There has been a golden thread running through my recent conversations with good friends that has really lifted my spirits in the most astounding way. What I am marveling at is this beautiful paradox of acceptance and awareness. As we reflect on our past, we recognize and accept that we were doing the best we could with what we had, or knew, in that moment in time. Now we possess better tools, wisdom borne from experience, and a reconnection with our most authentic selves.
The gift of old friendships is that we remind each other of the younger version of ourselves — and the magnetic attributes of our personality that became the bond of our lifelong friendship…..long before they got camoflaged or diluted by life. The treasure in new friendships is finding common ground through our life stories that help us see ourselves in others. In both cases, we can extend a helping hand and encouragement to help others evolve. As Maya Angelou so wisely expressed – “Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.”
I have long believed that those who have overcome adversities in life and became good role models for perseverance, resilience and positivity were such guiding lights to all of us. These beacons of hope are not just those who have attained celebrity status or reside in in our history books, they walk among us. They are our family and friends who are survivors and thrivers.
I recently listened to Brene Brown’s podcast with Dr. Edith Eger and found myself captivated by her observation that we are either “evolving” or “revolving”. Dr. Eger is a 93 year old inspirational dynamo, a Holocaust survivor, who drew on her personal life experiences in her career as a clinical psychologist to help others free themselves from the prison of their own minds. Just last fall, she published her latest book, The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life. What I love most about her short, yet oh so impactful book, are the questions she poses in each chapter that really stop you in your tracks and make you take a good hard look in the mirror. Questions like: “would you like to be married to you? You can’t heal what you can’t feel. Are you evolving or revolving?”
In her first book, The Choice, Dr. Eger wrote an inspirational book of overcoming the trauma of her Holocaust experience and healing the pain associated with it. She truly believes her purpose is to provide encouragement and support to help others overcome trauma and live a meaningful enriched life. In this second book, she expands on her message of healing and “provides a hands on guide that gently encourages us to change the thoughts and behaviors that keeps us imprisoned in the past.”
One silver lining that has arisen from the uncertainty and upheaval of 2020, is the deepening of friendships. My friends and I have leaned in, opened up and found so much help and hope amongst each other. Not surprisingly, it has unearthed a lot of the messaging we received from our past experiences that informs our decisions and lives as we go forward.
My friends and I are embracing an “evolving” mantra as we go forward in our lives. We take with us the hard-earned lessons that life has taught us and we are owning the blind spots and old reactive behavior patterns that no longer serve us well. We support each other in this evolution, because it does require a lot of hindsight, insight, hard work and new practices. Oddly enough, for many of my female friends it also requires getting very comfortable with setting boundaries. This is probably the one area where we offer to each other the greatest encouragement.
Dr. Edith Eger offers a touchstone for those of us who struggle with speaking our truth when someone crosses a boundary that is rooted in our core values. She teaches that freedom is having choices. We have the choice to say “no” and we have the choice to say “this response or behavior is not helpful to me”. We can free ourselves from the unconscious choice to ignore bad behavior or poor emotional regulation from others. Dr. Eger makes clear that we sacrifice and suffer when we accept the unacceptable. She encourages us to find our personal empowerment and break free. It is our choice. When she shared that fear and love cannot co-exist, it really resonated with me. We think of love as soft and mushy but it just the opposite– it is the super glue of life. Love is supported with accountability and trust. It forges a strong foundation for all our relationships. We shouldn’t be afraid to tell those who love us what we truly need to heal, to survive and to evolve.
Fear of repercussion kept me from holding boundaries many times in my life. But that fear also meant that I made a lot of sacrifices and suppressed my true self to either please others or avoid their disapproval. The path of least resistance was not the path to happiness or wholehearted, authentic living. How can we possibly be the best version of our true selves if we are operating from fear?
My friends and I have been having some really good discussions about fear and about the power of perspective and reframing things. As we hold ourselves in both awareness of our own behavioral patterns and a renewed accountability to change our responses, we realize that we have more empathy and clarity for others. I do believe that this is one of the greatest insights we gain from our own personal growth work. It truly enables us to “walk in another’s shoes”. We gain a better understanding of other’s “soft spots” and “trigger points”. We can respect that their history has created these bruises, not us. We can then choose to find a more caring approach for challenging discussions. Imagine how it would feel if someone took great care to understand the root cause of your deepest emotional wounds.
In her book, Dr. Eger offers some incredible real-life examples of people who have endured major adversities and chose to shift their perspective to see the silver linings and the gifts that can be found even in our darkest moments.
Here is Dr. Eger’s inspiration for shifting our perspectives:
“What a beautiful reminder that the things that interrupt our lives, that stop us in our tracks, can also be catalysts for the emerging self, tools that show us a new way to be, that endow us with new vision. That is why I say that in every crisis, there is a transition. Awful things happen, and they hurt like hell. And these devastating experiences are also opportunities to regroup and decide what we want for our lives. When we choose to respond to what’s happened by moving forward and discovering our freedom to, we release ourselves from the prison of victimhood.” —From the Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life
It’s been cathartic for my friends and I to share our personal stories and hard life experiences that helped us evolve and discover something new about ourselves. Many of us have had similar experiences such as the death of a beloved spouse, a divorce, a job loss, being single moms, and cancer.
It is in the shared stories of our grief and recovery that we find footholds for our own journeys in life. Over this past week, I have heard so many touching stories from friends about the words of encouragement that they have given to others, or the space that they held sacred for others in the deepest grief. They are offering to others what they themselves would have most appreciated in their dark moments. And they are doing it better than ever because of their conscious personal growth work.
A meaningful benefit of doing any self-discovery and personal growth work is that you will be a source of encouragement and hope for others who are also seeking to “evolve” through their all their life experiences. Life happens….how we respond is our choice and our strength.
A special credit goes to my son in law, Ted Larsen, for the t-shirt image I used in this blog post today — when I saw him wearing this shirt recently, it brought a huge smile to my face.
Filled with empathy, insight, and humor, The Gift captures the vulnerability and common challenges we all face and provides encouragement and advice for breaking out of our personal prisons to find healing and enjoy life. (excerpted from Amazon.com)
Being Well Podcast with Dr. Rick Hanson and Forrest Hanson How To Change for Good https://www.facebook.com/rickhansonphd/posts/1869119006584107