September 26, 2012

The Power of Flirting

I recently came across this great article "Happily Ever After: Could Flirting Be the Secret to a Successful Marriage" by Lori Leibovich. She tells the story of Sam and Florence, married for 59 years and hopes to find the magic bullet that made it possible for them to walk the long road together.

At one point, Leibovich says
"... we decided that what kept them from losing interest -- from getting bored, straying or giving up -- was that they both relished small freedoms. They let themselves go -- apart from, but not in violation of, their relationship. They both were shameless, unapologetic, gifted flirts."
There is something marvelous about the dance of language, attraction, and playfulness that occurs when we flirt. The opportunity to be seen afresh and new through the eyes of someone unaccustomed to us and not privy to our scary nighttime routines or hair singeing morning breath is something to embrace rather than scorn or fear.

Yet flirting, in so many ways, is a lost art today -- often set aside altogether or replaced with overt or crass language championed as being "straight-forward". This is a great loss in my opinion. 

As Leibovich points out, flirting allows us to practice clever turns of phrase or to use wit and humor. Just the other night, one boy wandered over and blurted, "You're hot!" Now, while an appreciated observation, the boy who later said, "Do you always fill the space you are in so beautifully" clearly understood the power of language. It's these nuances that are add to the juiciness of flirting, which we don't get to experience when we just blurt out the obvious.  

Additionally, the purpose of flirting is often just simply misunderstood. Leibovich puts it beautiful - it is about playing, not scoring. Flirting gives us the "opportunity to expand our fantasy life and makes our actual romances better." Yet so many of us look at flirting as a challenge to the security of our relationship or even cheating. Not so! 

We must understand the line between flirting and affair. As Leibovich relates after telling the story of Florence's long-standing flirtation with the neighborhood butcher,
"Had the butcher one day put down his veal chop and said, "Mrs. Brownstein, why don't you meet me after work tonight?" the spell would have vanished, their secret world would have evaporated, all the shared moments would have instantly turned to shards of glass."
This is so perfectly said. I love the idea that flirting creates a secret world in which we get to play, explore, imagine.

So, I encourage you -- go out, create some secret worlds, turn a phrase, see yourself in new ways through the eyes of another person!


September 19, 2012

When Saying "I Love You" Isn't Enough

Many of us struggle day to day with negative self-talk, gremlins running around in our heads, repeating false beliefs about ourselves and others over and over again. And, we have all heard that loving ourselves is an important step in healing the hurts we have (whether they be from the loss of a relationship, abuse, or just the constant nagging of social norms or bullying of others). Sometimes, this can feel like a real uphill battle.

In this wonderful TedX, writer, director and speaker, Angela Shelton teaches how we can challenge the negative self-talk that keeps us feeling broken, weighed down, and despising ourselves. 

This is something I teach all of my clients, but I love her *squish* take on how we can change our thought patterns in a fun and light-hearted way. 

Ultimately, when we change our story about ourselves, this also carries over into how we think about others. Best pay off of all, we end up with more time to play, create, and connect.

Now that you have learned how to challenge those negative thoughts, take it out into the world and practice loving yourself and others *squish* each day! 


September 12, 2012

A Beyond Survivor's Story: Spoken Secret - Part 4

Hi all,

Here's is the conclusion to J. Eve's amazing and inspiring story!


The new-found independence I experienced in college and the support of a mature, sensitive, patient, loving partner helped me erase the messages I’d internalized from my family. I was beautiful and resilient and could be proud of my strength. I deserved to have meaningful sex. I was sick of feeling invisible to my family and ready to feel independent and strong. I was an activist at heart who’d always been committed to helping people.

I realized I could do something positive with this awful part of my past, and I didn’t need approval from my family, though I would still struggle to get it for years to come. As scary as it was to be vulnerable in front of strangers, classmates, and new friends, it felt right to talk about it. With mic in hand, I participated in “Take Back the Night,” an event uniting the campus to raise awareness about sexual violence. The people attending these events wanted to hear my story, in contrast to my family who’d never even asked for any details. As I experienced my first round of applause and received my first emails detailing how my story moved someone, I felt proud. No longer did the abuse have to be a source of shame, guilt, and sadness.

I learned how widespread sexual violence is—it is one of the most under-reported crimes because of the complex pressures from families, communities, and perpetrators to stay silent. This confirmed my belief that breaking the silence would inspire other survivors to come forward. In speaking out, I became part of a community of survivors. I was no longer isolated by my family. I had found an outlet to channel my mixed emotions about reconciling with my abuser and remaining a part of my unsupportive family.

As I embraced my new identity as an outspoken leader on my college campus, the pain of my family’s abandonment had less power over me. My mentors, professors, and friends made up my created family, and they couldn’t have been more proud of how I was thriving.

I continue to seek new forums to share my story so that I can make sexual violence less of a taboo. This issue is rampant, plaguing young girls and women all around the world. I became a speaker for the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network and am working on a book to let every survivor know she is not alone.

It is my hope that one day my family will learn how to be there for me, but my testament proves that it is possible to survive and thrive without them. I want to use my experiences to teach others how best to support someone who has been through trauma. The details of my story may be unique, but the patterns of being silenced and isolated are universal.

I will no longer be silenced by my family’s fear of the repercussions. Silence perpetuates suffering. Silence was in the room as I was molested, during the months when my innocence was taken from me. Silence was in my house as I suffered alone, feeling guilty, responsible, and confused. Silence was forced upon me so that my family’s lives would not be impacted by the past. Silence has stolen the voices of women all around the world as they suffer alone because so few people can safely and confidently come forward.

Someday my family might recognize the strength and courage I possess. If not, I will surround myself with those who admire my integrity, values, and my healing. Those are the people who matter the most. I’m confident that in time the abuse won’t feel like the center of my world—it will fuel my passion but won’t hold me back. I won’t ever stop telling my story. My commitment to prevent child abuse and advocate for those abused will be a part of me forever—a part of me I love.

J. Eve is 23 years old and graduated from Trinity College in 2011 with a degree in Human Rights. She wants to move to Colorado from the East Coast to enjoy the sun, mountains, and community. Her career ambitions include advocating for abused women, criminal justice, youth leadership and development, and sex education. She loves learning to cook, meeting inspiring people, and spending time with her partner and friends. During challenging times she looks to Gloria Steinem, Eve Ensler and Oprah Winfrey for strength and plans to follow in their footsteps as courageous, fierce feminists!

In 2010, Lisa Shultz and Andrea Costantine published the anthology, Speaking Your Truth: Courageous Stories from Inspiring Women. Their goal with this book and its subsequent volumes and spin offs is to provide a beacon of light, hope, and connection for women as they navigate their lives while overcoming challenges and difficulties along the way. They had 49 contributing authors in Volume One who shared their stories of family matters, love and abuse, faith and spirituality, health and healing, and finding their path."

September 5, 2012

A Beyond Survivor's Story: Spoken Secret - Part 3

Hi all,

I hope you have been following J. Eve's story so far. Here is Part 3. Enjoy!


I created a checklist of factors that can lessen one’s odds of being messed up in the aftermath of abuse—I received checks in three. The family believes you. Check. The abuser admits to it. Check. The abuser apologizes and tries to make amends. Check. I thought I was fortunate for all those checkmarks that signified I had family support to heal. These factors were not enough, however, because they alone couldn’t heal me or the rest of my family, and those checks had all occurred during one week of communication. After the disclosure, confrontation, and apology, I was left with the consequences. Recovery is ongoing.

At first, I wasn’t sure how the abuse had impacted me. My mother’s initial hysterical reaction made me wonder why I had no tears. Was I really OK? I wondered whether life would just go on like nothing had happened. For the most part, it did. Nobody in my family ever brought it up—as if all that needed to be said had been said, as if the entire reality of what had happened could be safely sealed into the past without touching our forward-looking lives. Nobody asked me how I felt or if I wanted to talk about it.

Truthfully, I wasn’t ready to talk right away. I still didn’t have words or emotions for what I’d experienced. The memories came back slowly. Asking my abuser questions about what had happened helped me put the missing pieces back together. Despite his willingness to answer my questions, however, these exchanges were always electronic and maintained the culture of family denial. I slid notes under his door, we emailed from across the house, but when face-to-face, we pretended the abuse had never happened.

I learned that not talking about it and wishing it away wouldn’t change the past or the collateral damage that persisted. I had many close, honest relationships, but the abuse presented a challenge for me. I didn’t know how to share my situation with others. It was on my mind and I wanted to talk about it, but I knew I wasn’t supposed to bring it up within my family, and I didn’t know how to communicate these intense feelings with my friends. What would they think of my family? Would they be judgmental? Was this my secret to tell?

I had clearly received the unspoken memo that my family did not want to talk about it. They felt guilty that they’d failed to protect their little girl, ashamed that their perfect family image was forever stained, and they remained clueless as to how they needed to support me. As unimaginable as it seemed to bring the abuse up in conversation, I was reminded of it every single day—when my roommate asked me to take a survey for her class about my first sexual experiences, when my self-defense teacher talked about child abuse, even dissociating during sex, which was directly caused by the abuse. There was no way to tell my family I was hurting and wanted to talk about it, or that it was affecting my sex life. I followed their lead and didn’t bring it up.

Once I went away to college in 2008, I found the space I needed to start processing the abuse. My coursework overlapped with my introspection, and I decided to write about the disclosure and my family’s reaction for my final English paper. It was therapeutic to compile my journal entries documenting those tense moments around the dinner table when everyone in my family was thinking, yet not speaking, about what had happened, along with my written attempts to initiate our family’s healing process.

I sent emails to mend familial relationships and to prevent permanent damage to our family. I provided lists of resources and books for my parents so they could process what had happened and give it the attention it deserved. I needed them to learn how to support me. I wrote back and forth to my brothers. Playing the role of peacemaker, I reminded them that we wanted to be close siblings.

I refused to be the reason my family fell apart. I too wanted to maintain and be a part of the image of a close family. Until recently, I still felt it was my responsibility to make sure the entire family healed, and I insisted my abuser return to therapy since he’d only ever attended one or two sessions.

After documenting my struggle for my class, I figured that simply clicking “attach” and “send” in an email was a feasible way to share my mixed-up emotions with my family. Still, I was apologetic as I shared the essay—I felt guilty for sending information that might upset them. I didn’t want to alarm them or disturb the fragile equilibrium of our relationships that were contingent upon me being untroubled by the events of the past. I made sure to tell them everything was fine.

Each family member reacted differently. My father maintained his initial attitude, reminding me that life goes on. My brother said he was glad I was getting in touch with a wider variety of emotions, as simply forgiving my abuser didn’t seem healthy. Though I’m certain they learned a lot, my paper didn’t change the culture of silence between us. In the end, I was the one who benefited from this exercise. It helped me find my voice and express to my family what I was dealing with.

I wonder how I would have coped had I been able to talk openly about my feelings with my family prior to leaving for college. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt compelled to share my story with others and seek outside support and validation. Not getting the support I needed, however, I found a community where I could express myself. I had a story that needed to be told and a voice to tell it, so I became an outspoken survivor in spite of my family’s attempt to silence this shameful family secret—this was and is my story to tell.
Check in next week for the final chapter in J. Eve's story.

In 2010, Lisa Shultz and Andrea Costantine published the anthology, Speaking Your Truth: Courageous Stories from Inspiring Women. Their goal with this book and its subsequent volumes and spin offs is to provide a beacon of light, hope, and connection for women as they navigate their lives while overcoming challenges and difficulties along the way. They had 49 contributing authors in Volume One who shared their stories of family matters, love and abuse, faith and spirituality, health and healing, and finding their path."

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