December 21, 2011

Loneliness - Part 2

Did you know that being lonely can actually provide us an opportunity for growth? Our ability to sit and remain grounded in the lonely times is no small thing. In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis is telling the story of a man who has lost his son and is experiencing a deep sense of loss and emptiness – loneliness. Lewis writes that, in this void, “in the loneliness, in the silence, something else might begin to grow.” When I read this, it immediately jumped out at me. Lewis doesn’t go on to explain what that “something else” is, but I think it is independence.

The experience of abuse often leaves us clamoring for love, affection, and attention. We bounce from relationship to relationship, job to job, activity to activity – refusing to ever stop long enough to deal with who we are when we are on our own. Now, this is in no way related to the popular idea that we must “love ourselves before we can love others.” I think, quite frankly, that’s a ridiculous statement. I’ve actually come to love myself much more deeply through the relationships and reflections of my partners than when I was on my own. What I did gain by developing the capacity to be in the loneliness was a sense that I could stand on my own two feet. I understood that the love and experiences that come with being with others is amazing and to be appreciated, but I also learned that my existence wasn’t dependent on “belonging.” As a result, one very important thing changed. I stopped saying “yes” to things just because I was afraid of being alone or it proving that I didn’t belong. Instead, I began to powerfully choose for myself who I wanted to spend time with and what experiences I wanted to have.

- What things are you saying “yes” to out of the fear of being alone or not belonging?
- What are the payoffs & costs of the story “I don’t belong”?

I want to encourage you to practice challenging the stories that cause you to feel lonely and disconnected, while also noticing how your time alone changes when you use it as an opportunity to develop independence rather than as a sign that you are all alone.

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December 14, 2011

Loneliness - Part 1

When I was twelve years old, I went to one of the many slumber parties that would sprinkle my childhood days. I was super excited to be going to this particular slumber party, though, because my best friend was the hostess. She lived next door (so there was the added comfort that I could just go home if things went wrong), and we had spent lots of time together playing in the wide open fields behind our houses. I was at ease about going to the party knowing that there was at least one person there who I could have fun with.

This definitely wasn’t always the case. After the abuse, I remember days when it felt like all of the color had been drained out the world. I would watch my peers play with their dolls and even beginning to gossip about which boy they thought was the cutest in the class. In those moments, I felt like a complete outsider. I wanted to scream at them, “How can you be so silly! Don’t you know really bad things happen in this world!?” I felt alone and like I just didn’t belong with these girls. This feeling has stayed with me through the years, even as the topics have gone from cute boys to, well, cute men.

Abuse changes how we see the world. It strips away our innocence and we grow up well before we should. It’s as though I was walking along a similar path with these other girls and then we reached a fork in the road. I continued on my journey that included the experience of abuse and they continued on theirs – minus abuse. My path was a bit thornier, bleaker but there were sometimes clearings where I could see the other path and the sun and laughter that was there. I’d try to soak up as much of it as I could – if even from a distance – but could never seem to break away from the path I was on.

This experience – of being forced to see the world too soon and, as a result, feeling like we just don’t belong – is one that stays with us for a long time. It is one of our stories – “I don’t belong.” As adults, we often find it hard to relate to others who haven’t shared our same path. We long for the look of recognition and ability to think deeply about things that matter and are turned off by relationships and conversations that remain shallow.

The trouble is that we are constantly out to prove that we don’t belong. So, regardless of the situation, we stand on the outside and judge, evaluate the situation rather than engage and bring an attitude of openness. We need to understand that the story of “I don’t belong” is greatly impacting how connected we are to others. We also need to accept and appreciate that not everyone is our cup of tea! You may find it harder to connect with others, but you only exacerbate the problem when you continue to have the attitude that you are somehow an outsider, flawed, damaged, or never fit in.

  • How has loneliness been a part of your life?
  • What thoughts or self-talk do you have that make you feel lonely (e.g. nobody likes me, no one understands me)?
  • How do you isolate yourself from others?
  • What do you do when you are feeling lonely?
  • Have you ever felt like you belong? List some people, groups, or communities to which you belong?
SPECIAL OFFER ENDING 12/31: 6 Sessions for the price of 3. Sign up for a free 60 minute Discovery Session to learn more!

December 1, 2011

Fear That Keeps You Stuck

“Loneliness and fear are common for survivors of abuse. For survivors to begin to shut themselves away emotionally and sometimes physically is normal because they have been hurt, and the world no longer feels like a safe place. When something hurts you, to be afraid of that source of pain is normal. However, the fear and isolation begin to create more fear and loneliness – feelings that are unrelated to the original abuse.” ~from Shelter from the Storm

Really read that last line – “feelings that are unrelated to the original abuse.” One of the hardest things about being afraid is that fear takes on a life of its own. A single moment – one dog nipping at you – becomes a fear of all dogs! One person hurting you becomes a fear that everyone will hurt you. Our fears are not to be taken lightly, they can be so strong that they immobilize us. Yet, there is a way out of the fear.

We’ll get to loneliness in the next week, for now, let’s take a look at the fears that are keeping you stuck.

The first step is to begin exploring how fear has been a part of your life and actually naming your fears. By taking stock of how fear has played a part in your life, you become present to the costs of remaining in fear. Ask yourself, “What have I been missing out on or unable to do as a result of my fears?” Then, by actually naming your fears – like, “I’m afraid of being alone” – you take some of the sting out of it and the fear starts to become an approachable problem that can be addressed.

We all have developed different strategies for either running away from or facing our fears, and, usually, we don’t give ourselves enough credit for being able to do the latter. Facing and challenging our fears in order to come up with a plan of action as to how we’ll do that is the next step. Yet as this fortune cookie quote so wisely puts it:

“Many a false step was made by standing still.”

When we are struggling to break out of certain habits of thought or behavior, it often seems safer and easier to just stick with the status quo. We find ourselves at a moment when we can take a step forward or simply keep our feet planted. The choice we make at such moments is crucial.

Reasons for standing still are numerous … movement creates momentum and we can be unsure or afraid of where that momentum might take us. We may feel a bit unsteady when we take some new, first steps - kinda like toddlers fumbling around. Those fumbly steps are so critical though - without them, we never have the opportunity to experience leaping, running, or dancing!

There is, however, very little to gain from standing still.

Now I'm not talking about the kind of stillness that comes from being peaceful or making decisions with foresight and thoughtfulness.

What I do want to challenge is the idea that standing still is the "safe" choice. How can allowing your feet to become as roots in the ground be safe? It seems to me, if you are firmly planted, you are much more vulnerable to those who can approach and use you as they will.

It's time to uproot ourselves! To shed the distorted thinking, memories, and fears that immobilize us.

I encourage you to pick one of the fears you identified today and then begin to challenge that fear by first identifying the payoffs & costs. Next create a measurable result to get into action to challenge the fear – what would your first step be?

Join me for the next Adult Survivors of Child Abuse Support Group, December 8, 6-7:15p, Embarcadero YMCA, 169 Steuart St. Feel free to contact me @ or 415-513-0700 if you have any questions.

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