You Don’t Have to Have Braids

emersonLast week, I took my daughter when I went to get my toenails painted, and they always do her nails, too. It’s a little ritual once in awhile, while her brother is in school, and I pick her up earlier from Kindergarten. As I was paying for my pedicure, I noticed that the woman who’d painted my daughter’s nails was now finishing a second braid in her hair. I went and stood next to her, and when she was done, we thanked her, and we left. We weren’t three feet out of the salon when my daughter looked up at me and said, “I didn’t want braids.” When I asked her why she didn’t just say that, she kind of shrugged her shoulders at me. My daughter is a firecracker at home. She has no problem telling any of us what she wants or does not want, in a strong, assertive way. Just ask her brother. But when she doesn’t know people, she can be shy and quiet. She’s also sensitive and caring. She’s a watcher. She asked me if she could take the braids out, and of course I told her she could.

When we got in the car, I told her it was really important that she understand that she gets to decide what happens to her own hair. Her own body. Her own nails, and that it’s okay to say, “No thank you, I don’t want braids.” I asked her to say it to me a few times, for practice. I asked her to say it a little more loudly each time. By the third or fourth time, she was yelling it out the window, laughing, and I was yelling it with her, “I don’t want braids!!” It’s so simple, right? But it’s not always so easy to say what we want, or do not want, or to ask for what we need. I will not stop working with my daughter on this, because it’s a big part of our self-esteem, understanding that we should value our feelings and act on our own behalf.

Sometimes we take care of other people at our own expense. We feel something inside, but we keep it inside because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, or we tell ourselves it isn’t that big of a deal. If you make a habit out of that, you’re making a habit out of putting other people’s needs and wants ahead of your own. When we make sacrifices for those we love because it feels good, that’s one thing, but when we make it a way of life to always put other people’s feelings ahead of ours, we’re in trouble. It won’t be long before we can’t even identify what we’re feeling, let alone act on it.

There’s a difference between generosity, and care-taking or people pleasing. If you grew up feeling you needed to earn love, this may easily have followed you into your adult life. You may fear speaking up, or standing up for yourself, because you think if you do, love may be withdrawn, or people might not like you. Maybe it’s such an ingrained way of being, you don’t even realize you’re doing it. Do you say, “Sorry!” when someone bumps into you? I’m laughing, because I do that sometimes, and then, two seconds later, I’m like, “Why am I apologizing?” Am I saying, “I’m sorry you aren’t paying attention”? Or am I saying, “I’m sorry I’m taking up space”? That’s a pretty important distinction, right?

You don’t have to apologize for your feelings. You may not get everything you want or need, but it never hurts to ask. At least that way, you’ve communicated clearly, and that makes everything simpler. If a person doesn’t care about how you feel, you can then decide whether it’s a relationship you want to pursue, or one to which you want to be devoting time and energy, or not so much. If you speak up and a person cannot give you what you need or want, at least you both understand that. You aren’t left in the murky waters of wondering whether you’ve been misunderstood or disrespected or unseen.

Being accountable for how we feel and what’s happening within us is a gift we give ourselves, and everyone we encounter. There are enough mysteries in life. Even if you’re clear about how you feel in every given moment, you’re still going to be part of the mystery that’s happening around us, and you’re still going to surprise yourself by the things you sometimes want or think or dwell upon. Knowing yourself takes work and time, and so does knowing other people. Don’t ever be sorry for taking up space, and don’t ever get braids if you don’t want them. Say it with me if you need to, “I don’t want braids!!”

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

You Might Not Get Everything You Want, But…

allowDepending on your personality, and many other factors including the way you grew up, your level of self-esteem, and your ability to speak out about how you feel, creating boundaries with people may be a great challenge for you. I really get that, because I struggled around this issue for years.

What makes it difficult to speak up when you want to? Maybe you’re worried about disappointing other people, or not being able to show up the way they want you to show up. Maybe you grew up and felt you had no impact on the people or the world around you, so it never occurred to you to value or investigate what you felt or what you wanted. Maybe you’ve decided that your worth as a person, a friend, and a partner is based upon how much you’re able to do for the people in your life. And maybe, you don’t know how you feel, so when you come up against a strong-willed person, you let them take the lead.

The thing is, your job while you’re here is to shine. I really believe that; you have something precious and unique to offer that only you can. I don’t think you’ll be able to do that without some belief in yourself and your own value, so I’d look at that first, if you find it difficult to act on your own behalf. If you don’t feel good about yourself, why is that, and when did that begin? Upon what evidence did you come to the conclusion that you don’t measure up, or have anything enormously special to offer? When we don’t stand up for ourselves, it’s often because we’ve grown up feeling powerless. We’ve internalized that, and sewn it into the fabric of our being. When confronted, we collapse in on ourselves. We cope, when we should fight back. But if you’re grown up, you’re not powerless anymore. Sometimes we really have to unlearn ideas or ways of being that are not based in our current reality, and are also blocking our ability to both give and receive love to our maximum capability (which is huge).

A few weeks ago, I took my daughter with me when I went to get my eyebrows waxed. This place is nice, and they have organic cruelty-free nail polish, and they’ll paint your kid’s nails while they wax your eyebrows and whatever other parts you might want waxed. So there we were. My daughter went to pick out a color, but she’s five, so she picked four colors. She wanted a rainbow. They don’t charge to paint your kid’s nails. You tip, of course, but they don’t charge for it. So I was debating whether to tell her that might be asking for a bit much, when the woman called her over, and the waxing woman started talking to me. When I turned back to my daughter, she had pink nail polish on every nail, and was looking down at her hands, and up uncertainly at the woman painting them, and then she looked at me. I knew she was disappointed about the lack of a rainbow. Before I could step in and explain to the woman what it was my daughter had wanted, this grandmotherly woman at the table next to her, also getting her nails done, leaned over and said, loudly but nicely, “She wanted a rainbow. She wanted a different color on every nail.” My daughter beamed at her, and the woman said, “Always ask for what you want, dear. You might not get it, but you definitely won’t if you don’t ask!” And the woman who was painting her nails promptly and happily gave her her rainbow.

Communicating how you feel, what you need, and what you’d like is a gift you can give to the people who are close to you. It’s so refreshing when people are just honest about where they’re at, and what’s happening within them. As my friend at the nail place said, you might not get everything you want, but it never hurts to clearly state what that is. It takes the mystery out of the thing. No one can read your mind, and sometimes we project and assume so much. We think other people must think and feel the way we do, so certain things should be obvious. But you know what? I would take nothing for granted. What’s obvious to you might not even occur to someone else.

So there’s clear communication, and then, sometimes, there’s the need for boundaries. Maybe you have someone in your life who hurts you, intentionally or otherwise. Sometimes, even when it is a family member, your only healthy option is to step away, but there are certain situations where that isn’t possible or desirable, and that’s when boundaries come in. You may not get everything you want in life, but you deserve respect. Ideally, you shouldn’t have to fight for it, but that’s not always how it goes, and sometimes we have a long history with someone, and there are ingrained patterns and dynamics. When we seek to shift that stuff, there’s always resistance. Most people struggle with change, and if you’ve been playing a certain role for a long time, don’t expect to be able to calmly give your two weeks’ notice. People in your life have probably gotten used to you being the way you’ve been. That’s understandable, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change, it doesn’t mean you can’t change. You may lose some relationships if you’re making big shifts in your life. Those close to you may feel threatened, they may feel like they’re losing you. Or they may get angry and say they liked the “old you” better. Of course. The old you didn’t confront them.

Anyway, my point is, there are times in life when you have to stand up for yourself and say, “Enough.” That’s part of the responsibility you bear; you have to be able to protect your, “little spark of madness” as Robin Williams called it. You can’t let people trample on that. If this is new for you, it will take time, like anything else. The first several times you speak up when you’re not happy with the way you’re being treated, it might come out with more force or aggression than you intend. Of course, you’ve been bottling up your voice for so long, it’s not surprising it might explode, but if you stay with it, and explain to the people in your life that you are in pain and are trying to change some essential things about the way you move through the world, the people who are meant to travel with you will support your efforts. Over time, you’ll be able to speak out with confidence, clarity and compassion about what’s real for you. It’s worth the effort. You deserve a rainbow if that’s what you want.

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