Motivations

ruizWe never know what’s motivating someone unless they tell us, and even then, people are not always honest. No one wants to say, “I’m making this decision because I’m scared and weak, and it’s the safer and easier thing to do.” I mean, seriously. Who wants to have to own that? Sometimes people make choices, and they don’t communicate about what’s driving them because they can’t face it themselves.

We’re human, and most of us long to understand, especially if things happen that are hurtful. Few things feel worse than being ignored. If we make ourselves vulnerable with someone, if we reach out in an effort to make sense of something, and are left in a vacuum to figure it out on our own, it adds insult to injury. We feel we aren’t even worth a response to someone who was, or is, important to us. There’s nothing kind or compassionate about leaving someone in a communication void, and let me be clear. I’m not talking about situations with people who are unbalanced or have a total lack of boundaries, or who refuse to accept what you’ve already said a million times. Sometimes you really have no choice but to draw a hard line. While I’m at it, let me also say that you can never be the one to help heal the heart of your inconsolable ex. Meeting for one more tea, taking one more walk, answering one more call, writing one last email…it just keeps the other party hanging on and hoping. Your intentions are probably good, but you can’t and won’t help anyone that way. If you’ve explained yourself, if you’ve communicated openly and honestly, and given the other party the chance to say whatever needs to be said, you’re both going to need some time and space. It’s hard to heal when we keep throwing salt in the wound. I’m not talking about those cases, though. I’m talking about times when we’ve been close to someone, and they make choices that are mind-boggling, unexpected, completely out of left field, and then they refuse to help us understand what’s happened.

This occurs with romantic relationships, it happens between family members, and it happens with friends. Sometimes there’s a willingness to talk, but it’s not coupled with the ability to be truthful. You can only do what you can do, after all. You can create a safe space. You can say that you just want to understand. You can invite the other party to open up and share with you, even if it isn’t pretty. You can reassure someone that there’s nothing they could say that would make you stop loving them, but you can’t force someone to accept your invitation to be intimate, because that’s what we’re talking about, here.

Sometimes people feel threatened or envious, and they can’t imagine saying that out loud, so instead they withdraw, or they lash out, or they act out. Friendships that were once thriving are lost, because we’ve decided some feelings are ugly or shameful. Can we really tell a friend we feel jealous or insecure? What’s funny, is that the more we’re able to be truthful, the less these emotions overpower us. When we repress something, we’re actually feeding it power. The more we push it down or reject it, the harder it comes back up. Most people would rather have an uncomfortable conversation than lose a friend, and some people might actually see bold-faced ownership of your feelings as an opportunity to deepen your bond. If you want someone to know you, you have to be willing to show yourself, even the parts that aren’t so pretty; especially those. If you internalize your confusion and pain about the choices being made by someone close to you, you also lose a chance to see what the friendship can sustain.

Also, let’s talk about rejection. Since we never know what’s motivating someone unless they tell us and they’re honest about it, it’s really inadvisable to assume it’s a reflection of anything lacking within you. If you’re in a romantic triangle with someone, if you have a friend who you wish would be so much more, and they choose the other party, of course that can feel like the other party must be better than you, but the reality is just that the other person is different than you, and maybe in ways that work better for your friend. Maybe you’re scary in some way. Maybe you demand a level of honesty and intimacy that feels too intense for them. Maybe the other person offers more stability, and your friend comes from a really unstable background. Maybe your friend doesn’t want a real partner, maybe they prefer to be the big personality. Maybe a million things.

The point is, try not to expend too much time or energy trying to understand what someone else is doing, or has done. The story to examine is always the story of our participation. What did we bring to the mix? Do we feel good about it? Did we show up the way we wanted to? Is there anything we can learn that will help us moving forward? Do we need to apologize to the other person, or to ourselves for anything we might have done or not done? Once you have those questions answered, move on and try to trust. I realize it isn’t always easy, but if a person is meant to be in your life, they’re going to find a way. If they can’t, you just need different things. Try to be at peace with that.

Sending you love and a hug,

Ally Hamilton

Speak Out

kuhnClear communication is so important when we’re looking for understanding, but it’s not always easy. Sometimes people don’t say what they feel out of fear that the truth will hurt, that there will be repercussions for themselves or others, or because they know if they say this particular thing, the ground underneath them is sure to shift. We resist change, but it’s the only thing we can count on, and it’s the only chance we have for connection when we’re feeling misunderstood, disrespected, or unheard. Of course, when you’re sharing something with someone, you want to express yourself with as much compassion as you can muster. Hopefully, when you go to share something with someone you love, you do that because you’re hoping to be closer, you’re hoping to be seen. 

In-person communication is always the best bet when you’re expressing something that’s emotional, sensitive in nature, or has a “charge” to it. So much can get lost in translation with emails and texts. If you can’t meet face-to-face, a phone call is your next best bet; at least you can hear the person’s voice, you can hear the tone, or their voice cracking, you can hear the frustration, and the pain underneath it. Words on a screen are impersonal, people get reckless with their fingertips; they write things they’d never say. A text is not a place to break up with someone, or to express rage or despair about anything, and neither is an email. If you’re frustrated or angry, go ahead and write it down if you need to get clear about the storm that’s raging in your mind, but don’t hit “send” until you’re in a calm state of mind. Words are powerful. Once you put them out there, you can’t take them back, and some things are so hurtful, they may be forgiven, but it’s unlikely they’ll be forgotten. This is true personally and globally–part of the pain so many people are in right now is a result of words that have been spoken and cannot be forgotten.

Manipulation is no way to go about getting what you want. If you want something, or you need something, ask for it. You may not get it, but take the mystery and agony out of things for yourself, and the people in your life. No one can read your mind, or mine. Being passive aggressive is also not a fabulous communication style. Expecting people to try to figure out what’s wrong or what you need makes it harder on everyone. If you’re angry, disappointed, scared, sad, hurt or confused, try saying that out loud.

When we’re angry, it’s almost always just a cover for our pain, or intense feeling of vulnerability. If we’re defensive, it’s because we feel attacked, even if that’s just our perception. Many people cannot receive anything but positive feedback. If you offer any kind of constructive input, that, too, might be received as an attack. Sometimes this happens with personality disorders like narcissism. Sometimes it happens because a person grew up in an abusive household, and an admission of error was met with incredible pain and punishment. You really don’t know what someone is dealing with unless they tell you, but you can work on the way you express yourself. You can work toward clear, truthful, compassionate communication. That’s really all you can do. As with everything, you can never control what someone else does.

There’s no hope for our personal relationships if we can’t speak clearly, and there’s no hope for healing rifts and divides with people we may not know, unless we can call it out when we see things that are not okay. Sometimes we have to speak up on behalf of someone else, and sometimes we need to act on our own behalf, but having no voice for either is no way to go through life.

Sometimes we keep quiet because we don’t want to have uncomfortable conversations, or we think we already know what the other person will say. Let me say this: If you have a long history with someone, and you know that sane, satisfying communication isn’t possible, then don’t bark up that tree. A lot of people are struggling with family members and close friends right now, who may have wildly different ideas about what we need in this world at the moment. It’s very painful when your entire ideology or life philosophy is rejected or ridiculed by those closest to you. Having said that, anyone who refuses to make an effort to understand your point of view is a person who is also struggling to understand what it means to love. Ridicule and disrespect have no place in that arena. You don’t have to agree with the people close to you all the time, but there needs to be some effort to grasp, to understand. Accept people where they are and how they are, or don’t have them in your life, or have them in your life, but create boundaries. In general, though, if you struggle with being assertive, work on it. Most people will really appreciate your honesty, if you’re kind; being truthful and mean is crappy, it’s not funny or brave or strong or tough. It’s crappy. So there’s that.

Maybe you grew up and no one ever asked you how you felt, or what you needed or wanted. Perhaps you’re still trying to figure that out. Maybe it doesn’t occur to you that how you feel is important and worth sharing. Maybe you feel invisible, or believe your worth lies in what you can do for other people. Those are all lies. Maybe you think it’s better for you to be in pain, and silent, than it is for you to express yourself, and disappoint someone else. What kind of relationship can possibly result? There’s no intimacy without honesty. Find your truth, and then find your voice. It really matters. If you struggle to say what’s real for you, get some help with it.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Get Busy Living

stephenkingEverything worth doing involves sacrifice. If you have a dream, you’re going to have to work if you want to see it come to fruition, and any choice we make involves loss. When we choose one path, we walk away from another. Eventually, you have to figure out what’s important to you, and where you want to direct your time and energy.

People agonize over this stuff. They pick something, and then they wonder if they made the right choice. They look back over their shoulders, or they look ahead to see if something better is on the horizon that they’re now going to miss. Single people do this. They’re single for years, lamenting the loneliness and lack of a partner, of someone who sees them and understands them and is there for them, and then they meet someone, and six months later they’re agonizing over the loss of their freedom. Freedom to do what? Sit home on a Saturday night binge-watching tv? Married people do it, too. They choose commitment, and then envy their single friends out at the clubs. Yes, when we make a choice, we agree to not choose something else. This is why it’s called a “choice.”

The saying goes, “the grass is always greener on the other side”, but of course I’m talking about the other saying, “the grass is always greener where you water it.” We can drive ourselves nuts with this stuff, but the truth is, if you made a decision, you made it for a reason. If that reason doesn’t hold true anymore, or you doubt its validity, or it hasn’t played out the way you thought it would, then you’ll have to make some other choices, and hopefully you do that with serious deliberation, and maybe some support. We’re never done, we’re always in process and you can choose to have a good attitude about that, or not. Either way, the reality is the same. I’m not saying anything is fair game. Obviously we want to make choices carefully, especially where they involve other people. You never want to be reckless with another person’s tender heart. If you’ve made a mess, you have to do your best to clean it up with honesty and compassion, but most people would not want you to live a lie. Most people would not ask you to choose pity or guilt over what’s true in your heart and almost everyone I know would choose honest communication over betrayal.

What I’m saying is that you’ll never give your choices room to grow and blossom if you spend all your energy looking over your shoulder. Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated into choosing things you don’t want, and by the same token, when you say you want something, mean it. Don’t make your decisions someone else’s fault. We spend way too much time blaming circumstances and other people for our own unhappiness. Blame keeps you stuck. It’s liberating to take responsibility for your life and your choices, to take ownership of the whole thing. You’re going to make unfortunate choices sometimes. Another word for those is “mistakes.” That’s part of being human, it’s how we grow. If you don’t ever choose anything, your paths will be chosen for you. You’ll meet other strong-willed people, and they’ll tell you what they want you to want, and what they think you should do, but that’s not the same thing as living your life. That’s living someone else’s life. That’s becoming part of someone else’s story. Yes, we can co-create a story with another person in a healthy and loving way, but that’s when two people come together out of choice. You’re not a leaf on the wind. You’re a particular human being with your own intrinsic gifts to share. Choose wisely.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Believe Them

The-first-time-someoneA few years ago, I went on a date with a guy who travels around the country giving talks and interviews about compassion and kindness. He’s written books, he’s been on all kinds of television shows. He’s extremely charismatic and funny and smart. We met through mutual friends and he asked me out, and of course, I was very excited. I thought we had a similar outlook on life, and I liked the fact that he seemed down-to-earth.

The night of the date came, and he picked me up, and off we went. The conversation was easy and deep. Definitely no small talk. By the time we were at the restaurant, we were so in the flow, the waiter stopped asking us if we wanted to order. We never made it past a pitcher of mint lemonade. We sat at the table for three hours, drunk on conversation. He made all kinds of references to things we had to do, friends of his I had to meet, places we had to go. There was not an inch of me wondering whether we’d be going out again. We exchanged a few emails the next day, but he didn’t mention plans, and I just assumed he was going to call to do that. So you can imagine, when I hadn’t heard from him a week later, I was surprised and confused.

I decided to be direct, and sent an email letting him know I’d had a great time. I told him I was really looking forward to getting to know him better. I told him about a public speaking engagement I’d since had, that we’d discussed the night we went out, and how I was pleased I hadn’t died from fear, after all. Radio silence. He never wrote back, and I was left with the sting of having made myself vulnerable. I didn’t say anything to our mutual friends, because I didn’t want them to feel badly, and I also didn’t want anyone else to get involved. After numerous conversations with trusted girlfriends, and a couple of close male friends, I let it go. I figured it must have been smoke and mirrors or something, because it’s one thing to talk about kindness and compassion, but it’s another thing to have some.

I found out much later he’d been dating someone off and on for a long time. When we went out, they’d been off, but at some point the week after our date, they were on again. I’ve been in those relationships before, the ones that are so hard to end. The ones where you feel so hooked in you’re convinced it must be love so you keep going back even though you know nothing will be different. Anyway, when I realized what happened, I felt a little soothed, but also angry. It would have been so easy to simply shoot me an email and let me know. It would have been kinder than leaving me to second guess my own experience, to replay the night in my mind and wonder if I’d missed something.

Anyway, who knows why he handled it that way. Probably, he wanted to keep me on the back burner for when his on again went off again, because I did get an email a few months later, asking if I’d like to have dinner but by then I was done. I would never pursue something with someone who can’t or won’t communicate honestly. Most of the time people are not setting out to hurt us, and this was not a major heartbreak, obviously. It was one date. It just so happened it was my first date out of the gate after my divorce, the first date I’d been on in eight years. So the timing wasn’t great, but it was a sting, not a wound. Usually people are doing the best they can with the tools they’ve got. Sometimes people are selfish and prioritize what’s good for them over what might be hurtful for someone else. The thing is, it’s really never okay to put your discomfort ahead of another person’s heart. Awkward conversations aren’t fun, but they’re so much better than leaving someone in the dark.

The other thing to remember, is that sometimes a person presents themselves one way, but one-on-one, it’s a whole different story. This is a guy who does a lot of good, legitimately, but his interpersonal skills need a lot of work. It was a good reminder to me that we should never look at someone’s public persona, and assume that’s what’s happening behind closed doors. Not everybody has every piston firing. It’s easy to take things personally, but most of the time, it’s just a reflection of where someone is on their own path; it’s not a reflection of anything lacking in you. I get so many emails from people struggling with this stuff. The truth is, if a person is into you, it’s not going to be a mystery, you’re not going to have to wonder, or chase, or second guess yourself. I really wouldn’t waste time with any of that, life is too short, and you are too precious. Save your time and energy for people who are coming at you with everything they’ve got, and keep your eyes, ears and mind open, so you can see clearly when there’s a disconnect between someone’s words and their actions. It’s really good to remember the Maya Angelou quote, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Speak Your Mind

voiceshakesClear communication is so important when it comes to understanding and being understood, but for many people, it isn’t easy. There are all kinds of reasons we don’t always say what we mean — maybe we don’t want to admit what it is that we want, because we feel conflicted about wanting it; we might feel ashamed, or afraid or insecure. Maybe we were taught that our feelings didn’t have an impact on the people or the world around us, so we don’t bother. We might think we already know what the other party will say. Perhaps we want to avoid confrontation or uncomfortable conversations. We might be quiet because we know if we speak up, things will have to change. So much can get lost in translation when we keep things to ourselves, hoping other people will possess the gift of telepathy.

Sometimes we avoid saying a thing, because we fear it might cause pain for someone else, but most people would really prefer to understand what’s happening, even if it hurts. I mean, of course you always want to do your best to speak kindly, and with compassion, to put yourself on the receiving end before you speak, but I don’t believe you do anyone any favors by keeping them in the dark; most people know when something is off. We may not want to know a thing, but usually if something is stirring below the surface, we know it in our hearts.

Life is pretty short, and it isn’t an easy gig. We have an unknown and finite amount of time, as do all the people we hold dear. We all have a song to sing, we have particular gifts to offer. It’s worth asking yourself, if you knew you only had a year to live, what would you do? I don’t just mean your bucket list, here, I mean, what would you say? Where would you put your energy? With whom would you spend your time? Is there something you’d stop doing or being right away? You realize you might only have a year, right? I mean, I hope you have ninety more great ones, I’m just saying, life doesn’t happen out in front of us, someday when “things calm down.” It’s happening right now, today, this is it.

I think you really make yourself sick when you deny what’s in your heart. I’m speaking mostly of big things here, the meaningful things we push down, but even in day-to-day interactions, every time you make yourself small, or shy away from saying what you mean, you weaken yourself. You can say what’s on your mind in a kind but confident way, it just takes practice. It takes more practice for some people than others, but it’s a gift to assert yourself. You won’t get everything you want, of course, but life is hard enough without adding murkiness to the equation. Even when we speak clearly and allow ourselves to be known and seen, intimacy is still challenging, but it’s completely unrealistic to hope for it if you leave too much under the rug. Dishonoring your tender heart is painful and lonely, and it will deplete you. Feeling like no one really knows you is lonely, but betraying yourself is the loneliest thing there is.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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To be Seen

INTIMATEIf you want easy and comfortable, forget about intimacy. Because in order to be truly known by another person, you have to be willing to be honest. Even if that means shining light on some part of yourself that isn’t fully healed. If you want to be understood and seen, you have to be willing to show yourself. And in order to do that, you really want to feel safe.

Your heart, your time, your energy and your attention are the most precious gifts you have to offer anyone. There are only so many hours in a day, and so many days in a lifetime. You will spend the large majority of your time in the company of your own internal dialogue, processing the data you receive from the outside world, and from the people you encounter; those closest to you, and those you meet in passing. You will do your best to make sense out of what is coming at you. You can only know what you know, and you can only be where you are. Your experiences have shaped you, they’ve become part of the way you understand what’s happening around you. Sometimes the lessons we’ve learned are damaging; we’ve only seen a sliver of reality, but it’s all we know, so we make our assumptions. We fill in the blanks. We project, and we tell ourselves stories. These are ways we might close ourselves off, keep people out, keep ourselves safe. Or make ourselves miserable.

I get so many emails from people who feel alone and alienated and angry. Or at a total loss. Who feel no one sees them or cares one way or the other. But that’s just the people they’ve known. Or maybe it’s just the way they’ve experienced those people. You can’t assume anything. What seems obvious to you or me may be a total mystery to someone else. Because we are alone unless we actively reach out. No two people have had the exact same life, memories, experiences and feelings. How vulnerable are you willing to be, and how truthful? I mean, there are some things better left unsaid even if you want to be known. Some things that only cause pain. But short of that, how much are you willing to open yourself? To speak up when you feel uncomfortable or hurt or angry or confused? To try to articulate, calmly and with compassion, your own experience? And how much are you willing and able to open to the idea that your view is only that? That there’s the distinct possibility you missed something, or crushed something unknowingly beneath your words or with your actions?

Most people do not set out with the intention of hurting anyone. I’d say the majority of people are doing the best they can with what they’ve got and what they know, to piece together some fulfillment, meaning and happiness. To live a life that feels good to them. To figure out what lights them up, and what brings them down, and to do more of the former, and less of the latter. To know themselves. And it’s a process, all of it. Usually we’ve just gotten lost. We’ve followed the shoulds instead of the yeses. We’ve dropped the thread, or we’ve become a player in someone else’s story, or we’ve landed in a ditch full of rage and blame. Most people do not follow a linear path. You have to screw up in order to understand your own humanness, and to have compassion for other people when they blow it. You have to grow enough to realize it is not your job to judge or control or try to manipulate another person’s journey.

Whatever happens, happens. Maybe you’ve had your heart broken badly. Maybe you’re in mourning for something you’ve never had, or for something that was robbed from you. Maybe someone was ripped from you too soon, with no warning on a sunny Tuesday morning, or a rainy Friday afternoon. These things can crush you, crush the breath and the will out of you. It could be that you were abused, neglected, ignored. There are stories in this world that are hard to hold in your head and in your heart. But human beings have an incredible potential to heal. I asked my four year old daughter why she was so sweet the other night while we were cuddled up. It was rhetorical, but she said, “That’s the way nature designed me.” Like it was the most obvious thing in the world. And I really believe that to be the case. I think at the very center of you, there’s love. I think if you peel away the layers of blame and rage and shame and despair and loneliness and confusion and fear, you will hit the jackpot. Love is the most freeing, accepting, powerful force I know. If you want to get things done, let that power you. You just might have to dig for it for awhile.

But love gives you the courage to bare yourself. To embrace all parts of yourself, even the stuff that you wouldn’t post in a status update. To be able to share those parts with the people closest to you is really the only way for you to feel known. Cherished. Close to people. If you just show the shiny perfect parts, if your whole life could be displayed on Instagram, my guess is you’re going to feel pretty alone. And human beings are built for connection. We come in needing each other, we go out needing each other, and in between, you can bet we need each other. When you show yourself, you give other people permission to do the same. When you can communicate how you feel and what’s happening within you, you give the people in your life the gift of being able to love you as you are. Not as you think you should be, or as you want to be someday, but as you are right now. Not everyone will be able to do it. Some people are not ready to be naked like that with you. But you don’t need many. True connection between people is so beautiful. You don’t even have to know someone well to be intimate in the way I’m describing. You just have to be willing to be present and aware and open. That creates the possibility of seeing another person fully, and of being seen. And that feels pretty great. Sending you love, Ally

Who’s Going Rafting?

You-have-now-reachedI received an email from a woman yesterday who is really in a panic. She’s been seeing this guy for six weeks, and is totally over the moon for him. She’s already got their life planned out for the next sixty years. There’s a small problem (there are a few) which is that she feels she needs to present herself as someone who likes the things he likes. So apparently she told him she loves the outdoors just as he does, loves to go camping and whitewater rafting, loves long, strenuous hikes, and feels very comfortable roughing it. So he planned a surprise camping trip involving all those things, and sister has never been camping or rafting, doesn’t feel like a very strong swimmer, doesn’t ever hike, and has intense fear of snakes, bears, camping, being bitten by anything, and being anywhere she can’t plug in a hairdryer. She doesn’t want to tell him any of that because then he’ll know she…y’know, lied to him, so she’s busy buying gear, and trying to figure out what she needs to know so it looks like she’s been rafting before.

I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen this weekend, but I do know they aren’t off to a great start. Because if you can’t be yourself, if you feel you have to be something other than you are, you don’t give the other person a chance to know you. You don’t allow a genuine connection to build. And you know you’re not presenting yourself honestly, so the whole thing becomes an experience in which you feel insecure. This person doesn’t know or love the real me. And just like that, your foundation is shaky. And yes, conquering fear is great, but not when it’s forced on you because you were dishonest about who you are. If you’re going to face down some of the stuff that scares you, it’s nice if you can do it with some support and care. Instead, she’s been hiking the last three days, just near her house, with a knapsack loaded with about a third of what she’s planning to bring. Her feet are blistered, she’s completely sore, and she’s hiked less than a mile each day. His plan is that they’ll be hiking between six and nine miles a day. I don’t think infatuation is going to be enough to pull her through.

When a person doesn’t have a strong center, a solid sense of self, confidence in her or his worth, it’s a recipe for disaster, because powerful feelings like infatuation are enough to knock a person off their feet. She told me her back-up plan is to fake an injury, say she’s pulled her hamstring or something. I asked her how much lying she wants to do at the beginning of this thing. But she feels backed into a corner, even though she’s very aware it’s a corner of her own making. I expressed concern about her physical well-being, given that she doesn’t love the water, and she said she would get herself out of it if she felt she couldn’t handle the rafting part, but that she would try to avoid having to do that if possible. Putting yourself in jeopardy isn’t loving and it isn’t healthy, either. Being reckless with yourself is a sign of significant self-esteem issues, and a lack of understanding of how precious you are. There’s only one of this woman. Only one her. And she’s taking herself and demeaning and undervaluing her own particular spark.

She also said he’s mentioned he might need to move across the country for work, and even though she has no interest in moving that far away from her family, she’d do it in a second if he asked. So basically, she’s just giving herself away. Chasing or selling yourself, or sacrificing everything and anything that’s important to you for a relationship is not love. It’s not loving to you, or to the other person. You’re denying yourself and them the chance to see if your relationship has legs. To see if there’s any there there. It takes time and honesty to figure that out. To realize whether infatuation, which can be fun and healthy and exciting, might blossom into something that lasts. Seeing people in different situations over time. Noticing what’s stirred within you when you’re around that person, and I’m not talking about hormones. Knowing yourself and loving yourself, so you have a clear idea of whether the person you’re with is someone you could love for sixty minutes, or sixty days, or sixty years. You’ll never figure that out if you’re trying to fit yourself into some mold. Trying to be the perfect partner for them. Try flipping it around if you make a habit of entering relationships this way, and ask yourself if this person seems like the perfect partner for you. Hormones and obsession will steer you in some pretty insane directions. Know yourself and honor yourself, and then you’ll have your compass. Sending you love. Ally