Updated: Nov 29, 2020
This month I started a new job, got stood up on a blind date, facilitated workshops at two university conferences, got offered a scholarship to a 5-day mindfulness retreat, spent copious amounts of time watching love is blind on Netflix and set myself a small challenge.
I decided that i would be intentional in communicating how i was really feeling when someone asked me ‘how are you’. It is the most common of phrases, often thrown into space in order to fill it rather than out of curiosity regarding the state of the other’s being. Because it is thrown out so casually, we respond as casually too – ‘I’m fine, I’m good, I’m calm’ even in those times where we are not.
There is a lot of online talk about building a culture of wellness, one where we can talk about how we’re feeling and how ‘it is okay not to be okay’ but many of us haven’t yet made that shift from our mind to our mouths in applying that understanding in our language and the ways that we engage with each other. We make space for our human selves in the digital space, but what about the spaces between us in the 3d world? Will we make space for our present experiences in actual conversation? Will we show ourselves to others so that we can actually be seen?
Of course, there are plenty of people who ask how you’re doing who don’t actually care about seeing you and you have to be able to manage the expectations related to that. There are also plenty of settings where it may be inappropriate for you to metaphorically undress and present yourself to be seen, and again, you will have to manage your expectations in that. For example, someone asked how i was and i said ‘my flesh is really alive today’. In retrospect, i can understand that the middle of a prayer meeting at Horton’s is not the best place to vent about the sexual frustrations of singledom. Acknowledging it and speaking it however, helped me in that moment to move through those feelings - rather than suppressing them and feeling uncomfortable trying to hide a part of myself so I could seem like a super holy christian, I was able to say ‘this is what i have come into the room with and this is the truth about where i am in this moment’.
The most challenging moment of honesty, came towards the start of the month (go figure, as soon as i decide That i will be intentional in communicating my real feels, God decides to test my resolve). Every month one of my best friends and i usually go to a prayer meeting. towards the end of january, he had moved to london and when the day of the prayer meeting came around it dawned on me that we would not be going together as we usually would. This cast a shadow over my morning which completely spread itself over my mind at midday when another of my friends cancelled on me and told me that she also would not be coming. Usually, this wouldn’t bother me but the wider context was that the week before, my now london native friend had cancelled plans we had made and as a result I was already feeling annoyed at trying to adjust to the changes in our relationship. at the time, I didn’t think about the context and how the events from the previous week may be impacting my emotional resilience. instead, I decided on a great plan in my mind to safeguard myself from all these uncomfortable feelings: push him out of my life.
I made up my mind that I wouldn’t contact him but that if he contacted me, I would reply with one-word answers. i would not tell him about my day or act interested in his. I wouldn’t ask any questions or continue conversation, I would just air him, and sooner or later he would get the message that i am no longer interested in this friendship. Of course, this was the right thing to do since our friendship would have to change and would ultimately die because of the distance anyway so there wasn’t any point dragging that process out. (It didn’t occur to me that this whole conclusion was proved wrong by the fact that in the last year i have managed to maintain many cross national and international friendships).
At some point, i noticed my thought pattern and i stepped back like, wait, what? What in the name of self-sabotage is happening here? why am i doing this? I actually value this friendship so what am i doing?
As per usual, amidst an outpour of frustration tears it clicked – I was scared of losing the friendship. this was classic fear of abandonment showing up – ‘I’m going to push you away because that way i save myself the hurt of you walking away and leaving me’. Classic. Textbook, almost.
So, okay, great. I figured out the mystery of my emotions and realised my childhood abandonment complex has come out to play – now what? The mature thing to do is to communicate my thoughts and feelings, right? That’s what super evolved higher consciousness beings do. but can i be honest? There was nothing in me in that moment that wanted to do that. nothing at all. Nadda. Zero. I wanted to be childish and continue with my great plan to just turn the other way and run into a distant sunset where there are no friends or people to annoy you, or leave you. I sent a message to one of my girlfriends saying ‘being mature is frustrating – why can’t i just act wild and passive aggressive until people read my mind and figure out what’s wrong with me?’.
As i sent that text, the wise woman in me rose her head and reminded me that because people are not mind readers and relationships are facilitated by communication, laughter and vulnerability. I was reminded that i value this friendship and i respect my friend, and because of that, I have to be willing to be vulnerable and share how i’m feeling in the space of our friendship. If i don’t, the feelings and frustrations will still be there in the space, but the difference is that they will not be held or acknowledged, instead they will fight to be seen, they will skew perception and erode trust and, in the process, destroy the very thing i am scared of losing. So, i journaled to vent the frustration, cried about it, spoke kind things to my inner child, and the next day when my friend asked ‘how are you’? instead of just replying 'I'm okay', I took a moment to reply ‘can i be honest?’ (of course, he said yes, because who wants to say no and look like they can’t handle the truth?)
I said ‘yesterday i missed you and what rose in me was an urge to push you away so that I wouldn’t have to deal with it, and i’m sitting with those conflicting feelings right now’. and do you know what he said? I miss you too.
And we arranged a plan to meet up when we could.
This moment stayed with me because the resolution was so quick and simple, but the emotional journey was really that, a journey. The moment stayed with me as a reminder of how easily relationships can be destroyed because of insecurity, fears and poor communication. A moment of vulnerability meant that my feelings could be acknowledged and reassured. It meant avoiding an unnecessary relationship breakdown or any misunderstandings. It meant i could be proud of myself for acting in alignment with my highest and wisest self, rather than experiencing disappointment for reacting in a defensive and polarising way that i have outgrown. None of this is to dismiss my feelings, there is always a little fear that is associated with change, but change doesn’t necessarily mean things will change for the bad, or that you will be left behind. We can see change as an invitation to invite something in and create space for something new.
We all have these moments, when we get to choose who we will be in a situation that exposes our fears and what communication style we will continue to perpetuate - whether we will choose to listen to the inner voice of our wisdom and let ourselves open up to something new despite how uncomfortable it may be. What are you choosing today?
here are some points of reflection for you:
- are there any feelings of anger/frustration/annoyance in your life that are masking underlying feelings of insecurity and fear?
- sometimes emotional reactions to events that have passed can still impact us today if they are not addressed. are there are any residual emotions in response to past life experiences that you are carrying that are impacting you today? how can you make space for them?
- what are ways that you can facilitate more honest communication in your life? when i really want to take time to listen to others, i sometimes ask ‘how is your heart?’ rather than ‘how are you’. someone told me this month that rather than ‘how are you’ they would prefer to be asked ‘what has been happening?’. what questions communicate how you want to be seen and what you want to see in others?
- do you have relationships in your life where you feel safe to communicate your vulnerabilities? if no, i invite you to ask whether that is the case or whether you are looking through a lens of fear. i invite you to reflect on whether these are valuable relationships and what changes could be made to make them more open.