Broken Spirits

I have often shared how it was a broken heart that put me on the path of personal growth. The truth is that I also suffered from a broken spirit, one that was decades in the making. It was my fragile, broken spirit that needed to be healed first. I just did not know that at the time.

This morning I was reflecting on those first few weeks of being on my own after that painful breakup — how I wrote in my journal that I wanted peace, to feel safe and to be free to be myself. Ironically I thought that living alone was the best way for me to achieve those three things. What I should have been asking myself is “why were you not finding these things within your relationship?”

An inventory of both past and present relationships might have revealed some truths that required further investigation. It dawned on me that when I am behaving and feeling most authentically myself, then I am both at peace and feeling safe — both alone and within my relationships. No one else is responsible for ensuring those core values are ever present but me.

What became very evident was that I need to untangle myself from a complex combination of childhood trauma, learned behavioral patterns, exhaustion from hustling for my worth, and a heavy trunk of unprocessed emotions. It was this complex combination that had been breaking my spirit, slowly and consistently over time. I was completely unaware of the toll it was taking — on me, on how I showed up, how I reacted, on the dynamics of my most cherished relationships.

One thing became crystal clear to me. Those times in my life when I felt most at peace, safe and my buoyant, resilient self was when I was with people who saw past my flaws, who recognized my potential and who mentored me through role modeling and coaching.

My young broken spirit was often mended by my beloved Aunt Betz, my church choir director, a high school teacher, a cherished friend. These are the marble jar people that Brene Brown talks about — those who are so trustworthy that we feel safe to take refuge in their care. These earth angels give us little footholds to help us tap into our innate worthiness and foster our growth. I don’t think that I would have been able to cope with all the chaos in my family’s dysfunction without the help of these incredible people. They not only gave me a safe place to land for a while, they gave me wings to fly a little higher than my circumstances. When I was young, they were helping to untangle me from the baggage that was breaking my spirit.

As I dug deeper into personal growth work, two things really began to gel for me. One was that it is our responsibility as adults to do the work of untangling ourselves from outgrown narratives and old baggage. The second was that even the most dedicated practitioners also get snagged on their past, and fall into unconscious, unhealthy patterns from time to time. It is often in times of high stress, great loss or adversity that trigger us to fall back.

Much as I would like to pretend that this did not happen to me in my 60’s, it did. I fell back into old uncomfortable but very familiar pattern reminiscent of my childhood without even being aware of it. I slipped into the role of helper extraordinare and then followed that unhealthy path down a rabbit hole into enabler and co-dependent. Completely unaware of my blind spots, I became the one who was instrumental in breaking my own spirit. The warning signs of resentment, stuffing my emotions, and feeling so uneasy that I was jumping out of my skin at sudden noises only fed an old story line that I was not good enough, not worthy, falling short –again. Unbeknownst to me, I had drifted into the very unhealthy end of my enneagram spectrum. I was in a strange and complex paradox of trying to get my needs met while accepting behaviors that were in direct conflict with those needs.

To add to my confusion, while I was falling so short in that relationship, my friends and family members saw me as an easy going, cooperative, optimistic and encouraging person. How was it that others could see those good parts of me but my partner could not? This paradigm is common actually — as I discovered through long conversations with friends. Could the answer be in how we “show up” differently without so many deep rooted emotional entanglements clouding the waters. If so, what is it about ourselves that we do differently in our closest relationships that contribute to this conundrum?

For me, it was the fear of making things worse by bringing up something important to me. The tap root of my unwavering need for trust that was broken repeatedly in my childhood. So often when I would speak up for me and my brothers, the consequences were far worse than the initial event.

This pattern began to appear in my relationship and I got hooked on old insecurities. Trust unraveled and my spirit took a hit. I did try to explain this to my partner once but I was clumsy about it. It is a textbook example of why we need to get skilled at having hard conversations — both in the way that we articulate our truth and how we listen to learn.

The better we understand ourselves as well as our basic needs and desires, the healthier our relationships can be. I only wish that I had been introduced to the enneagram earlier in my healing journey. You see, the enneagram sheds a lot of light on childhood roots of learned behavioral patterns and what it is that we each need in order to feel fulfilled, loved, valued and safe. The enneagram is truly one of the most valuable self-awareness and self-discovery tools we can access. A companion resource for the enneagram is Brene Brown’s powerhouse book, The Gifts of Imperfection. This book illustrates so well the armor that we choose to protect ourselves from the core motivations and fears that the enneagram reveals to us.

Check out Yung’s deeper explanation of this wisdom in the Recommended Resources at the end of this post.

As I was working on my draft of this blog post, the above quote from Yung Pueblo landed in my inbox. It was so timely and his accompanying insights dovetailed with my own experience and the wisdom I’m striving to impart. While Yung Pueblo leans heavily into his meditation practice to peel back the layers of his patterns, I turn to the enneagram for course correction. When I find myself feeling off kilter, I know I am drifting into the unhealthy end of my spectrum. I heed the warning signs of resentment or feeling unappreciated as cues that I have overcommitted myself or failed to set a boundary.

These examples really just scratch the surface of all that you can learn from the enneagram. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts is helping us to see others in a whole new light. When we understand that each of the nine types has a dominant way of showing up in life, it releases us from taking things so personally. That creates a bridge to understanding and empathy. We can begin to recognize the bids for connection that others are making even when they might be clumsy about it.

When I reached the point of being able to trust myself enough to know what I needed to feel at peace, safe and valued, I knew that I was making meaningful strides in my goal of being my authentic self. Admittedly this was hard work and requires ongoing practice. Shedding the armor of being a people pleaser or shape shifter to feel like I fit in or was liked has been the equivalent of shedding unwanted pounds. It is easier to express my emotions and my needs now without all those old entanglements getting in the way.

This brings me back to broken spirits and broken hearts. Everyone experiences broken spirits and broken hearts in their lives — and sometimes that brokenness takes a very long time to heal. So often we do not realize just how much another is hurting, in need of empathy, compassion and trust. Sometimes we project our pain onto others because we lack self awareness. Sometimes we take things too personally because we ourselves are fragile. When we are not skilled at having hard conversations, we can inadvertently shame or blame others. This is why I believe Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability is crucially important. Self-awareness and vulnerability are two of the strongest gifts we can give to ourselves and each other. Deeper, more fulfilling relationships are cultivated in these rich spaces of trust, honesty, acceptance and understanding.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Yung Pueblo — Author of Clarity and Connection. Follow him on Instagram and Facebook for daily insights on personal growth, maturity and growth mindset partnerships.

Being Well Podcast with Dr. Rick Hanson and his son, Forrest Hanson

https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-how-to-create-a-relationship-that-lasts/

Sharing this episode from the Typology Podcast with Ian Morgan Cron about the Gifts of Self-Awareness. Spoiler Alert: Amy Porterfield not only shares my name, but my enneagram Type 2 also! https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2021/07/10/amyporterfield

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