You Can’t Negotiate with a Raging Bull

crazykeysPeople can only drive us crazy if we let them. A person can spin his or her web, but we don’t have to fly into the center of it to be stunned, stung, paralyzed and eaten. Remember that your time and your energy are the most precious gifts you have to offer anyone, and that includes those closest to you, and also total strangers. Your energy and your time are also both finite, so it’s really important to be mindful about where you’re placing those gifts.

It’s hard not to get caught up when someone we love is suffering, or thrashing around, or in so much pain they don’t know what else to do but lash out. It’s hard not to take that to heart, or to defend yourself, or to try to make things better for them. But you’re not going to walk into a ring and calm a raging bull with your well-thought out monologue, you’re just going to get kicked in the face, at best, and I use that analogy intentionally. People in pain–whether we’re talking about people with personality disorders or clinical depression, people suffering with addiction, or people who are going through mind-boggling loss–are dealing with deep wounds. They didn’t wake up this way one morning. Whether it’s a chronic issue, or an acute and immediate situation, when you’re dealing with heightened emotions including rage, jealousy, or debilitating fear, you’re not going to help when a person is in the eye of the storm. If someone is irrational, trying to reason with them makes you as irrational as they are. You can’t negotiate when someone is in the midst of a fight or flight reaction. We’re all beyond reason sometimes. We all have days when we feel everyone is against us, whether that’s based in any kind of reality or not.

You can offer your love, your patience, your kindness and your compassion if someone you care for is suffering. You can try to get them the support they need. You can make them a meal, or show up and just be there to hold their hand, or take them to the window to let in a little light. But if someone is attacking you verbally or otherwise, we’re in a different territory. You are not here to be abused, mistreated, or disrespected. You are not here to defend yourself against someone’s need to make you the villain. You don’t have to give that stuff your energy, and I’d suggest that you don’t. It’s better spent in other places.

We can lose hours and days and weeks getting caught up in drama or someone else’s manipulation. That’s time we’ll never have back. Of course things happen in life; people do and say and want things that can be crushing sometimes, but the real story to examine is always the story of our participation. If someone needs you to be the bad guy, why do you keep trying to prove you’re actually wonderful? Are you wonderful? Brilliant, get back to it. If someone has a mental illness and they are incapable of controlling themselves, keeping their word, or treating you with respect, why do you keep accepting their invitation to rumble? You already know what’s going to happen. Don’t you have a better way to spend your afternoon? My point is, life is too short.

When a person is in the kind of pain that causes them to create pain around them, your job is to create boundaries if it’s someone you want to have in your life. You figure out how to live your life and honor your own well-being, and deal with the other party in a way that creates the least disharmony for you. That means you don’t get in the ring when they put their dukes up. You don’t allow yourself to get sucked in. Do you really think this is the time you’ll finally be heard or seen or understood? People who need to be angry cannot hear you. It doesn’t matter what you do or say, they have a construct they’ve built to support a story about their life that they can live with; it doesn’t have to be based in reality. Not everyone is searching for their own truth or their own peace; some people are clinging to their rage, because that feels easier or more comfortable, or because they really, truly aren’t ready to do anything else yet. You’re not going to solve that. But you can squander your time and energy trying. You can make yourself sick that way. I just don’t recommend it.

You really don’t have to allow other people to steal your peace, whether we’re talking about those closest to you, or people you don’t even know, like the guy who cuts you off on the freeway, or the woman talking loudly on her cellphone at the bank. You don’t have to let this stuff get under your skin and agitate you. You don’t have to let someone’s thoughtless comment or action rob you of a beautiful afternoon. Of course we give our time to people who need us. I’m just saying, don’t get caught up in the drama. If you need help, try this.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

How to Stop Spiraling

pematimesSometimes our minds take us for a very unpleasant ride. We start thinking about worst-case scenarios, about all the horrendous things that could happen, terrible tragedies that could befall us or those we love. We imagine conversations that might take place, making ourselves sick as though this interaction were real, and happening now. You can raise your blood pressure with your thoughts alone.

Maybe it’s because some primal part of us is still on the alert for predators. Negativity bias has been studied at length. Our ability to recall negative experiences is greater than our ability to remember positive ones, and this has been a major survival skill we’ve needed from the beginning of time. How to stay out of harm’s way, and how to use our past experiences to recognize and try to avoid danger in our future? Is there a saber-tooth tiger around the next corner? Are we going to have to run for our lives? Will we be able to find enough food to feed our families? Whatever the reasons, the mind can get snagged easily on the negative, even though most of us can go to the store to buy our kale, and are unlikely to find ourselves on the wrong side of a hungry tiger.

It’s not just mortal peril we obsess over. We’ve extended this sense of imminent danger to include ways we’ve been slighted, wronged, betrayed, and disappointed. We can focus on all the things we don’t have yet, and wonder why other people have them. We can dwell on all the ways we don’t measure up, all the mistakes we’ve made, all the dire consequences we’ve brought down upon ourselves.

If you find yourself spiraling in this way, chances are you’re feeling vulnerable, and one of the best ways to disrupt the cycle is to turn your attention to your breath. I know that sounds absurdly simple, and it is. It’s just not easy to catch yourself, but when you do, when you become aware that you’re in the midst of self-created agony, try placing one hand on your heart, the other on your belly. Slow down and deepen your breath, seeing if you can fill your belly first, and follow the inhale up into your chest. If this is new for you, being horizontal might be helpful, but you can definitely do this at your desk if you need to. Hold the inhale in for a beat, and then exhale slowly, emptying your chest first, then your belly, and hold the breath out for a beat. Focus on a complete out-breath. Then inhale again. Repeat the cycle several times. If you feel very anxious, see if you can go for sixty breaths. In this way, you’ll calm your nervous system; you have the power to do that. By focusing on your breath, you’ll train your mind on something real, something that is happening in the now. You’ll become present.

With presence, you can start to choose different thoughts. You can remind yourself of everything you do have. Maybe you have dreams, gifts to share, ideas that are particular to you, and grow from your own experiences in this life. Maybe you might remind yourself of some of your good traits, some kind things you’ve done. You might think about all the ways things could go right. You could imagine a conversation you want to have, and you could envision it happening with love and compassion. When we come back to the now, we also give ourselves the power to choose one thought over another, and then we can pick the thoughts that will strengthen us instead of weaken us. We can imagine for ourselves and for our loved ones, all the amazing scenarios that might unfold.

Your life is made up of moments. Worrying about what might happen in the future won’t change anything, it will just rob you of this moment. Dwelling on what’s already happened won’t change anything, it will only rob you of this moment. In this moment, there is the potential for whatever is real for you right now: joy, peace, grief, heartache, rage, envy, shame, fear, hope. There’s enormous power in being with what is, and in not allowing yourself to spiral into your past or into your imagined future. When you “stop the tape”, you give your mind a rest, and everything works better with rest. Then you might find some clarity, and an easier time figuring out what the next right step is.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If you like the posts, you can find my books here <3

Unlearn and Re-learn

pemaarrowheartSometimes we develop coping mechanisms in childhood, and we keep using them as we grow, even if we’ve removed ourselves from those situations that made them necessary. If you learned to push your feelings down as a child, for example, it’s highly likely you’ll grow into an adult who has difficulty expressing yourself. This stuff doesn’t just vanish, after all, and like anything else, it’s always easier to learn something the right way, than it is to unlearn one thing and relearn another. But if you’re like most people, you’ll have some unlearning to do.

Awareness isn’t the whole story, although it goes a long way. We can’t change a habit unless we know we have one, but you might be incredibly self-aware, and still feel stuck. You might realize you have abandonment issues, and you might know exactly why that is, but if you start to feel uncertain in a relationship, that overwhelming fear you’ll be left can be crippling even if you know you’re being triggered. A lot of people get stuck at this very point. They recognize their “stuff”, they’ve tried to heal by bringing these wounds into the light, but the power of the pain is undiminished when push comes to shove. Pain is still running the show.

The best way to unlearn one thing and relearn another is to work with your own experience, your own nervous system, your own mind. Reading about concepts can be very helpful, but putting them into practice is where it’s at. Thinking about high levels of reactivity and how that can disempower you is good, but working on non-reactivity and empowering yourself is better. I don’t think you can just take someone’s word for this stuff, no matter how much you trust them, or feel they “get it”. If you want to make significant shifts inside yourself, you have to get…inside yourself, right?

Yoga is brilliant for this, but only if you practice with compassion and patience, because of course you can show up on your mat and be cruel and unforgiving with yourself (I know, because I did that for years!). Only you know the quality of the voice inside your head. I mean, if you’re clearly frustrated when you fall out of a pose, your teacher doesn’t have to be a mind-reader to guess you’re dealing with a loud inner critic, but you don’t have to give that critic power. You could tell that voice to f&ck off with a little smile on your face, and find a way to come back to your breath. Maybe you could take yourself a little less seriously, and start to understand the poses are tools, and they’ll only work well if you use them wisely. Then you might start to feed a loving, compassionate voice. The kind you’d use if you were speaking to your best friend, or your child, or someone else you love with all your heart.

There’s something incredibly powerful about a visceral experience. If you feel challenged in a pose, or you feel infringed upon by the person next to you, you have a chance to work with those feelings. Maybe when you feel confronted in your day-to-day life, you run, or you dig your heels in, or you take yourself somewhere else deep within you, or you get loud or aggressive. The possibilities are endless. but if you know you have beliefs and tendencies that aren’t serving you, that are, in fact, impeding your ability to live life in a way that feels good, you do not have to accept that this is “just the way things are”, or that this is, “how you are”. You don’t have to push people away, or cut yourself off from the pain by also cutting yourself off from the love and the joy. You don’t have to give up on yourself. You just have to get busy unlearning so you can relearn. You have to watch what you feed yourself on every level. You have to choose thoughts that will strengthen you and not weaken you, and all these things take time and practice, but I really don’t know of a better endeavor. You can’t offer up the best of yourself and tear yourself down simultaneously. The world really needs each of us to offer up the best of what we’ve got right now, so healing is a gift you give to yourself, but ultimately, it’s a gift you offer to the world. You can get started right here, right now. I hope you do.

Sending you love and hugs,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3

Harder Than It Needs to Be

gandhilosefindThere’s the good kind of “losing yourself”, and the kind that isn’t so good for you. When we lose ourselves in something we’re doing, when we cease to think, categorize, or judge, but are simply immersed in the joy of what we’re doing, that’s beautiful, powerful, and liberating. The ability to join the flow, to forget about the small self for a time, the one that’s so attached to “I, me, mine”, and just to breathe and to open and to experience, that’s one of the greatest joys we have as human beings. To lose yourself because you’re trying to be something other than what you are…that’s the opposite end of the spectrum. You’re not in the flow, in fact, you’re swimming against it.

Doubt, fear and shame can keep you stuck, or send you spinning. They’re perfectly natural feelings we’ll all have from time to time, but if they’re ruling your life, you’re going to be in a world of pain. If you doubt your own worth, if you don’t have a strong sense of your center, if you aren’t feeling good about who you are, you’re in a precarious position. A strong wind (or person) can knock you flat on your back, or pull you under like a current. You can lose years that way, following someone else’s ideas about what you should be doing, or feeling or wanting; we all need a “true north.” You can call that your intuition; it’s certainly related to knowing yourself, understanding what it is that feeds you, that inspires you, that lights you up.

It’s totally possible that you’ve grown into adulthood without a clear sense of what you need to be happy, people do it all the time. We really aren’t helped culturally, because we’re taught that we’re against each other, that we’re in some epic battle where only the strongest survive and you have to compete to be top dog, and we’re also taught to search for happiness externally, as if a huge house could ever make you happy. A huge, empty house full of shiny stuff. Snore. A perfect body. Snore again. A fast car or an overflowing bank account. Snore, snore, snore. I’m not saying those things can’t be fun, I’m just saying if that’s all there is, it’s empty. A house full of love, yes. A body you treat with respect, beautiful. A car full of the laughter of those you love as you drive with the windows down, brilliant. A bank account so you can take care of yourself and those you love, yes. Beyond that? That is not the stuff that makes us happy.

When we don’t know who we are, it’s easy to get caught up in the chase, “I’m not happy, I need to do something. I’ll diet. Or I’ll chase down a relationship. Or I’ll keep myself so busy, I don’t remember how miserable I am unless it catches up with me in a random, unplanned moment.” Life is precious. You are precious. You have your gifts. You may not have uncovered them yet, but they’re there, because no one else is you. You aren’t here to meet someone else’s criteria. Really. If you spend a lot of your energy trying to win the approval or love of other people, you’ve gotten confused along the way. Approve yourself. Act on your own behalf. Follow that fire in your belly, even if it doesn’t “make sense.” Do what you love, and find a way to use your gifts to help other people, to uplift them in some way. Then your days will be full of purpose and meaning, and you’ll feel fulfilled and grateful, and you won’t lose years of your life in relationships that drain you and make you feel sick and wanting. Using your gifts in the service of others is gorgeous. Losing your gifts, or repressing them to make someone else feel more comfortable, not so much.

A day when you’ve made someone smile is a good day. A day when you’ve spent some time immersed and engaged in the present moment is a good day. A day when you’ve spent time with people you love, and have let them know it, is also a good day. String a bunch of those together, and you have a good life. We make it harder than it needs to be. Wishing you an awesome day, and the commitment to see those things through that make your heart sing,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3

Love is Not a Stranglehold

Love is not about control; that might seem obvious, but sometimes it’s good to get really clear on that concept, because we’re all only human, and when you love someone, whether it’s your child or your parent, your partner, sibling, or best friend, you become vulnerable; there’s no point fighting that reality. You have a body with an unknown expiration date, you have a gorgeous heart which is capable of incredible love. Human beings are designed to need each other, and to reach out, so loving is part of the equation, as is the inherent exposure to loss and suffering that go along with loving. We never know how much time we have, or how much time anyone else has. We never know what will happen next.

It’s human and very understandable that we want to control certain outcomes; we want to do whatever we can to make sure those we love are safe, healthy and happy. Those are good, loving desires, but things get sticky when our ideas about what is good for someone differ from their own. We can all step back and agree that certain behaviors are self-destructive, and are very likely to lead to pain, injury, or worse. If you have a loved one who’s putting himself in harm’s way, of course you try to step in and find help and support.

I’m not talking about that, though, I’m talking about the pain that ensues when we try to manage or control another person’s feelings. Have you ever told someone they shouldn’t be angry? “Don’t be mad.” “Don’t be sad.” “Don’t be scared.” Why do we think we can tell other people how to feel? There can be a difference between how you feel, and what is happening. Maybe you feel like your partner never listens to you, and your partner disagrees. It does not matter who’s “right”, you feel unheard. Now you have an opportunity to look at that together. Is this a theme in your life? Did you feel unheard or unseen as a child? Did you have any evidence that the way you felt about things had an impact on the world around you as you were growing up? Does feeling unheard make you feel disrespected? Invisible? There’s a lot to examine, and if your partner is willing to examine this stuff with you, without getting defensive about whether they actually do a good job of listening or not, there’s an opportunity for real intimacy to emerge. If your partner has to tell you that how you feel isn’t right, communication breaks down. Now they’re invested in convincing you that they do listen, and that your feelings are wrong. We don’t have to agree with how someone feels in order to work with their reality. If you love someone, you want to know them, right?

If you want to be right all the time, love is going to be a tough gig for you. If you want to possess or own another person, you’re in for a rough time there, too. You don’t own your children. They aren’t possessions, they’re people, with their own paths and ideas and needs and wants that will emerge if you allow them to, or become buried if you do not. When we bury what’s deep in our hearts, what’s true for us, we suffer. Love can be brutal; you may love someone with everything you’ve got, and they may leave you. Maybe that’s what they need for their own growth. Who’s to say? It may break your heart in a million pieces, but you can’t block the door, y’know? You can’t tell them they don’t feel the way they feel. You cannot control what another person will do, say, want or need.  You can’t save anyone except yourself.

Love has open hands and open arms and an open heart and mind. It doesn’t cling or manipulate or try to control. It’s an embrace, not a stranglehold. When you love someone, you want for them what they want for themselves. You want to support their growth and expansion. It requires your bravery and your trust, and your willingness to get hurt. I’m not telling you to be reckless with your heart; choose where you put it carefully. But when you love, you might as well do it all the way.

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful you can find my books here <3

Leave Nothing in the Tank

The tendency to look around comparing and contrasting our lives, accomplishments, and troubles against someone else’s is not always easy to break. Those feelings of being on the outside looking in, of thinking other people seem to be having an easier time, of wondering whether we measure up, can be brutal. I get so many emails from people in pain; people who have a dream they don’t pursue because some voice inside doubts they could ever pull it off.

Fear and doubt are perfectly natural feelings, it’s what we do with them that determines whether we live our lives in alignment with what we know in our hearts will bring us peace, happiness, joy and meaning. Sometimes we’re so scared, we just toe the line, but life isn’t linear, there’s no quid pro quo. You can do everything “right”, and still, your life could be turned on its head on a random Wednesday morning, without warning. We’re here, and we don’t know how much time we’ve got, or what happens next. We’re here and we have the capacity to love each other, which makes us vulnerable. We’re here, and some of us are dealt one set of cards, some another. You’ve got, what? Somewhere between seventy and one hundred-and-eight years if you’re lucky. That’s not a lot of time, in the best-case scenario. How much of it are you going to allow to pass you by because you’re scared of being judged? Scared you’ll never meet your potential? Scared it will come and go before you can get it together?

Envy is a terrible feeling that suggests we are less than. When we’re envious, we’re also assuming a lot. Things may look easy from outside a person’s life, but everyone has pain, and everyone struggles. You may encounter someone who’s worked through a lot of their anguish, and has figured out how to live life in a way that feels good to them, but maybe if you’d met them five years ago, you’d have thought they were a mess, or maybe things look shiny and perfect from where you’re standing, but the reality is completely different. It really doesn’t matter. I mean, it would be great if we could all wish the best for each other; it’s not like someone else’s success diminishes your chances of realizing your dreams.

I suppose we ought to define our terms; to me, success is having people in your life who see you clearly and love you for who you are, people you can have entire conversations with through a glance alone, people you love with your whole heart. It’s also finding personal meaning and purpose, figuring out what it is that lights you up, and then pursuing it, because even the pursuit feels right, the journey itself is enough. On any given day, if the rug were pulled out from under you, you could say you loved with everything you had, you left nothing in the tank; I think if you have any or all of these things going on, you’re a success.

We’re slammed with messages all day, every day about what society defines as successful. Tons of money, a huge house, a really fast car, a “perfect body”– it’s all external stuff.  The truth is, you’re either happy on the inside, or you are not. To me, tapping into that well of love within you, and sharing it wherever you go, makes for a happy and successful life, and if you’re coming from that place, you can celebrate other people’s good fortune, even if it looks like what you want for yourself. You can let other people inspire you to put yourself out there more, to shine your light even more brightly. You can let fear stop you, or you can let it inspire you. We’re all made of the same stuff, but no one else, not a single person, is just like you. Only you can offer your particular gifts, and you don’t have all the time in the world. You’re not going to look back on your life and think, “Mine was pretty good, but that guy over there really had an awesome time.” You won’t care anymore. You’ll only know if you gave everything you had, if you pursued your dreams, if you loved the people in your life the best way you could. You’re not going to be counting your pennies or thinking if only your corpse could have a six-pack. Don’t waste too much time. It’s precious, and so are you.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3

Pants on Fire

Im-not-upset-that-youPeople lie for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes they can’t face themselves; they can’t reconcile what they want with what they believe they should want, or think other people think they should want. Sometimes people want to do what they want to do, and understand they might meet with resistance if they talk about it, so they lie to avoid confrontation. People lie when they feel trapped, or when they know they’ve done something wrong and don’t want to face the consequences. People lie when they’re afraid, or ashamed. Sometimes they lie when they want power, or adoration, or control. There are people with personality disorders who lie and believe in the lies they’re telling, at least to some degree–dissociative lying. There are people who lie pathologically, or compulsively, and people who lie because they’re addicted to something and don’t know what else to do.

It feels terrible when our trust has been violated, and this is especially true when it’s at the hands of a family member, loved one, or someone we considered a friend. If you’re in a close relationship with someone who lies habitually, you can start to feel like a crazy person. Most of us can feel in our guts when something is off, so when our intuition says one thing, and the person we love says another, it can really throw us into a tailspin.

I don’t think there’s any need to demonize people who are lying, for whatever reason. A person who’s lying can’t face reality as it is, or they’re struggling to face themselves, or they’re living in pain or fear or deep confusion or shame or guilt, or they have a big, gaping hole they’re trying to fill. That doesn’t make lying okay, I’m just saying it’s painful to live life in a way that makes you feel you can’t speak about what’s true for you. Keeping secrets is exhausting, and without trust, there’s no foundation for a relationship, there’s no safe space, there’s no room to be vulnerable. You’d have to be reckless or grappling with very low self-esteem to make yourself vulnerable to someone with a track record of lying to your face. I’m not talking about a one-time thing. Sometimes people do things that are completely out of character in a desperate moment, and then they don’t know how to undo them. I’m talking about a pattern.

If you’re in a romantic relationship with someone who won’t or can’t be honest with you, you’re going to have to gather the strength to get out, because that’s a painful way to live, and you’ll end up feeling alienated and depressed. How can you feel good about yourself when you know in your heart you’re with a person who doesn’t have the respect to tell you the truth? (Assuming they can discern what the truth is. If they can’t, there’s no hope for intimacy, anyway.) There are some people we can love, who simply cannot be in our lives. If you’re dealing with a family member, a colleague, or an ex who has to remain in your life because you share children, it’s harder.

In those cases, I think boundaries are your best option. You cannot control other people, you can’t manage the other person’s side of the street, you can only work on keeping your own side clean. Try to limit contact to those things which must be discussed.  If it’s someone who has power over you (like your boss, for example), it’s time to start a job-search. If it’s a family member, create parameters that protect you to the best of your ability. Communicate how you’re feeling and how things have to be in order for you to feel comfortable with a relationship, and then stick to it. Don’t be surprised if you’re lied to; part of the pain of betrayal is that we don’t see it coming, so we end up questioning our own judgment. If you know someone struggles with honesty, but it’s someone you still want or must have in your life, remember the Coco Chanel quote, “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.” People are who they are. That doesn’t mean you should close the door on hope; transformation is always possible unless you’re dealing with someone who really doesn’t have a firm grip on reality. Just don’t allow yourself to get lulled into thinking there’s change unless there’s been serious effort and a long record of consistency. If you’re dealing with an ex, that’s probably the hardest, if children are involved. In that case, you have to make sure your children’s safety is not an issue; try to keep all interactions centered around the kids.

Short of that, distance yourself from people who have a history of deceiving you, because that isn’t loving. It might not be intentional in some cases, but it still feels terrible. It’s funny, but so many people chase happiness like it’s this thing out ahead of them that they’ll get to when all the pieces fit together in this particular way; I used to do that myself, it’s what we’re taught culturally. It just happens to be a lie. Somewhere along the way I began to understand that the more I opened to the truth, and by that I mean, what was true for me, the truth of a particular situation, what was true for the people in my life, the less I had to grip, the more I could relax and breathe and accept and move forward with ease. That’s happiness — being at peace with yourself and with those in your life, discerning what is real from what is not real, knowing yourself, and seeing other people clearly. I realized happiness, in large part, is the result of facing reality as it is. There’s so much liberation in that, of being at peace with the truth, even when it breaks your heart. Understanding that everything is in a constant state of flux, and how things are now, is not how they will always be. Don’t betray yourself, and don’t allow other people to deceive you. That’ll crush the light right out of you.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton