Words are powerful. They can be used as tools for healing, communication, connection, understanding, comfort, gratitude, joy and love, or they can be used as weapons, knives, arrows, or bullets. As with any tool, it’s how you wield it.
Sometimes people grow up in homes where words are used as tools of pain and destruction. It doesn’t take much to make a kid doubt his own worth, or come to know the taste of fear. The holding of breath, the desire to be invisible, or safe, wanted, protected or loved. We only know what we know. We each have a frame of reference. If you grew up in a house where your parents fought like enemies, where they cursed at each other, or at you, or threw things, or stormed out the door, you’re going to have to develop a communication style that’s different from what you saw if you want to have healthy relationships in your life, not just with lovers, but with your children, your friends, and your colleagues. Try to imagine how terrified you’d be right now if giants tore through your house screaming, and multiply that times a million, because as a kid, you can’t reassure yourself, or understand that it’s no reflection on you.
It’s a very confusing experience when we don’t know what to expect from the people who are supposed to love us and nurture us. It’s even more troublesome if they’re sometimes loving, affectionate and kind, and other times reactive, abusive or nasty. There’s no way to feel secure. There’s actually a name for this, and it’s called “disorganized attachment”, and it can follow you into your adult life, and probably will. It’s hard to relax with people if you’re always waiting for the other shoe to come crashing down over your head.
People tend to go in two directions; they either repeat the cycle of abuse, or they go in the absolute opposite direction. Either way, if you didn’t have a model of healthy communication, you’re almost definitely going to need some help with that. You don’t have to use the map you’ve got; in many instances it would do a person good to burn that map and chart a new one, but it isn’t easy to rewire the system. It takes enormous desire and dedication and herculean effort. If you come out of terror, it’’s likely you either shut down when conflict arises, or you go for the jugular. Neither of these options are going to lead you toward healthy communication.
This is one of the great gifts of a consistent yoga practice. So much of what we do is about breathing through intense sensation. I know we don’t think about emotion this way, but when we say we’re “enraged”, we’re not talking about an abstract concept; we’re not talking about some idea. We’re describing the feelings we have when our bodies are flooded with sensation. The racing heart rate, the rising blood pressure, the tense shoulders, the shortness of breath, the clenched jaw or fists, these are all physical sensations. This is why it’s so powerful to breathe deeply while you’re holding a lunge and your quadriceps are on fire. You’re training both your nervous system and your mind to stay centered, to keep breathing, and to stay curious. If you stick with the physical practice long enough, and if you use your practice in this way, you ought to find you’re becoming less reactive and more responsive. Which is really what we’re talking about. (You can take my “Yoga for Anger Management” class, here: http://pages.yogisanonymous.com/preview/1529)
When we’re reactive, something within us gets triggered. Someone says something or does something that taps some raw, unhealed place within us, and BAM! We’re exploding. Cruelty and mean-spiritedness have no place in loving relationships. They have no place anywhere. Sometimes people say things that are so knifing, they leave a scar as deep as any blade. Or sometimes someone says something or does something that taps a place of intense pain, like the pain of being abandoned or neglected or unseen, and we shut down, or we flee the scene. Those are examples of reactivity. An event from our present ignites pain from our past, and it’s as if the prior event is happening all over again. All of our pain, or all of our rage comes crashing to the surface. A response comes out of the present. We might feel triggered, but we remember to breathe and to stay calm and to listen. We create a little space between the event, and what we decide to do or say about it. We take in the person in front of us. We recognize that we’re feeling hurt or angry, and we speak about what’s happening within us. Maybe we tell the other party we’re feeling overwhelmed and we need a minute. Or we explain our heart is racing and we don’t want to say something we’ll regret. We communicate rather than annihilate.
You don’t have to be ruled by your past. There are tools you can use to reverse the damage. You can create a life out of ideas you have about how you’d like to show up in the world. If you want to start to shift the way you’re speaking to other people, start with your inner dialogue. If you berate yourself relentlessly, you’re going to be filled with pain, and you’re going to spread it. Feed a loving voice. That’s something else you can do on your mat. So what if you fall? So what if your hamstrings aren’t as open as the person next to you? You aren’t here to balance on one leg, or put your ankle behind your head. You’re here to be at peace with yourself, to uncover your gifts, to share them freely, and to connect and love and give everything you’ve got. Fill your tank with love, so you can spread it wherever you go. The world needs more of that.
Sending you love,