What to Do When You Feel Really Vulnerable

standthereAh, vulnerability. Sometimes it stuns you and brings you into a state of gratitude for being able to love so deeply, and sometimes it makes you want to run screaming from the room. I am often stunned into gratitude by my children, and the way that I love them, and the way that I am humbled in the face of that love. If you’ve been on this planet for any length of time, then you know that you do not call the shots, you do not get to decide what life is going to put in your path, or the paths of those you cherish. You know that the parameters are outside of your domain, you get no insight into the number of days or years you have here, and the same holds true for everyone you hold dear, and my god, if that does not make you acknowledge your own fragility, I don’t know what will. I’m usually inspired by that. I really try to leave nothing in the tank on any given day, and by that I mean I try to make sure the people in my life know how I feel about them without any doubt by the time I put my head on the pillow. That’s a day well spent.

I share anything I’ve learned along the way that might be useful (and was often learned as the result of a poor choice that led to a painful lesson), and even the stuff that is messy or not quite figured out yet, because I think we all feel better when we realize we are not alone in this thing. I am not drawn toward people who try to wrap things up in a neat little package because life is not neat, humans are not neat, and many of the things we feel cannot be tied up with a ribbon and deposited in the “isn’t this grand?” file. I want to know what your mess is, what your fears are, what keeps you up at night, or stuck in a job or relationship that’s crushing the soul out of you, because we have all been there, and when we talk about this stuff, it’s a relief; we realize everyone is human. Otherwise everyone walks around feeling alienated, like they’re the only loser who can’t seem to get this life thing “right.” When you lay your stuff on the table, you see it’s the same stuff everyone else unpacks, it’s just got your own fingerprints on it, your own particular spin. Think you aren’t worthy of love, that there’s something essentially broken about you? Yeah, I’ve been there. Think there are things that you’ve done that are so shameful you have to keep them hidden, even from your closest friends? I’ve also been there. Know what happens when you edit yourself because you’re afraid of what people might think? You feel like a fraud. I’ve been there, too.

Maybe you’re enraged and you feel like your pain is someone else’s fault, but that’s going to keep you stuck. You’re better off making friends with your pain, and dwelling less on how you accrued it. Regardless of whose fault it is, your pain can teach you a lot about who you are and what you need to be at peace. Nothing brings your pain and fear to the surface like an intimate relationship. When you start to get close to another person, when you start to share in a real way, in a deep way, in an unguarded way, you give that person the roadmap to hurt you if they wish. So you want to be careful about the people you draw close because your heart is precious and you don’t want to be reckless with it, any more than you’d want someone you love to be reckless with theirs. You cannot get close to people if you won’t drop your guard. This applies to friendships, familial relationships, and romantic ones, which tend to be the most triggering.

Self-study is part of the yoga practice, and it’s at the heart of any spiritual practice. If you don’t know yourself, you can’t be accountable for the things you do and say; you won’t know what’s driving you. Even if you do that work, it doesn’t mean your stuff won’t come up, it just means you’ll have the insight to recognize when it’s happening, and the tools to deal with it and sit with it, instead of acting out and having to clean up the messes behind you, if and when you can. You save yourself a lot of heartache when you can lean into your discomfort instead of trying to deny it, run from it, or numb it out.

I’m having one of those days today. Feeling weird about a situation in my life and like I want to jump out of my body for a little while, because I am just so uncomfortable. But since I can’t jump out of my body, I’ve just been trying to be kind to myself all day, and stay focused on everything that is beautiful and wonderful in my life, which is a lot, while also giving myself permission to feel confused and unsettled. Part of me can laugh a little because for f&ck’s sake, I’m not eighteen, and I’ve been through this so many times it’s not new territory. Getting close to someone new, or even thinking about doing that takes guts and a willingness to wait and see, and sometimes that is really hard, walking that line. Letting your guard down, but not too much. Feeling things out, and keeping your eyes open. Trying not to control the outcome, but just letting it unfold, and then watching as all your “friends” come out to wreak a little havoc. Fear of Abandonment wants to play hopscotch! Fear of Rejection just sat down on the couch and wants to have tea! Fear of Commitment wants to take a spin on the dance floor! Defensive Debbie thinks coffee with someone else is a fine idea, because screw this vulnerability thing! I just have to laugh and shake my head and feel thankful that I have a yoga practice and a meditation practice, and the ability to distance myself from my thoughts so I can look at them without necessarily believing them. Time solves most mysteries. People show you who they are, you just have to be willing to see them. When you feel vulnerable, the best thing to do is sit with that feeling. If you struggle with that, try this. It works for me!

Sending you lots of love, and a little chuckle. We humans are funny, aren’t we?

Ally Hamilton

being-present

Let Inspiration be Your Hook

thichFor many people, rejection is like a hook. They might be dating someone and feeling kind of “on the fence” about it, but if their potential partner starts to lose interest, it’s like an instant fever; now this person becomes enticing and coveted and the one they have to have. The same thing can happen with new friendships, it can happen amongst colleagues, it can even happen with strangers. If we harbor doubt about our own worth at our very core, having that doubt reflected back at us is almost intolerable. It’s like a message from the universe being delivered through this unavailable person: “It’s as you thought, you are not good enough, and you are not truly lovable.” It can be brutal.

What happens when we feel excluded, shunned, ignored, disrespected, discarded or unseen? These things never feel good, of course, but if we’re in a healthy, stable place, we can probably talk ourselves off the ledge. Not everyone is going to understand us, or see us clearly or dig our vibe, and that’s okay, it really is. Also, if a person is rude or haughty or demeaning or demanding, that’s a reflection of where they are on their own path, it’s not a reflection of anything lacking in us, but if we’re suffering from low self-esteem, if we’re having a hard time believing we’re worthy of happiness and love and peace, then feeling rejected by someone, even a stranger, can set us on the run. We might think if we can just convince this person that we’re actually amazing, then we’ll feel better, but the minute you’re in that kind of power struggle with another person (even if they have no idea it’s happening), you’re doomed because you aren’t going to be your authentic self. You’re going to be jumping around, chasing them down, waving your arms and dancing like a monkey to show how great you are, and that’s going to make you feel sick, as it should. Why should that make you feel sick? Because it’s the worst kind of betrayal; it’s the betrayal of self. It is never, ever your job to sell yourself. If someone is dismissive or unkind or unsure about whether they want to give you their time and energy, move along.

Sometimes we pick unavailable people because we have deep fear of intimacy. We think if we open and trust, we’ll surely be hurt, so we choose people who can’t commit. That’s not the only reason we might chase people who don’t have the capacity or interest to take us in, in all our entirety, with all our flaws and beauty and occasional absurdites. Sometimes a thing starts out hot and strong and we get swept up in the intensity and fall in love, only to find when the lust/dust clears, that we’ve chosen someone who could only give us their all in the beginning. Maybe we stay because we think this person is capable of being present and hot for us, and fully “in it”, because they displayed that when we started, so we wait and hope that person will show up again, but hormones and the frenzy of something new do not add up to true intimacy. That takes time, and fearlessness and commitment, and a willingness to look at our own raw, unhealed places; not everyone is up to that, and not everyone wants to do that kind of work. When we’re in love, we tend to excuse behavior that hurts, because we hope. We hope and we hope, and time passes, and we feel smaller and smaller, and more and more hurt. We feel rejected by this person who once seemed so into us, and we can’t understand how that could be, so we stay and we try and we bend over backwards and see if we can be perfect or different or better, or we see if we can accept what little is being offered, and somehow be okay with it. This is not a healthy scenario, and it isn’t good for your heart.

People change and grow, but it’s never our job to manage anyone else’s path. People are ready if and when they’re ready, and it isn’t loving to try to manipulate or force or control an outcome that we want, but our partner or friend or family member does not. Love is accepting, and sometimes that means you have to accept that what you want is just not what someone else wants, and you have to let it go, even though it hurts like hell. The alternative is not livable or sustainable. You can’t allow your light to be dimmed and your spirit to be crushed, and expect that life will feel good, or that you’ll blossom the way you could. Maybe your paths will cross in the future, or maybe something else will unfold that you never could have imagined. It’s impossible to know, but one thing you can know is that you have to be you. You really can’t compromise on that. You can make adjustments, and work with the people you love so you can coexist harmoniously, so you can respect one another’s needs and space and dreams and necessary solitude, but you can’t try to be something other than who you are, because there’s only one of you. I don’t know if I can get across how amazing that is, but there are roughly seven billion people on this planet, and yet, we only get one you, for one blaze of time. Don’t let rejection be your hook. Really, you don’t have time for that. Let inspiration be your hook. Let that be the thing that sets you off running to show what you’ve got, not because you have anything to prove, or any doubt to undo, but because you have so much to give.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Say It

Truth-is-like-the-sunSometimes we have something to say, but fear stops us. It could be the fear of hurting someone, or the fear that if we speak out, things will change. Maybe we aren’t ready to face the truth, or the consequences of talking about it. But love, honesty, growth and understanding, absolutely require communication. If you can’t tell someone how you feel, you’re in a relationship where true seeing and connection just aren’t possible.

If you’re a caretaker, this can become very problematic, because you may sacrifice your own needs to avoid making the other party uncomfortable, or angry or disappointed. Maybe you’re a people-pleaser who believes that’s the only way you’ll receive love. If you aren’t indispensable to someone, what’s going to keep them around? But, that’s not connection or love, that’s you editing yourself so that you don’t rock the boat. That’s you trying to fit yourself into some projection you have about what you think they want. It’s also a form of manipulation.

If you struggle with this kind of thing, you may have a very hard time holding someone accountable when they’ve hurt you. Maybe you’re so hard on yourself when you screw up, you assume everyone feels that way (they don’t :)). Not everyone berates themselves for being imperfect. When we’re insecure in ourselves, we’ll be insecure in our dealings with other people. The tendency in this scenario is to sell yourself, to be sure you do and say nothing that might upset or confront the other person, because then they might feel angry or disrespected, or over you. So you tiptoe around and try to be some perfect idea of what you think they want. Which is awful, because it isn’t really you. Where are you? Where is that authentic, unafraid, open-hearted you?

When we don’t tell people how we feel because we’re afraid they’ll feel terrible for letting us down in some big or small way, we lose the opportunity for growth on both sides of the equation. When we tell ourselves to forgive before we’re ready to do that, we repress our own feelings of anger, and we deny the other person an experience they might have needed for their own growth. Haven’t you learned more from your mistakes than you have from those times when you got everything right? Sometimes in an effort to save someone from the pain of being accountable for their actions, we steal from them a struggle they might have needed. We all screw up sometimes, it’s part of being human. Your job is not to make everything okay for everyone all the time.

Recently I was talking to a friend I’ve known for years. He’s trying to work up the courage to have a painful conversation with his dad, but he told me he’s afraid of what it might do to him. He doesn’t want to upset his dad, but he does want healing. He wants closeness, but in order to get there, he needs to revisit the past with him. He told me he doesn’t want his dad to have to grapple with what he did. And I said it was interesting, because my friend has been grappling with it for years.

Secrets make us sick. I’m not talking about trying to surprise your best friend on her birthday. Those kinds of secrets are beautiful. Anything we do to make the people in our lives feel special and celebrated is awesome. I’m talking about the other kind of secret. The kind you push down so everything looks shiny on the outside. Or the kind you sit on to avoid disappointing someone else. The truth wants out. In order to heal, we have to be able to look, and not just to look, but to see. Sending you love. And wishing you the strength and bravery to speak out and up when you need to, Ally Hamilton