Getting Over It

standardsGetting over a toxic relationship is like breaking an addiction. Something in the interaction had or has you hooked, and that something is connected to a place deep within you that is unhealed and in need of your kind attention. Sometimes we just don’t have a time stamp on a thing. Whatever the wound is, it’s as fresh as if it just happened, and we’re drawn to scenarios that will play out that pain in different ways again and again, thinking this time, we’ll get our happy ending.

You’ll never heal that way. If the people who were meant to love, nurture and protect you when you arrived in this world were unable to do that, you may have internalized the experience and organized it in such a way that you grew up doubting whether you were worthy of love. Children don’t think to question their parents. It doesn’t occur to a child that maybe they’ve shown up in mom’s or dad’s world at a time when they are ill-equipped to express love. People can only be where they are, and they can only have the tools they have, but we don’t think of our parents as fallible human beings until we get older. When we’re little, they’re god-like, all-knowing, all-powerful figures. So if they say we’re bad or unwanted or ungrateful, if they say we have a mean-streak, or we’re overly sensitive, or lazy, or that we’ll never amount to anything, if they say we’re fat and unlikeable, man do we have healing to do.

Those are extreme examples, of course. Sometimes the messages are subtle. Maybe mom or dad was elusive, always working, vaguely absent, highly critical, or never around. Maybe it wasn’t anything they said, maybe it was just a lack of interest or engagement. Our early experiences shape the way we feel about ourselves, other people, and the world at large, and if you emerged from your childhood with serious doubts about your value as a human being on planet earth, you’re very likely to act out that doubt in your adult life. Thus, many intelligent, beautiful people find themselves in relationships they never could have foreseen, accepting treatment they don’t want, and feeling powerless to walk away, act on their own behalf, or stand up for themselves.

Maybe you know people like this. You think, “What the f&ck is s/he doing?! S/he’s so smart and kind and funny and gorgeous. Why is s/he dating that awful guy or girl?” Or, “What is up with his taste in women (or men)? Why does he keep picking these critical, cold, controlling people?” And let me be really clear: these aren’t gender-specific qualities. There are controlling men and women. There are elusive people of both genders. A lot of human beings struggle with what it means to be in relationship, and not just romantically. What it means to show up for other people, or to be kind, patient, caring, and considerate, and most of these people struggle with this stuff because of their own early experiences. We tend to repeat what we know, until we know better.

So how to recover from toxic relationships, whether with an ex, your boss, an old friend who’s never really acted like one, or a family member? First, you have to figure out whether you want to have this person in your life. Sometimes it isn’t a matter of choice, and in those cases you’re looking at boundaries. How do I have this person in my life, and still honor myself? This comes up with family members. It’s not easy or desirable to write a person off. Sometimes you must, in order to love yourself well. You can’t change other people. You either accept them as they are and figure out how to interact in a way that’s okay for you, or you remove yourself from the relationship. If a person relentlessly tears you down, you’ll have to end that because your first priority must always be to care for your tender heart. The alternative is to make yourself hard and cold, and what kind of life is that?

If it’s an ex and you’ve been participating in a relationship that crushes you, you have to walk away. How do you do that when you feel hooked? It takes enormous effort, support, and vigilance. Therapy is a very good plan because you really want to identify what drew you in in the first place. What within you decided to stay the first time you saw evidence that things were not good? I’m talking about emotional or verbal abuse, and of course, there’s also physical abuse in some cases. What within you felt or feels you deserve that? Take the onus and attention off the other person and the way you related to him or her, and put it back on yourself, because you’re with you for the long haul. The story to examine is always the story of your participation.

If you have something within you that is unhealed, then your job is to look at it. That’s why you’re in pain. Love is not abusive. Love does not tear you down and make you feel like sh&t. Love doesn’t tell you how flawed you are, and how you never measure up. So if you’ve walked away from something where those dynamics were in play, it isn’t love that you’re missing. It’s the pull of that interaction, and your deep desire to get the outcome that’s going to make you feel good, but no one else can solve that or fix that for you, and certainly not someone who can’t love you. You really have to turn your attention to loving yourself, so that you aren’t continually attracted to situations that are going to deplete you and dishonor you.

Find a great therapist. Find a great yoga teacher. Hang out with your best buds. Hike. Read beautiful books. Listen to music that uplifts you. Cry. If you have anger, go hit a bag or take a kick-boxing class. Journal. But don’t tell yourself the single life sucks and this crappy treatment is better than being alone, because it isn’t. And don’t tell yourself you’re getting old and you’d better latch on to the nearest person because this is your last chance, because it isn’t. Or that this treatment you’re enduring is just the way of things. Life can be long and miserable if you participate in the destruction of your own beautiful light, or it can be short but full of fire and beauty and love. Always run toward what’s true for you. Take the time to do the work to heal so you can enjoy your life. You don’t have forever, after all.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

Toxicity

vitalstandardsOften, when we’re really close to a situation or another person, it’s hard to see clearly. Sometimes we have an unhealthy dynamic going with someone for years, as often happens with family members, romantic partners, people with whom we were once close, or even friends and colleagues. We might be able to step back from it from time to time and realize it’s just not good, that it isn’t serving our well-being or theirs to continue engaging this way; maybe we resolve to do things differently, and we might pull it off a few times, but then we slip back again, and find ourselves screaming, or frustrated or withdrawing or shutting down or slamming the door and we lose hours or days or weeks obsessing and replaying and participating in interactions that aren’t going to get us anywhere good.

You can only keep your side of the street clean; you cannot manage another person’s journey. People are where they are. They have the tools they have, they’ve been through whatever they’ve been through, and these things have shaped the way they think about life, move through the world, and treat other people, just like you, just like me. Nobody’s going to come along and convince you to look at things in another way, or to try communicating differently unless you feel a need for a change yourself.

Having said that, we are all in a constant state of flux, and there’s always the potential for shifting, but if you have a painful history with someone who’s emotionally or verbally abusive, who uses manipulation instead of honest communication, who points the finger at you over and over again but never, ever seems to be wrong, you probably need to think about why you’re participating in a relationship like that. Sometimes there’s no choice about having someone in your life–maybe it’s a parent, and the cost of distancing yourself feels greater than the cost of engagement, maybe it’s your sibling or your business partner. Maybe it’s your ex and there are children involved.

Even though there’s always the possibility of change, some people cling to their anger and their list of ways they’ve been wronged or disappointed no matter what you do. Sometimes a person just does not have a time-stamp on a thing, and the rage is boiling just below the surface. Every time some small thing happens, ten years of history is also unearthed, and you’re left stripped bare, wondering how your oversight about stopping for apples led to the apocalypse that just took place in your living room. There are a lot of people in the world who are unable to look at their own flaws and vulnerability, so their default setting is to make everyone else wrong or screwed up. When a person doesn’t want to look, you can’t make them see. You can exhaust yourself trying, but at a certain point you might ask yourself what is it you’re hoping to accomplish? Closure, forgiveness or acceptance may be something you have to give to yourself so you can move on and open to joy again.

A lot of the time we have our own doubts about ourselves and the mistakes we’ve made, we may feel regret or shame or guilt, and that can be so crushing. We want to be seen clearly and understood for who we are, to have at least some of our good points acknowledged, and it feels like such crap to be misjudged, or to have revisionist history thrown in our faces, when what we want is connection and peace, a way to move forward. No one has to be right. No one has to be victorious. How about a bridge, an attempt to meet somewhere along the way, some hope for clear seeing? You don’t have to agree with someone else’s feelings in order to hear them out and do your best to see things from their point of view. That’s usually all people want, is some reciprocity, some sense that the other person cares enough to try to see things another way.

If you must have someone in your life who just cannot seem to do that, it’s all about boundaries. If someone is verbally abusive, try communicating through writing for awhile if you have to communicate at all. It’s probably going to take time, but if you change what you’re doing, they’ll also have to change they way they approach you. Again and again, examine your own participation. That’s the story that matters as far as your inner peace, knowing yourself well, and understanding what it is that’s driving you. Taking care of yourself is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Your job is to get right with yourself, to open to joy, to share your gifts, and to live your life.

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

Run Like Hell

I’m going to state some things that may seem totally obvious when you read them in black and white, but which I think we tend to forget in our tender hearts: Unkind, hardened people are not suddenly going to be soft. People with rage are going to behave in violent ways. If someone is envious of you, they are not going to have your back. Self-absorbed people will not suddenly think of you and how you might feel in any given situation. There are people who are so damaged, they actually want to drive the thorn in your side intentionally. Hurt people hurt people as the saying goes. People who behave in any of these ways are in pain themselves and are living in a certain kind of prison. All kinds of abuse and trauma can lead to imprisonment like this. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.” The sad fact is, help is only available to those who decide to help themselves. You can’t do it for someone else. You can’t save anyone but yourself.

Of course you can’t define a human being in a word, we are all complex beings and only to the degree that we examine our pain and our motivations will we be accountable for our actions and the kind of energy we’re spreading. The way we’re being in the world. A person coming from an angry place most of the time may be able to pull it together to do some great stuff on those days they’re able to rise above. What I’m talking about here is a baseline way of being. If someone is commonly thoughtless or cruel. If someone consistently behaves in ways that are hurtful. If someone is generally so wrapped up in their own experience it doesn’t even occur to them to think about the impact of their actions. People who hurt us the most are usually also suffering the most. You can have compassion for them and you can practice forgiveness, but you really don’t want to put yourself in their path if you can help it; you don’t want to keep paying the tab for someone else’s cruel or thoughtless acts. If a person stabs you in the back, don’t expect them to turn around and call an ambulance for you. We can look at any of this stuff and say it’s not personal, right? A scorpion will sting you because that’s the nature of a scorpion. You can also open your heart and your mind to the idea that a person can change and grow. Where they are now is not necessarily where they’re always going to be. If someone hurts you, it’s the most liberating thing to wish them well, but you do that from a safe distance. The part that is personal is how you choose to respond. You don’t stick around to see if they want to push the knife in more deeply.

I say this to you because if you’re kind and open and trusting, if you want to hope for the best from people, you may need to look at whether you’re sacrificing your own well-being in the process of loving someone who is not able or willing to love you well, or participating in a set of circumstances that insults your soul. Your work is to heal your own heart so you can open to all the love within you, and give it away freely. If you keep engaging with people who crush your heart thinking tomorrow might be the day they realize what they’re doing, that’s kind of like “expecting a bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian,” as Dennis Wholey says. Forgive if you can, for your own sake, so you’re not held hostage or made sick in your soul by the actions of someone else, but set up your boundaries and be prepared to defend them, because some people just won’t get it. Not in the time-frame you’d like, and maybe never. If it’s a person you must have in your life, then you figure out what it is you need to maneuver as safely as possible through painful terrain. You set up the best possible circumstances you can to take care of yourself. If it’s not a person you need to be dealing with then run like hell, my dear.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here and my yoga classes and courses here.

Just Love Them

You-cannot-save-peopleIt’s a tough reality to accept, but you cannot save a person from themselves, and you cannot save a person from his or her path. You can love people with your whole heart, all the way, but you cannot protect them from pain. It might be the kind of blinding pain life can bring with no warning and no fairness and no logic. Just an event that changes everything forever. And all you can do is show up, and hold their hand, or carry them if they need that, or cry with them, or feed them. Basically, all you can do is love them. Or it might be the kind of pain they’re bringing on themselves. Either way, you are powerless, except inasmuch as you can express your love, your concerns, and your willingness to help. You can lend an ear, a shoulder, or anything else you’ve got. But at the end of the day, we are all going to have some heartbreak to face in this life, and some people much more than others; it’s not a level playing field.

If a person you love is bent on self-destruction, my heart goes out to you, because you are going to suffer. Sometimes it’s like watching someone step out in front of a speeding train. You want to throw your body over them, or yell, “Stop!!”, but really, you never know how someone else’s journey is supposed to unfold. It’s impossible to say what another person needs to learn certain lessons, what they need for their own growth. If you have to love someone from afar in order to love yourself well, then by all means, build yourself a little bridge. Or a big one. But there’s no doubt, deeply loving anyone takes courage. Opening your heart and making yourself vulnerable and saying, “yes, see this here, and this, and this…I am all too human and I lay myself bare before you and ask you to love me and accept me, anyway,” and realizing that you may very well be hurt. Because even if you have the most extraordinary love story anyone has ever heard of, we humans are mortal. Loss is part of the equation.

Love, anyway. Love with your heart wide open and your mouth full of YES, your arms outstretched. Because there is nothing greater you can do with your time here than to spread as much love as possible with every day you’re gifted. Don’t try to save anyone; that can’t be done. You will never “make” another person happy, but you can certainly love them and love yourself and love this life with all its pain and gorgeousness, all its surprises and disappointments, all its confusion and mystery and unbelievable light. Sending you some love right now, Ally Hamilton

YES

You-have-to-decide-whatYou can’t do everything to make this world a more loving and peaceful place, but you can definitely do something. I think it’s essential for anyone who wants to feel their life has purpose, who desires to feel fulfilled each day, to figure out what that something is going to be. It doesn’t have to be loud or public; one person can make a huge difference simply by spreading love as they move throughout their days. Holding a door open matters, as does letting people merge on the freeway, smiling at a stranger, lending an ear, a shoulder, a hand. It all counts, because those are the things that reassure us that people care, and we aren’t in this alone. The surest way I know to be miserable is to make life all about what is or isn’t happening for you, because it’s such a small worldview. It’s a population of one, and we are built for connection, not isolation.

I know many people who think they’ll give back once they “make it.” As if tomorrow is promised, and it’s okay to think of today as a rehearsal or a place-holder leading to some fruitful outcome in the future. Today counts. Today is the only day you know for sure you’ve got. You can make a difference today, all day long. Life may unfold exactly as we’d like (although it rarely does), or it may be full of twists and curveballs that turn our plans upside down and inside out. Waiting to make a difference is a way of letting ourselves off the hook.

For people who’ve figured out what their purpose is, managing energy becomes the thing. You cannot be all things to all people, and you will never please everyone. If you spread yourself too thin, you won’t get anything done well. If you’re a giver by nature, saying no is a tough pill to swallow. Sometimes you have to say no to how you’re being treated, because taking care of your heart and protecting your ability to shine really must come first. Otherwise what do you have to share, and where do you expect the fire to come from to get things done, to show up for the other people in your life, and to be of service? You have to figure out what feeds your soul, what lights you up from the inside, and then you have to honor, cherish, protect and stoke that flame. Because that’s your purpose, that’s your gift, and you’re meant to share it. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton