Are you playing the role of leading actor in your own story?

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How do you honestly know whether a belief you have is real or is actually just a story that you have told yourself for so long that you believe it to be true? 

You are probably thinking at this point, what on earth do I mean by that!?  Put simply, we are ALL made up of a series of stories.   The first volume is collected in your childhood gathered from the tales that you heard and absorbed growing up, relayed to you by your parents, caregivers, family members, friends, teachers or community.   You carry that volume with you into your adolescence, continually adding to it until you have a fully stocked library by your adulthood.  Some stories may get added to, some may get updated and some may get thrown out, but are these stories actually true or just something that you have accepted as true about yourself?

Some of these stories collected along the way may have been along the lines of:-

  •         I have to work hard to earn money
  •         I can’t afford that
  •         I have to be competitive and strive for perfection
  •         It matters what other people think of me
  •         I am not smart/interesting/pretty/thin enough to …. (fill in the blank)
  •         People like me can’t have success/love/money … (fill in the blank)

Not all stories are negative, however, and hopefully some of yours may have sounded more like:

  •          I CAN be abundant
  •          I CAN succeed at anything if I just try
  •          I AM lovable and special
  •          I CAN make a difference in the world
  •          I AM enough

The thing is that these “stories”, whether positive or negative can become your identity. 

What different genre of stories are there?  I have listed a couple below that I have observed but these are of course endless.

  • Victim story – something was done to you that you had no control over.  It could have been totally unexpected, rocked you to the core and it hurt like hell but you can’t move past it.  You replay the story like a broken record over and over to yourself and others, and by doing this you become mired down and stuck in the role of “victim”.  The trouble is, it’s an awful role to play; it makes you miserable, keeps you from enjoying the good things that are still in your life, and most of all it keeps you stuck stopping you from reclaiming your power and moving on with your life.  Another negative impact of the victim role is that if you play it for too long, people close to you may get very tired of hearing your “poor me” story and start avoiding you, at the very time you need your loved ones around you the most.
     
  • Health story – you may have had a series of illnesses or an unfortunate accident which has impacted on your life and held you back from the plans and goals you had for yourself.  You naturally can get immersed in the details, the treatment and the effects it has on you certainly if has majorly turned your life upside down.  It can also be a time when you may get extra attention from others which may be something that you are not used to, and it might feel kind of nice.  But there is a time limit for this sort of story too because if you focus solely on being ill/your injury in the long term you can take on that role and you can BECOME your illness - IT becomes your identity.  And as the victim story above, the people close to you don’t need to constantly hear a blow-by-blow description of what is going on with your health.  It doesn’t mean they don’t care but that they are just interested in more than one dimension of your life, they are interested in what else is going on in your world that they can be a part of with you. 
     
  • The good things in life aren’t available to someone like me –  this is similar to the victim role but relates more to relinquishing power over your circumstances.  Things just happen “to you”.  Success, love, happiness, money – they are for “other” people, not people like you.  So what benefits could playing this role possibly have?  Simple - it means you don’t have to put yourself out there in case you fail, in case you are judged.  If you don’t even try then you can stay safe and have nothing to lose.  But is living like this really living?  You can easily find yourself becoming very resentful and establishing a real “them and us” world, the “have and have nots” and life can look very miserable, as there is nothing to look forward to but more of the same. 

These various stories determine the lens you choose to view your world through, as well as measure your abilities, self-worth and how you approach your relationships and connections.  Some of those stories may inspire you to do better and strive to keep growing and explore.  Some of them, however, can keep you playing small, resisting or avoiding personal or professional growth, and possibly even sabotaging relationships and wonderful opportunities in your life.

The issue is you may have lived these stories for so long that they absolutely feel real for you.  So how can you measure if the stories you are living your life by are real, and what do you think the impact of believing these stories is having on your life?

You need to begin by asking yourself a series of questions and start to challenge your stories.  In doing this you need to be really honest and truthful with yourself.  Remember, this isn’t about other people, this is about YOU holding a mirror up to yourself and seeing the real truth of the situation.  It can be a confronting process but it can also be the most freeing experience you ever have! 

Some questions that may help you get started are:

  1. What are the actual FACTS of this story? This is where you need to get really real!!
     
  2. What PAY OFF am I getting from living this story?  Is it keeping me safe from even having to try?
     
  3.  How do I WANT to feel? If my story is one of internal pain, wouldn’t it be nice to free myself of this?
     
  4. What would be possible if I LET GO of this story?  Is my story stopping me from doing what I am truly capable of and what I really want in my life?

Remember, this process is not about shame, guilt or beating yourself up – no good ever comes from that and it is pointless.  It is to truly free yourself for once and for all from the misconceptions and untruths that may be keeping you stuck and holding you back from living your best life possible, one filled with joy, love, success and happiness.  Isn’t it time you rewrote your story?

Crossing boundaries - are you a trespasser?

 BY DEFINITION, a “boundary” is anything that marks a limit. 

Personal boundaries are the intangible guidelines, rules or limits that each of us has established during our lives.  It is like our own unwritten rulebook of what we deem as fair, safe and acceptable behaviour in how we interact in the world, but also how we expect others to treat us and how we respond if someone crosses those limits.

I want to share an analogy I heard recently regarding personal boundaries that was just so powerful, it may forever change the way you function in relationships.

Imagine that you have a fence around you and inside that fence is a beautiful garden.  In that garden you are allowed to plant whatever it is you desire.  You may grow flowers, vegetables or maybe both; you can water, weed and tend that garden however you like.  This fenced garden represents your LIFE.  Everyone has one, everyone is allowed to cultivate, plant and nurture their own garden exactly how THEY want to.  This means that everyone in your life, your partner, children, family, friends and work colleagues have a garden too. 

However, as the perfectly imperfect beings that we are, some of us, more than others, tend to poke our noses over the fence and peek into other people’s gardens.   We check out what are they growing and perhaps judge the state of their gardens or compare our garden to theirs!  This can bring up not so pleasant feelings of resentfulness, jealousy and inadequacy. Even more dangerous, maybe you do more than just poke your nose over the fence, you may jump right over it, land on the other side and start digging around, telling that person how you think they should be tending their garden and what they should plant.  In other words, judging the choices they are making and telling them how they should be living their lives.    

What you need to remember, however, is that you were never invited into that person’s garden, you just trespassed!   More importantly, when you are so focused on what everyone else is doing aren’t you neglecting your own garden? 

Boundaries are, in simple terms, the recognition of personal space.
— Asa Don Brown

Think of a time when someone has made a comment to you that as soon as it hit your ears it stung like crazy?  It may have been delivered innocently enough but hurt you nonetheless.  Maybe you just got back from the hairdressers feeling a bit glamorous and your mother said “I prefer your hair the colour it was before” or you spent hours trying to figure out how to solve a problem and your partner says “You should have done it this way”.  Ouch – someone has scaled your garden fence!

When I had time to reflect on this, I first of all felt guilt.  I could see very clearly whose gardens I had trespassed and dug around in.  Firstly, my partner.  I dug around so much in his garden it is amazing there is anything growing there at all!  I told myself I was doing it out of love and to make him happy, but to be totally honest maybe I was just trying to make myself happy and change him into who I wanted him to be, which is just a no-win situation for both of us.

My daughter; yes, I can see the times I have tried to reorganise her garden to conform to my gardening style and vice versa.  So once I realised this, we sat down and discussed the topic openly and came up with a signal if we feel one of us is trespassing – we simply call out “garden!” and the other person knows to back off.  Sometimes, when you are so close to someone and would do anything to help them, you may not always be aware that you are overstepping boundaries.  So, this has been a great way for us to let each other know when one of us is getting a little too close to that garden fence!

I could have beaten myself up when I looked back over my relationships and where I had done this, but that is just a futile and pointless exercise, so instead I am grateful that I have been given the gift of awareness instead of never receiving it.  It has also allowed me to put up boundaries when I feel that someone is telling me how to tend my garden! 

Just sit with this awhile and see if you get an “aha” moment like I did, but most importantly be kind to yourself, after all we are all just masterpieces in progress!

"It's not you, it's me" - my journey through rejection ...

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How can you describe the feeling of being rejected to someone who has never experienced it?

All I can do is try and paint a picture with my words of what the physical and emotional reality of it was like for me, and hope by doing this, that someone out there might feel less alone in what they are going through.

About 24 years ago, my ex-husband came home one day and told me that he didn’t know what he wanted in life anymore, but it wasn’t me.  When he walked out the front door that same day, leaving me with our 5-week-old daughter, it was as if time stood still.  It was as if all the air was sucked out of my body with a huge whoosh, like I was having an out of body experience, watching the scene from outside of myself as if it was being projected onto a movie screen.

I read the other day that your heart can’t actually be broken through emotional events, that that is a fallacy and impossible, but I beg to differ.  Not only did I literally feel my heart break, I heard it.  It sounded like a mirror shattering and then it felt like those glass shards sliced my heart into little pieces; and that was just Day 1.

“One of the hardest things you will ever have to do my dear, is to grieve the loss of a loved one who is still alive”.
— Jeannette Walls, "The Glass Castle"

The end of a relationship, especially when it is not initiated by you, is similar to a death and like mourning the loss of a loved one, you must pass through all the stages of grief.  Different lengths of time are spent working through each stage and each stage can be experienced with different levels of intensity.  The stages do not necessarily occur in any specific order and you can go backwards and forwards through these stages multiple times.  

Stage 1 - Denial and isolation; for me it was so absolutely impossible to accept, so denial was an easier alternative.  Surely, I must have misunderstood what he said!  We had just experienced the joy and wonder of having a baby together less than two weeks before.  How could I not notice that there was something wrong?  You don’t just wake up one day and decide you don’t want to be married to someone, do you? 

So, I isolated myself by not telling those close to me for as long as I could; my family had just returned home after being with us to share in the arrival of our beautiful daughter – how could I tell them what was going on when I didn’t even understand it myself?  I was ashamed and embarrassed so kept it to myself, when I so needed the support of those close to me.

Stage 2 - Anger; What cold-hearted son of a bitch could do this to someone who had just had a baby? I was so angry that he found it so easy to tell me, so easy to walk out that door and put his happiness before us.  My post-natal hormones were in full force at that stage and the ebb and flow of my anger scared me – I demanded answers and none of the ones I received could ever be satisfactory explanations for the situation I now found myself in.  I would get hysterical whenever we spoke and couldn’t control my emotions.  This was supposed to be one of the happiest times of my life and it was spoiled, marred and forever ruined in my mind by his selfish actions.

Stage 3 - Bargaining; looking back, this was the most demeaning of all the stages for me.  Begging for him to reconsider, to attend counselling, to have some time on his own and give him space – whatever it was that would return our lives to the way they were before.  I would do anything I could to repair it, hang on, have something to give me hope that my whole life had not just been turned upside down.  I now know I had done nothing wrong, but I was so desperate to wind the clock back and try and fix the situation that I remember falling to my knees, sobbing and begging at his feet.  I wish I could go and hug that girl, tell her she had nothing to apologise for, that she was so worthy of love and being loved, that she was enough just the way she was.

Stage 4 - Depression; one day turned into another.  I slept walked through the first year of my precious baby girl’s life.  Each morning lying in bed, if I had even slept at all, the realisation of my situation would dawn on me with my first waking thought.  “Oh God, that’s right, this is my life now”.  It felt like there was a knife being twisted around in my guts and that all pervasive sense of dread would encompass me, and I would carry that pain and grief around with me all day like a heavy backpack. I had to drag myself out of bed, try and be the best mother I could be, especially as I was now solely financially and parentally responsible for my child. I lost a ridiculous amount of weight, I looked tired and strained.  I didn’t recognise the person looking back at me in the mirror, if I could even look in her eyes filled with pain at all.  She was flawed, she was unlovable, she became invisible.

Stage 5 - Acceptance; I use to hate it when people would make statements to me like, “You will get over this.  Things will get better.  One day you will look back at this and realise it was for the best”.   Even though this may be the eventual outcome when you experience a situation like this, these platitudes actually make you feel worse.  Like consoling someone who has lost a loved one, words aren’t always necessary; all you need do is be there, even if the person affected doesn’t want to talk, so they don’t feel they are alone and know that they are loved. 

Acceptance finally came a few years later when the truth was spoken, because as my intuition had whispered to me constantly, those words uttered on that day my life changed forever were not the truth. 

So how do you move through an experience of rejection and come out the other side?

  • The most important first step is to take back your power.  Often when people are rejected they wait for the other person (or rejecter) to decide how the relationship is going to play out moving forward.  The person who has been rejected (or rejectee), might suggest the rejecter have more time before they make their final decision to leave, in the unlikely event that they might change their mind and stay.  Then the “rejectee” will sit with baited breath waiting for the rejecter to decide.  I have seen this happen time and time again and it breaks my heart.  When we do this we are giving someone else the power over what happens with our lives – if this was happening to someone you love dearly, what would you say to them?  You would tell them to respect themselves, that they deserve better and walk away.  Then why do YOU deserve to be treated in any less a respectful way?
  • A lot of the time the rejectee is blamed by the rejecterfor the demise of the relationship.  From what I have again observed many times, this is usually because the rejecter feels guilty so in some way so to assuage their guilt, they deflect the blame off themselves and back onto the other party.  When someone blames you for a relationship break up based on a lie and their guilt, naturally you then start believing of course you must be flawed in some way for them to leave you. 
  • “The truth will set you free”.  I love this statement and it is so true, for both parties.  When you are the one who has been rejected and the other party is not being honest and transparent about the reasons why, it makes it so much harder to accept and move forward with your life.  It keeps you stuck in that limbo of maybes and what ifs.  When you are faced with a truth such as a partner’s infidelity, even though it still hurts like hell it is something tangible that your conscious mind and reasoning can grab onto, something that you can’t ignore; it also gives you not only the power but the dignity to decide how you can best work through it and move on with your life.   

Many times when someone rejects us, we believe that we are flawed and not enough in some way, and it can really shatter our self-worth, self-esteem and the way we view ourselves.  We worry that because of this one person rejecting us we will never be in a close loving relationship again.   If I could pass on one pearl of wisdom from my experience to anyone who is going through this or may go through it in the future, it would be that it is not about you, it was never about you, you have done nothing wrong, you are not broken, you are not flawed – it is all part of the ebb and flow of life and relationships, we are forever changing, evolving, growing and the only person we have control over is ourselves.  Most importantly of all I want you to be kind to yourself and teach others how to treat you – like the beautiful, unique gift that you are.  

Are You Thelma or Louise?

Thelma and Louise

I finally watched this movie 25 years after it came out.  I had always thought that it was just a chick flick but it was so much more than that!

After I watched it, it really got me thinking about the personas we take on as women, the societal masks that we wear and the reasons behind that.  This is of course talked about a lot I know, but this movie to me was such a POWERFUL example of it.

THELMA – in a relationship where she is not valued, has no voice, is not heard, but doesn’t speak up and accepts her lot in life (until the big road trip!).  WHY?  Low self-worth, thinks perhaps that’s all she deserves, she should be grateful that someone wants her? 

LOUISE – tough exterior, independent, OCD, doesn’t take risks.  WHY?  She is damaged, vulnerable, hiding her pain, perhaps ashamed, not trusting of people.

WE TEACH PEOPLE HOW TO TREAT US ….

We can own several masks over our lifetime and change them to suit the external circumstances.  The one I personally learnt the biggest lesson from was the “I’m superwoman, I don’t need your help” mask that I created when I unexpectedly became a sole parent to a 5 week old daughter and left with massive debt. 

But these masks come with dangerous side effects – mine resulted in massive anxiety trying to keep it altogether without anyone noticing I wasn’t coping, and culminated in a nervous breakdown.  It is so exhausting wearing a mask, keeping up the pretence, not being true to our own internal needs and desires.  I’ve shed mine now and whilst at times I feel a little naked, it is the most freeing thing I have ever done and I so wish I had done it sooner.

To quote Louise, "I don't recall ever feeling this awake. You know, everything looks different now. You feel like that? You feel like you got something to live for now?"

So, let me ask you, what masks are in your wardrobe and has yours reached its use by date?

Photo credit: http://theredlist.com/wiki-2-24-224-267-view-fiction-profile-thelma.html

F.E.A.R.

FEAR - There are so many different types of fear - the fear of being seen, the fear of trying new things, the fear of failing. We all experience fear in one way or another; for some of us it is situational but for some they may live with it daily. It can be crippling and it can mean missing out on so many wonderful experiences in life with the constant question of what if ....? How would my life be different if I had’ve .....?

Some people like to confront their fears and might do extreme things like jumping out of a plane to once and for all put fear in its rightful place. For others, it may be safer and less frightening to take baby steps and gradually inch forward.

If you had have told me even 6 months ago that I would be putting myself out there on video and social media to talk about my passion and purpose of supporting women, I would have thought you were nuts, but when you realise that if you don't take action steps to face your fears you will remain stuck in a life that isn't entirely what you want, that there are dreams inside you just bursting to come out - isn't it worth taking the chance?

Lisa Nichols, a wonderful and very successful American motivational speaker and writer in her talk "How to Turn Fear into Fuel" said something that really struck me and put fear into more of a perspective for me personally.  She said "Fear is an emotion like any other emotion. Fear is an emotion like love and compassion. Fear is an emotion - we just gave it more power!".

What is it that you REALLY want? What if you could take even one small step towards it today? How would that feel?  What do you have to lose?  Remember, it is the power that you give that emotion of fear, why don’t you give that power to an emotion that makes you feel so much better inside like LOVE and JOY?

Empty nest and what it taught me

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I am going to share a little bit about myself in the hopes that this might help someone going through the same or similar experience.   I raised my daughter on my own from 5 weeks of age when DB (deadbeat) dad went to “find himself”, until I met my now husband when she was about 9.  She is now going on 24.  Raising a child whether it is on your own or with two parents is, as those with kids know, a journey fraught with minefields, deep dark holes, flying by the seat of your pants as well as at the other end of the spectrum super proud moments, unconditional love and the highest of highs; I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity and I never take it for granted. 

During that time, all my focus was on working a 9 to 5 “job” to meet the bills, getting my daughter through Grade 12 and then onto college and just the “doing” of everyday life.  Then one day at the age of 19 she got offered a wonderful opportunity to go and work in Sydney at something she was really passionate about; there was no way I wanted her to miss out on this as I had always urged her to follow her dreams.  Everything happened quickly and it was all very exciting for her.  I however had never really thought about life without Miss A, especially her moving to another state.  This is when my wheels fell off - literally.  I had been living my life without any thought to the future.  This experience brought up so many emotions, fear, confusion and questions.  What was my life without my daughter being there in it every day?

I had been so focused on being “mum” and “partner” I didn’t know how to be just “me”.  I hadn’t thought of a life with just my husband and I.  I had been so busy living moment to moment that I had no idea who I was anymore - literally.  It was like I had totally lost my identity, through no fault of anyone but myself, and it was one of the most scariest periods of my life.  I didn’t know what made me happy anymore.  I didn’t know what to do with my life.  I didn’t know what my “purpose” was.  I didn’t really know very much about myself at all and it was nearly like an out of body experience.  I felt flat, stuck, scared and very confused.   Sometime after that I suffered a severe episode of anxiety and depression – it was really quite a frightening time in my life, I just felt numb. 

That is when I started my journey of seeking outside help, trying to find “something” to hold onto and anchor myself to; meditating, reading, listening to others’ wisdom.   Gradually I began to start designing a life for myself that could get me excited about the future again.  It wasn’t something that happened overnight by any stretch of the imagination, but bit by bit, layer by layer the old “me” started to reappear and make choices and decisions about her own life and get “unstuck”. 

It just seems to be an innate characteristic of us as women that we want to care and nurture but somewhere along the line things can go way too far off the spectrum, to the point of forgetting who we used to be before we took on the role of parent and/or partner.  There needs to be balance, it is imperative and it is our responsibility, no-one else’s.  This is where we need to invest time on ourselves, to the things that bring us joy and peace.   At first it can feel very uncomfortable and even selfish to do this, but actually it is selfish not to!  It is a gift to those around us, to be a happy, healthy you and especially modelling healthy behaviours for those of us who have daughters when their time may come to be a mother.    

So I would like to reintroduce myself to myself – I kind of like this new version of her too, she is much more fun even if she is a little bit dotty!

 

How your Thinking can Negatively Affect Your Body Image Long Term

You would think my knees and AC-DC would have nothing in common but you would be wrong!

I live on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia where it gets hot – the kind of humid heat where your clothes stick to you, your hair sticks to you, the seats stick to you and the summers seem to get longer every year.  The best way to cope with this is to hang out in air-conditioned places, drink copious amounts of fluids and wear as little as possible.  Couple this with menopausal hot flushes and the feeling can be akin at times to that of self-combustion. 

Therefore you would assume that my summer wardrobe of choice would be shorts and tops – but alas, you would be wrong.  This is all because of what my “brilliant mind” tricked me into believing was true.  Back in my early teens, my “best friend” at the time innocently (although perhaps with a little bit of malice) mentioned that my knees bore a striking resemblance to those of Angus Young, the guitarist from AC-DC.  Whilst being compared to someone famous might be a compliment to some people, to a 12 year old girl who was already self-conscious and shy, having her knees compared to a weird looking fully grown guy wearing a school boy’s uniform was not the highest form of flattery.  Thus began my journey on the path of hating and hiding my knees at all costs, with long skirts or dresses and pants the order of the day, despite the discomfort.

I have been dwelling on this a lot lately and realised that it is time to let this go.  Here I am supporting other women in loving themselves fully, every single part of them.  Not seeing themselves through other eyes but their own.  Not comparing themselves to ridiculous, unattainable images portrayed in social media but fully embracing all the parts of themselves, even the not so perfect ones.  The irony of this finally (hallelujah) struck home – enough already about my knees! How lucky am I to have two legs when others would give anything to have what I have?  Do people really scan through the crowd looking for knees like mine to point and snigger at – no!   How insane of me to even think that my knees were such a big deal to the general population.

Therefore, this summer I am claiming back my freedom.  I am giving that little 12 year old girl the best present I can of self-acceptance, self-love and believing she is good enough, just the way she is.  I have gone and bought my first pair of shorts in many, many years and man, I am going to rock them!  Who is with me?