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Leaning into the Discomfort and Looking for Respect

I have an interesting job for this time in our culture. Over the years, as a therapist, I hear people talk about their varied concerns.  These last two weeks, I have more about the same subject, the election. Thoughts, concerns, worries, musings, humor, fear, agitation and indignation.

Living in a Blue state in a metro area, it is not surprising that most of the people I hear from are talking about their shock, sadness, anger and dismay. images-3.jpegPeople have various ideas on how to proceed with their feelings; get involved, avoid the news, protest or barricade themselves at home.

In the last weeks, I have heard the some words repeatedly; echo chamber, the bubble,  phone bank, the media, donation…among others. One thread I am following is confusion and desire to know and understand. It slowly comes out that we need to talk more and that doesn’t just mean to the people whose answers we already know. It is time to lean into the discomfort.

The weekend after the election, I was at a locally owned store we frequent and the owner and I have a friendly banter. I asked him if we was one of the 59 million who voted for Trump. He looked at me a bit sheepishly and said, ‘I don’t talk about it much for fear of being judged’.

I stood back in took him in. ‘Oh, okay’, I said. ‘Tell me, how did you decide?’ He told me it was for his business and thought that change is needed at the higher levels of governing.images This man has a disability and has family member that is also disabled. Somewhere, he feels disenfranchised with the current system.

I nodded, thinking that this seems like a reasonable, political point, especially if you are fiscally conservative. That being said, I asked, ‘Well, okay, but can you explain him to my kids?’ as I pointed to my boys who were hovering nearby. He said, ‘That part is harder. I don’t like the behavior of this man..’ and he trailed off. We spoke a bit more and moved on to other topics.

Seems like we are going to have more and more of these conversations. Many likely at the Thanksgiving table this year. I am not picking sides (yes, I am left leaning) but, it seems we all know what our ‘peeps’ will say. We need to lean in ask the tough questions of ‘why and how’. The open-ended, curious questions that show we are not just waiting to talk again but, we are listening. We all want to be heard.

Now, I get it there is a lot of extreme rhetoric out there and it’s hard to know who believes what from a glance but, also we can’t assume. If someone has an opinion we need to ask ‘why?’  Myself, I work hard to teach my kids how to be good citizens and that means a lot of explaining about differences, privilege and the varied things that make a person and I don’t have all the answers. images-2I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I really screw it up but, I try to circle back and revisit the best I can.

While living in a progressive, lefty city, I grew up in rural Red State where Reagan was a God and my Dad was the preacher. My Dad was not a religious man by any conventional standards but, he was definitely the spokesperson (and financial contributor) for the importance of the Republican party. He had many flaws (like all of us) and one if his big ones was that he didn’t have room for discourse.

There was no space for an exchange of pluralistic views at our dinner table and many times he called me a ‘tree-hugging, fish-kissing’ liberal. Whether that label was a friendly jib, earnestly or not, my exploring views were not well tolerated in his presence. So, I stopped sharing them.

We moved on to less political topics and we rarely opened the door on these thoughtful, provocative topics. We played it safe. I believed I knew him and his rhetoric and I imagine he thought I was crazy or at least misguided. We didn’t ever say, ‘tell me why you think that way’ or ‘help me understand’.

Sound familiar? Again, we can find the people to agree with us but, to sit through the dialogue of those with which we disagree, that is the hard part. There is no guarantee that it will feel good or we will feel heard.images-1 That part is called vulnerability, as Brene’ Brown says, ‘it’s scary and brave at the same time’.

I don’t have the solutions, the method or the way out of our conflicts but, I am a listener of others and I see that when we respectfully listen people usually feel heard. When we feel heard we can then move on to problem solving. We  obviously have a lot more conversations about how to deal with racism, homophobia, the haves and have nots, the 1%, equity, xenophobia, and that is just a start.  Let’s start with leaning in.

Disappointment Expectations

The Tough Lessons of Expectations

As a therapist, I frequently help people grapple with their emotions around expectations. Usually, it is about feeling let down and being left with a surprising, and frequently unwanted outcome. This realization can be, quite frankly, a giant bummer. And because I help others doesn’t mean that I have reached a place where unmet expectations don’t effect me. Ha! I am human. I wrestle with this on a near daily basis. Okay, truth be told, even at times, several times a day. 

This unmet expectation, or bummer (a clinical term, I assure you)  usually comes from a place where I thought I had set myself up for an outcome and I come to realize that I have really missed my mark. I so want to blame someone else for my feelings and passive-aggressively throw imaginary blocks up to keep me from connecting with or reaching out to that person and letting them know what I really wanted or how I am feeling.

However, while it is important to let others know our feelings and why we feel them, we can’t expect others to always ‘get it’ and then come round. unknownThis is a really hard place to find yourself. The wake up lesson is that we have put our happiness in the hands of someone else. They then hold the power to our moods and we feel powerless and, frequently, really pissed off.

I have learned a lot from the parenting approach of ’empathy with limits’ often written about by Dr. Laura Markham. Her support at A-ha Parenting is soothing and calming. Her blog is a helpful oasis of parenting support when I am struggling with my inner child in full tantrum.

I try to really hear my kids when they are upset, even when I am wishing for magical ways to get them out of the door on time. I try to listen when what I really want to do is redirect them toward my demand. The directing may get results the same way that a passive aggressive response might get someone’s attention but, in the long run, the outcome doesn’t feel good. It feels punitive towards my children and ‘stompy’ or even ‘stabby’ towards my grown up counterparts. And then I am left with myself, usually regretting my impulsive response, having to send out embarrassed faced Emoji’s out to my confused friends or family members.

The setting of reasonable expectations is hard. Identifying those expectatimages-10ions can be really daunting too but, oh so helpful. When I realize that I have set a ‘pie in the sky’ expectation of a meeting or social event and I can go back and outline the ‘reasonable and achievable’ parts and even the minimum, often I can take a big weight off myself by recognizing my lack of control of others.
At times, I really want to choreograph someone else’s abilities, however, it can also be liberating to realize that I don’t have control over someone else and I can set out a reasonable path for myself to enjoy a day or event. I control me.

I often struggle with the people I am rather close to or have known the longest. My work to self talk myself off a ledge of unreasonable dream scenarios can be very soothing once I recognize what is going on inside me. Sometimes, I am a little late to images-8
the game. My awareness of my deep-seated wishes are being dashed and my feelings have already been hijack, however, if I can hand-hold myself back to safer territory of the realm of the possible and logical I can be soothed.

This is a tough subject because we are often taught to want or demand the best.
My redirection of my levels of expectations is not giving up or wanting good things it is identifying the reality of what I can and cannot control. This can be hugely calming in the face of an emotional eruption.

There is a lot more here to write about and I will get there eventually. Today is a day for soothing my ego and sketching out reasonable expectations. Thanks for reading.

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