tiger discovering his own unique needs, and doing what it takes to get them met.  In doing so, he models the same for his friends.  There’s an added bonus of testing perceived limits and enforcing boundaries without shame.

Cons: None.

Overall: I like it.  I’m inspired to be myself and not care what other people think.

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Playing Poke Tag

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In the game of poke tag, the first player is ‘it’.  They choose a ‘victim’ to poke. The goal is to be incessant and calmly annoying – not to hurt.  The ‘victim’ can do whatever they want to get the first player to stop, but it doesn’t “count” until it’s a respectful request.  So avoiding, poking back, yelling, ordering… Doesn’t work.  It is more like permission for ‘it’ to be more annoying.

Once the ‘victim’ makes a respectful request for the poke to stop, ‘it’ gets to choose if they want to honor the request or not. If they choose to continue poking, now they’re on the ‘victim’s turf and that player can do anything they want to get ‘it’ to stop – I’m thinking of big scary lion rawrs, and running around.  Once the ‘victim’ tags ‘it’ they become ‘it’ and can choose their ‘victim.’

This boundary game teaches that you and only you are in control of your actions.  You are free to torment, even.  You don’t have to be bound by other people’s limits and you don’t always have to be nice, but you are responsible for your actions.  It also teaches that it is up to you to defend your own space.  That respect is critical, but that you have the right to use force when necessary to defend your boundaries. 
Variations:

Do something other than poking.  Mix it up. Try to catch the other person off guard. 

Get suspenseful after you’ve asked ‘it’ to stop – surprise them with a big hug or kiss or tickle attack, or chase them all over.

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The Sneak It In game

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In this game you get to be sneaky.  One person tries to sneak something unwanted into the other’s possession.  For example, my husband and his brother spent years passing a “smokey bar” of smoked cheese back and forth, sneaking it from house to car to luggage, even mailed in a model Trojan horse.  Or it might be a shorter game, where I try to, say, put something down your shirt.  In both cases you suspect that something is coming and do your best to defend yourself. 

I love the freedom to torment the other party, and I love the practice defending your space. 

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The Interrupting game

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Interrupting is a skill.  Some people have a hard time interjecting at all.  Others have no regard for the person talking and just talk over them.  Somewhere in the middle is the well-timed interruption.

Maintaining your focus despite interruptions is also a skill.  Not getting derailed, keeping on topic, and maintaining control of the conversation are important things to know how to do. 

If you have any doubt, here’s an interesting article on gender differences in conversation habits.

The interrupting game goes like this:  There is a talker and an interruptor.  The talker is talking, and the interruptor interrupts, with the intention of derailing the conversation.  If they are successful, they get points.  (No, the points aren’t worth anything more than kudos.)  However, if the talker catches the interruption and politely asks the interruptor to save the thought for later, then the talker gets points.  The interruptor can choose to listen or not.  If they don’t, then the talker can get more points by completely ignoring the interruptors bids for attention.  Finally, when the talker gets to a breaking point in their conversation, they have a third chance to get points by bringing the focus back to the interruptor and giving them a turn to speak. 

My kids are loving this game.  They like the green light to try to interrupt.  They like the green light to not listen when I say to wait.  They love when I give them “points” after they’ve successfully derailed me. 

I am loving this game.  I love not feeling guilty asking them to hold their thought. I love being free to completely ignore and talk over them while they jabber nonsense (literally) at me.  I love giving them a turn to talk afterwards, and being able to totally focus on them.  And I’m looking forward to finding some great phrases for holding control of the conversation.  “Stop interrupting me” from the article linked above, “I’m not done talking” and “wait, I’m still in the middle of talking” are my current favorites. 

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Boundaries and Bubbles. Dents and Bulges.

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When I talk about boundaries, I’m talking about a sense of self and also of self worth.  Knowing where you end and ‘other’ begins, what *you* need and where *your* limits are.  There are the obvious physical boundaries – what’s my body and what’s yours.  This covers babies learning that they are their own person, and not just an extension of mama; and it also covers parent/kid relationships (corporal punishment and forced hugs and kisses, etc) as well as romantic relationships – nobody is “owned” by someone else.  There is a lot of conversation around this right now, and it’s important.  There are also mental boundaries – what is my motivation vs yours, what is my desire vs yours, what is my mistake vs yours, and the list goes on.    It probably maps pretty well to the needs I’ve outlined in the framework of this site. The conversations about these boundaries are starting to pop up and they’re critically important, too. 

And then there’s self worth.  How much can I take, how much can I give, how much space can I give myself?  How much am I worth?  What’s too much to keep track of?  

I have a mental picture of a circle. A bubble around an individual.  The bubble represents where you end and ‘other’ begins.  The volume of the bubble represents your self worth.  The shape of your bubble isn’t always a circle, though.  Unhealthy boundaries come when your bubble is too small (and you don’t take what you need for yourself, don’t feel like you deserve it) or when you overreach into someone else’s space (the controlling or abusive personality) or give away what is rightfully yours (the pushover/accommodator).  These last two look like bulging arms reaching out, or like caves carved in to your circle.  

I would say that healthy boundaries feel really good to an individual.  That is the lowest energy state, and leads to the highest default happiness with life.  I would also say that most everyone doesn’t have perfectly healthy boundaries.  Some are healthier than others, for sure, but it takes work.  You see, life is an attack on your boundaries.  There is a nonstop stream of assaults, and figuring out your needs and limits is a learning process, complete with the need to make mistakes.  Any time there is an assault that you’re not sure what to do with, it can dent in your circle a bit, and it stays there as trauma until you can process it.  The starting shape of your boundaries is passed from parent to child, and from friend to friend. It’s contagious, because it’s defined by what we can validate for each other and what space we can hold for each other. 

So you go through life, and there are assaults, and if you don’t have defenses or ways to process the assault then it sticks around.  And you have a dent. A trauma.  But it doesn’t always affect your self worth – the volume of your bubble.  This means that if you have a big dent in one place, you’re going to want, to need to overreach in another place to maintain your self worth.  And self worth feels even better (to some?) than a healthy sense of me vs you. 

Now we have people with unhealthy boundaries waking around in their funny shaped bubbles, overreaching in some areas and not believing they even can reach at all in other areas.  There’s not much of a issue until there’s an overlap between two peoples’ bubbles and then the conflict is brought to light.  Limits are set and hopefully people move on.  But limits are HARD.  They can make you really upset.  Because if someone tries to smooth your bulge, where else is the space in your bubble going to go?  What about your self worth? Do you need to overreach somewhere else instead?  Or are you not actually worthy?  Panic! Anger! Fight back!

What’s happening is, either you are being traumatized by someone else’s bulge denting in your bubble, or else someone is trying to lop off your bulge and it feels like trauma (even if you can logically see that they’re right.  In order to make sense of this, you need to either reduce your self worth so you can fit in this new shape (ouch!), or you need to change the shape.  Changing the shape means either overreaching somewhere else (ick!) or finding a dent and popping it back out (HARD, painful).  If you know what to do, you can get straight to it through tears or laughter or talking, but if you feel stuck, it’s likely to come out sideways as anger, depression, anxiety, stress, coping mechanisms.  Any way you turn, it’s work. 

I’ve been observing myself and my kids and how we get stuck, a lot, some of us more than others.  Limits used to be painfully hard for me, but now I’ve figured them out – only they’re starting to cause more pain than growth.  And so I realized, it’s time to find those dents and pop them back out again.  I can’t set a limit on self care very easily, without really muddling up the self vs other lines.  It involves reaching into the bubble of another and claiming ownership.  I see dents in my kids’ bubbles though (it’s so much easier to see in others than myself) and now it’s time to pop those dents back out.  My plan involves games humor and lots and lots of laughter, completely unrelated to anything else going on, and definitely no limits (besides the rules of the game).   My hope is that by popping the dents out into a circle again, the bulges will shrink on their own, with relatively few limits and meltdowns.  Or at least the meltdowns will be productive rather than stuck. 

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Loving unconditionally

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There are a couple parts to the idea of being loved unconditionally.  Of feeling unconditional love.  First, you need to be able to feel the love.  Second, unconditional means the love needs to not be tied to anything you have control over.  A few generations ago, parents punished their kids for “being bad” and then we wised up to the harm that was causing and started instead to love up our kids for “being good.”  But it’s two sides of the same coin.  Both are using love and connection as power over another to change their behavior.  That’s not unconditional love, that’s manipulation and it blurs the lines between self and other.

Or maybe it’s love in response to achievement or lack of love (I’m thinking about time outs or just not giving attention) in response to difficult emotions.  Maybe it’s jumping in with tons of “I love you’s” in response to a meltdown, with the goal of stopping the outburst.  More blurred boundaries. 

Unconditional love means loving someone up just because they’re there, not because of anything they did or didn’t do.  It doesn’t mean loving them up because they’re having a hard time, and it doesn’t mean loving them up because they’ve done something you’re grateful for.  It’s loving them up because they exist, or because they asked you to.  It means the only reason you say no is because of your own personal limits and boundaries.  Not because of anything on their end. 

Imagine you’re dealing with anxiety and you’re not sure right from wrong.  You want to try to sort it out, but you’re scared of making a mistake.  You’re scared of offending or inadvertently pushing someone away.  Now imagine the feeling of love and acceptance.  If you knew, beyond a doubt, that that feeling of love was waiting for you no matter how your experiment turned out, you would be free!  You could figure out right from wrong, you could make mistakes, you would have no fear of social reprocussions.  Or rather, no fear that a mistake would cost you your self worth.

What if as a parent, or a partner, or even a friend, “loving up” were tied more to the clock/calendar than to actions?  What if you knew that you would be safely held, physically or metaphorically, at a given time?  And that nothing would get in the way of that?  

What if you needed to be loved up, NOW, before it’s “your turn” and you could just ask for it, without feeling ashamed?  Without fear?  Knowing that the only reason you would be turned away is because of the other person’s needs, which have nothing to do with you?

Unconditional love is feeling loved, just because you exist.  As a parent, my current experiment is to make sure to carve out some time of each day to enter the world of each of my kids and try to love them up in various languages.  No matter what’s going on, who’s doing what, or whether it’s a good day or bad.  To not only be sure I’m loving them in languages they understand, but to check in with the other languages and see if there are any holes in the buckets, see if there’s any mending that needs to be done. 

How do you love your loved ones unconditionally?  Do they feel your love?

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Feeling loved and self worth

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In order to trust that your needs will be met, you need to feel like you’re worth it.

One of our basic needs is connection, but I’ve argued that it’s not something you get directly – rather it’s something you get by meeting other needs in a social environment.

I’m here now to talk about love.  Are love and connection the same thing?  Maybe?

When you feel loved, you feel valuable, and your self worth goes up.  You are better able to prioritize your own needs, you’re better able to meet your own needs, and thus you’re better able to trust that your needs will be met.  Love can be generated internally (self love) or come from friends/family/partners.  It can be big and encompassing, or it can be small and everyday.

To understand it better, I start with the five love languages, and the idea that you have a primary and secondary love language.  Quality time, acts of service, receiving gifts, words of affirmation, physical touch.  And I want to add to the list, listening time.  Holding space and acceptance.

I’m curious about how a language becomes ‘my’ language.  And, what about the others?  I’ve had love languages feel like the opposite of love before.  Specifically doing an act of ‘service’ that is more for the do-er than for me.  Or words of affirmation (“Good job, I’m proud of you!”) that feel more like manipulation than love.  Others I’m indifferent to.  Gifts don’t make me happy, but I don’t bristle at them either.  I see story and story again, though, of people giving gifts as a love language, as a direct result of living through a time of scarcity.

Here’s my hypothesis.  What if the ‘love languages’ are really more like buckets?  As we’re growing up, we need each bucket filled enough that we understand how to then keep it filled ourselves?  Kind of like how a parent will tie a kid’s shoe until they know how to tie it for themself. And the the kid takes care of it on their own.

Now suppose each of these languages is more like a place where that process is likely to break.  You need to know that you’re whole and can generate each of these things for yourself, but sometimes the trust is broken.  You weren’t ever shown how.   You have certain languages that feel really good, some that are neutral, and others that you don’t even bother with because either you don’t know how to receive love in that language or else it hurts too much and just feels irritating.  If you have holes in one language it feels like you’re unlovable there.  Or not worth it.  If you know how to receive love in another, you want more and more of it to try and fill the hole, but since it’s the wrong language, the process never really completes.  It feels good but you still want more.  It’s your ‘primary love language.’

I propose that we all need to learn our worth in each of the love languages so that we can turn around and take care of ourselves in each of those ways.   Each of the love languages becomes a bucket to fill, a developmental box to check off.  And then any time you are having trouble prioritizing yourself to get your needs met, you can love yourself up to calm the anxiety.  Or ask for love from someone else.  Ask to have your worth modeled to you so that you can learn or re-learn how to do it yourself.

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