The Part That Is Personal

Sometimes-life-knocksOften I get emails from people who tell me their relationships would be wonderful, if only their partner would change. And sometimes they tell me they’ve been to therapy hoping that would help, but there hasn’t been any movement. Here’s the thing. We can never change other people. No one can ever change us, either, unless we want to make a shift. And you can find yourself at a real stalemate, and start to feel hopeless and stuck.

But just as we can never change other people, we are also not set in stone. You can always change what you are doing, and there’s tremendous power in that. When you look at the situations in your life, the story to pay attention to is not the one about what this person did, or how things unfolded in ways you couldn’t have imagined, or how something beautiful turned to something painful. I mean, you can examine all of that, but the thing you really want to dive into, is the story of your own participation.

Sometimes people get very clear on the “not taking things personally” part, and that’s wonderful. If someone is abusive, cruel, unkind, dismissive, thoughtless or disrespectful, that’s a reflection of where they are on their particular journey at this point in time. Is is not a reflection of anything lacking within you. But, and this is an important but, what is about you is your decision to continue to interact with people who don’t know how to do anything but hurt you. That part is the personal part, that’s the part you want to understand.

We’re not always talking about awful, abusive situations. Sometimes it’s just a matter of the spark going out. People take their partners or loved ones for granted all the time. Sometimes we think we have people “pegged”, and we don’t have to pay attention anymore. But everyone and everything is in a constant state of flux. You are not the you of five years ago, and neither is anyone else. You can’t ever peg anyone. But you can stop looking and listening and appreciating and cherishing and celebrating people, and that’s a sad but common occurrence. And if you find you’re in a relationship like that, where you feel unseen and unheard and taken for granted, you’re probably not going to turn that around by pointing fingers, and letting your partner know all the many ways he or she is blowing it. Because it’s never one person. In any relationship, there are two people, and the third thing, the space between them. That is where the relationship exists, in that space. Each person decides what’s going into the space, and this is true whether we’re speaking romantically or otherwise.

It’s easy to lose the thread. But if there was a spark in the beginning, if there was communication and vulnerability and honesty, you can find those things again, by offering them yourself. When you change what you do, things change around you, people respond to you differently. Also, your happiness is your own responsibility. You can’t put that on anyone else, that’s an inside job. If you are not at peace within yourself, if you’re not feeling inspired, if you’re not loving yourself well, no one can solve that but you. The idea in a healthy relationship is that you support your partner, you don’t look to him or her to solve your pain for you.

If you’re in an abusive relationship, and by that I mean verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive, it’s time to do something. Physical abuse demands that you create physical boundaries. In other words, you have to get out, and you’ll probably (definitely) need support in doing that. You cannot stay and expect things to change because they won’t. Or they will, but not in a good way. Your life here is a gift. It isn’t something you want to gamble. And thinking your love or patience or tolerance will finally change things is a dangerous delusion.

If we’re talking about verbal and emotional abuse, boundaries are also in order. If you’re not worried about your physical safety, it’s time to draw the line. If a person cannot treat you with care and consideration, then what is the relationship about? Are you financially dependent? Does the abuse remind you of the way you grew up? Does some part of you believe that you are not good enough to deserve love? If you get a yes to any of those questions, you need help and support. Low self-esteem is dangerous because we betray ourselves when we feel we aren’t worthy of being cherished. We put ourselves in situations that are crushing and heartbreaking, and you can only take that for so long before you become depressed or hardened, or you need to numb the pain. That’s no way to live.

There is no happily ever after without your participation and action. There is no person who’s going to sweep in and save the day and make everything okay, unless you decide to be that person. Be that person, seriously. Life is too short for anything else, and it can be so beautiful. Sending you love and a hug. Reach out if you need help, Ally Hamilton

Compassion for the Compassionless

Do-not-give-yourHow do you have compassion for people who seem incapable of having any for you? How do you practice patience with people who are full of venom and rage? First of all, you have to make yourself safe. If this is a person who has to be in your life, like a family member you’re unwilling or unable to cut off, then boundaries are your priority. Once you’ve made yourself safe, then it’s a matter of figuring out how to communicate in a way that feels okay to you. That might mean email only, or it might mean that you never leave yourself vulnerable. For example, if you grew up with an abusive parent, maybe it means you stay at a hotel when you go home to visit (assuming you want to visit at all). You don’t put yourself in a vulnerable and powerless position. You protect your tender heart, and you put a high value on your own well-being, physically, mentally and emotionally.


I get a lot of emails from people who’ve been through an acrimonious divorce, and are unable to communicate with their exes in a healthy way. If you have children with someone, that’s such a heartbreak for everyone involved, but sometimes there’s no way around it. There are personality disorders that render people incapable of understanding how things are for anyone but themselves. There are people who cling to their rage because it’s the only shield they’ve got. There are people who truly revise history so it resembles something they can live with, where they get to be this wonderful person, and you get to be the villain. Again and again I’ll remind you, you cannot save anyone. You’re not going to “show someone the light” with your logic or your pleading or your version of history. Sometimes you’re dealing with narcissism or borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder or depression, sometimes you’re dealing with addiction. In any of those cases, trying to reason isn’t going to get you far.

The way to find compassion if you’re dealing with someone like this, is to understand they are in pain. Underneath all that rage and venom and instability, is a giant well of pain and anguish. And a lot of the time, people who are suffering this way truly believe their version of reality. There’s nothing you can do except hope they’re going to find relief at some point, and keep yourself at a safe distance in the meantime. Obviously you try to find help and support for people, but a person has to be ready to accept it, and then they have to be willing to work. That isn’t always the case. And let me just say that having compassion for someone does not mean you allow them to harm you, or you excuse their cruel or abusive behavior. It means you recognize the pain, you understand you cannot fix it for them, and you find a way to deal with them while you also honor your own tender heart.

A lot of the time, we try to make things black and white, but they rarely are. So much of life and human behavior exists in the grey area. We like to make people “good” or “bad”, but very few people are all one or the other. And sometimes we take things personally that have nothing to do with us. Sometimes you just represent something to someone. You’re a convenient target because you seem happy or together or responsible or inspiring, and this other person feels none of those things. There’s no need to engage or defend yourself when a person creates a fictional character and says that’s who you are. If you know who you are, and you feel comfortable with the way you’ve handled yourself, or maybe you’ve apologized for your end, there’s nothing more you need to do, except release yourself from the drama. Life is really too short for that. You can feel badly that someone is so stuck they have no recourse but to lash out, but you really don’t have the time to participate in unraveling the fiction. It’ll burn out eventually, anyway. There will be a new target, a new injustice.

As for strangers who do or say things you find totally incomprehensible, I’d say the same holds true. When people do things that are cruel or inhumane, you can bet they’re coming out of a very unhappy environment. Maybe they were abused, neglected, abandoned. There are so many stories out there that just break your heart. When I see someone doing something or saying something I find repugnant, I also remind myself that that cannot be a happy way to move through life, filled with rage. And I wonder what happened to that person as a child, what went wrong along the way. I wonder how he or she learned to hate, or learned to close down or lash out. And on my good days, I try to send some love. That’s all we can do, really. Sending you some right now, Ally Hamilton

Happy New Year!

Ive-learned-that-youAs we close out the year today and set ourselves up to begin again tomorrow, it’s a good time to think about what you might release that isn’t serving you. It could be an attachment to a certain outcome that just isn’t going to happen. This can be difficult or even heartbreaking to relinquish, but sometimes we’re gripping so much, we’re using up a lot of energy that would better be spent opening and trusting and allowing. As always, we cannot control circumstances, or other people, or what anyone else will want or say or do or need. We can simply work on the way we respond to what we’re given, and on the way we’re showing up, without looking away, or pretending that things are different. That doesn’t serve anyone. Maybe it’s a way of being that’s creating obstacles for you; a particular stance, or lens you’re looking through that’s coloring everything you do and say as you move through the world. Maybe it’s the way you’re thinking of yourself, or the way you’re treating yourself, or it could be a habit that’s weakening you or taking you prisoner. It’s possible that you’re holding up your rage and blame as a shield, and it’s also possible you’re pushing your anger down. There are all kinds of ways we can sabotage ourselves.

The thing is, life doesn’t wait for any of us to get it together. We do or we don’t, and either way, the clock strikes midnight tonight, and a new year begins. This is a gift, regardless of what’s happening in your life, because as long as you’re alive, there’s potential. There’s potential for joy, for peace, for love, for laughter, for the feel of the sun on your face. There’s the possibility of love so deep and mind-blowing, it will take the breath right out of your lungs, and fill your whole being with gratitude. There’s the chance that you could help someone, in big ways or small. There’s the chance that you’ll do the work to know, accept, honor and celebrate yourself, so you can uncover your gifts and share them with everything you’ve got. There’s the prospect that you could create something gorgeous and unexpected and needed, like incredible love within you, and love all around you.

If things aren’t unfolding the way you’d hoped or wanted or envisioned, I’d get really concrete about your goals and objectives. I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions because they tend to be vague, and they usually address symptoms rather than root issues. “This year I’m going to lose ten pounds” might sound concrete, but it’s not meaningful. Are you having an adversarial relationship with your body? Do you struggle with your body image? What’s your relationship with food? Are you in a constant state of deprivation, with occasional binging because you feel so starved? Are you carrying an extra ten pounds around, or are you buying into some insane vision of thinness? Do you eat when you feel afraid, lonely, angry or bored? If you don’t get at the underlying issue, the “resolution” will be out of reach, and anything you write down on a piece of paper will probably lead to feelings of disappointment, shame and self-loathing. No one needs to start the year with a list like that.

Most New Year’s Resolutions fall under that umbrella. “This year I’ll meet someone.” Why do you want to meet someone? Are you feeling good about yourself, and longing for connection and the chance to share the love you’ve cultivated? In that case, a better objective would be, “This year I’m going to take a cooking class, or sign up for salsa dancing, or play golf on Saturday mornings, or fill-in-the-blank with something you love to do.” Because if you get out there and do the things you love, you’ll meet other people who also love those things, and you’ll connect on a deep level, whether we’re talking about friendship, or something romantic. If you want to meet someone because you feel desperate since all your friends are getting married, or you feel empty inside, or you think someone else is going to complete you, you’re in trouble, and you’re setting yourself up for heartache. We always have to get at the “why” of things. Why do we want what we want? What’s driving us? We have to know ourselves, and that’s another reason I love yoga so much. It’s a process of coming to terms with who you are, and figuring out how to integrate everything. Everything you’ve been through, everything you want, everything that’s true for you. If you’re in pain, make it a priority to explore healing modalities. Make an appointment with a therapist. Find your local yoga studio and try a class. Book a massage. Go for a hike. Listen to music that feeds your soul. Connect with yourself.

My point is, try to get very clear about what’s blocking you or holding you back, and then avail yourself of the tools you need to start healing. We’re always in process, but sometimes people avoid their pain and run from that kind of work because they think they’ll be overwhelmed. The reality is, the longer we run from our pain, the longer it rules our lives. That is a fact. The more we work with it, acknowledge it, deal with it, the more we take our power back. Your life belongs to you. It doesn’t belong to your past.It belongs to you, and what you do with it is up to you. I believe your very first priority is getting right with yourself. Nothing else flows until we do that. If we aren’t happy on the inside, if we aren’t at peace with ourselves, nothing external will make it right.

If you’ve been chasing love, approval, affection or self-worth, figure out why you’re doing that, and get yourself some support, so that you can have the feelings and urges and impulses without acting on them. Obviously, I teach yoga because it changed my life, and I believe if it could do that for me, it could do that for anyone. I love sharing the tools that helped me make the biggest and most important shifts in my life, and continue to help me to do that. But maybe there’s a different path for you. Get passionate about figuring out what you need to be at peace with yourself, and don’t stop pursuing that until you’re able to live your life in a way that feels good to you. If you’re struggling and suffering, and have been for quite some time, then you know you’re not going to solve that by midnight tonight, nor do you need to feel any pressure to do that. But take a step today. Do one solid, tangible thing to nurture yourself. Remember that there’s always the potential to start again, in every moment, in every breath. Begin again. Wishing you the happiest New Year, and a 2015 full of love, laughter, hugs, joy, great surprises, good health, and healing if you need it. I’m so grateful to be in conversation with you all, you have no idea. Here’s to more love in the coming year,

Raise Your Words, Not Your Voice

rumiWords 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,

Ally Hamilton

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

For People Who Suffer from “Needing to Be Right Disease”, and Those Who Love Them

nietzscheSometimes it’s easier to be forgiving with other people than it is with ourselves. This has a lot to do with your personality, and your history with making mistakes. If, for example, you were badly punished when you made mistakes growing up, whether they were big or small, you might have a lot of fear around screwing up. If you felt that love and affection and approval were withdrawn when you blew it, the stakes become even higher. If that resonates with you, you might also find that you’re invested in being “right”, because if you aren’t right, you’re wrong, and if you’re wrong, you’ve made a mistake and there will be painful consequences. Fear usually drives the need to be right, and people who suffer from “Needing to Be Right Disease” often have a very hard time saying, “I’m sorry.” Which is, of course, the antidote.

If you’re dealing with someone who has to win every argument, or can’t ever say they’re sorry or see their part in a misunderstanding, you might be dealing with narcissistic pride, but you might also be dealing with fear. If this is someone you love, or someone you’re still getting to know, it might be worth your time to investigate the source of their need. Obviously, no one is always right, and most of the time, if there’s a miscommunication, it’s a two-party deal. Not always, so don’t freak on me, here. Sometimes you’re dealing with personality disorders and it doesn’t matter what you do or say; logic has no bearing, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about people who are normally kind and considerate, thoughtful and reasonable, until they feel they might have screwed up. Then this other entity comes out, this person who digs his heels in, or who can’t hear you because she’s raising her voice, or storming out the door. Clearly, that’s not a sustainable way to communicate, or try to work out problems. I’m just offering a possible explanation. Sometimes if we can understand that underneath anger and defensiveness, what we’re really dealing with is fear and pain, it inspires us to be kind, compassionate, and patient.

You will never get through to someone if they’re in the middle of a fight or flight reaction. That isn’t the time to offer your insights about what might be driving their need to be right. In fact, if you bring it up then, good luck to you! But if you care enough to understand, when things are calm and your friend is not feeling threatened or attacked or backed into a corner, you might ask how it was handled when they made mistakes as a kid. What did discipline look like in their house? How were they punished, and over what? This is the kind of conversation that might bring you a lot closer to someone you love, and it also might enable you to help them grow, to create a safe space to make mistakes, and to show them that you aren’t going to run out the door, or stop loving them, or “make them pay.”

People who fear being wrong berate themselves more than you ever could when they blow it, they obsess over it. And let me be clear, it’s not always the way someone was raised. Sometimes a person is a perfectionist. Maybe they had a parent who was very hard on her or himself, and they ingrained that behavior, so anything less than perfection is intolerable. Type A personalities suffer from this. Anyway, I know a lot about beating the crap out of yourself when you blow it, because I did that for years and years. I often say that after twenty or so years of yoga, pretty much six days a week, I am a mostly recovered Type A personality. 93% recovered on a good day, but it’s a hard way to live, if you’re expecting to never make a mistake, because obviously, you will, and probably you will a lot. It’s kind of an intrinsic part of being human. So if you feel disappointed in yourself, or disgusted with yourself, or like you want to jump out of your own intolerable skin, life is going to be pretty rough. You can lose days, weeks, months, even, over mistakes you’ve made. You can keep “boiling yourself”, traveling into the past, replaying what you’ve done, rewriting the scene so you don’t blow it, and lose all kinds of precious time you could have been enjoying the present.

Learning to expect that you’ll make mistakes is essential, and learning to own your mistakes and be accountable for your actions and choices is also imperative if you want to have healthy, lasting relationships of any kind in your life. Saying, “I’m so sorry”, and meaning it, is so freeing. It frees you, and usually, it’s all the other person needs or wants to hear. We all just long to be seen and understood by the people we love. We want to be known. It’s not about winning or being right. It’s about being seen and cherished and safe. Give yourself the gift of an inner voice that roots you on, don’t keep living with one that tears you down. There’s no need for that. A loud inner critic is a roommate who needs an eviction notice. That’s a voice that needs to be starved so you can have some peace. For me, I did most of that work on my yoga mat. If that shaming, critical voice spoke up, I didn’t give it any credence. I came back to my breath, reminded myself to be kind, and got back to the business of healing. It’s not a magic bullet, but I don’t know of anything that is when it comes to healing. Forgive yourself. Be reasonable with yourself. Let the love in.

Sending you some right now,

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