I did something scary earlier this year. I said, I need another perspective – and I asked for help.
Open relationships, intertwined friendships and relationships, and relationship changes threw my mind and emotions into a tail spin – and my logical brain could not cope. I felt broken. I didn’t like my thinking. I didn’t like my emotions. So, after a conversation with a friend, I asked for help. And was referred to an experienced coach who has dealt with polyamorous people before. She was a freaking god-send.
A teacher of mine has said recently, “It takes a lot of work to undo the programming that makes you react the same way each time – that makes your thought processes take you the same direction. So you have to find the source, uninstall it, then reinstall a better response or way of looking at things.”
That summarizes well what I’ve found myself doing with my coach’s help.
Things I have learned in the past six months:
- If there is an elephant in the room, I don’t have to name it, handle it, or address it unless it is MY elephant. Other people’s elephants are their problems – not mine. I can invite them to talk about it, but even in that case it is their elephant.
I hate awkward. I hate conflict. I hate it when people are not happy. So I ask “what’s wrong” and being a good problem solver, I try to solve it. What ends up happening, is I get to deal with more of that problem than I signed up for. And, in essence, I would end up taking the elephant, naming it, feeding it, and taking care of it. And when they were feeling better, I was left with a freakin’ elephant – and asking “What the hell just happened?!?”
Now in certain situations, I step back and ask “Is that my elephant?” If the answer is no, I try to lend an ear, advice if asked, but if they think there is no elephant or they try to get me to take it – I leave it where I found it. It’s not my elephant. This is a hard one to change because, as I told my coach, I care – so how do I show I care without feeling like I am wiping my hands of the person with the problem? In my case, I have found that I simply say, “I care. I’m here if you want to talk. And what are you going to do about it” and I walk away knowing that it is up to them to take it or not. But it is their action they have take – not mine.
- Self care has to be just as important that taking care of others.
“Take care of yourself & cut yourself some slack” were always the parting words from my coach. I asked her once why she says it. She answered simply – self care is just as important as taking care of others. Change is hard work. Examining the root of problems is scary, makes you feel vulnerable, and requires self care. If shit is happening, you have to not hide behind taking care of others or by keeping busy. You have to be kind to yourself. Easier said than done some days, but when I’m having a day of emotional turmoil, I often say to myself “be kind to you”. A good reminder to not be so hard on yourself.
- Emotional processing is not linear.
I like to take the Lisa Simpson approach to processing. It’s a checklist. First you enter this state, then you pass into this state, and then you go on to this state, and you proceed like this until you are done. What I have learned is that is not how emotional processing works. Emotional processing is far from linear. Sometimes it is three steps forward just to have something send you ten back. It is normal. The idea is to make progress – and understand I am on a journey. The goal is to make progress – not to reach a destination, if you will. For me, my perceived destination was not where I needed to go. And I am finding that where I am is exactly where I wanted to be. A much better place than what I had thought I wanted.
- It’s okay to step away. It doesn’t mean I don’t care – it means I cannot give what they need. And that’s okay. Or it means I don’t have anything to give at that time.
I can’t be all things to all people. No matter how hard I may try. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. It just means I can’t give it at that time. And that is okay. It doesn’t mean I care less. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. It just means I need to step away. This still is hard for me. I hate doing it, but I’m learning that sometimes I need to do it. Sometimes, by being there when I shouldn’t, I’m having a negative impact not the positive one I am hoping. Plus, at the end of the day, I can hold a hand, but I cannot take the person’s journey for them.
Overall, I have learned I need balance in my life. I have learned when I don’t have balance that it reeks havoc in my life.
And I have learned that sometimes shitty things happen when people don’t know how to deal with their own shit. When they become afraid – or when what they are used to is not resembled in what is happening right now. It doesn’t mean its bad – or that it”s my fault – it just means I am getting their emotional backlash. And I’m learning to recognize it instead of taking it on as my own. (Not my elephant).
And it also means I don’t have to be less understanding when it happens. That it doesn’t mean I love them less or hate them. It just means I need to put up boundaries to keep me safe from the elephant attack.
It’s funny in reading all of this because there is nothing ground breaking here. Hell, it’s advice I have given. But sometimes we are caught up in our own roles in the world – in the role we have created for ourself and others have stuck us in – that we need someone to help pull us back out. Even if they use the same words.
But overall, it just reinforces that we are always learning and growing. And if we are not, we are destined to repeat our patterns over and over and over again – because it is really quick sand – sucking us in and killing us slowly.
I’m happy I recognized it and got out.