Nuggets of Wisdom — Unlearning & Relearning

When I began my self-discovery and personal growth journey six years ago, I had no idea where it would be leading me — and I am extremely grateful for the path it has become. What excites and inspires me is the ground-breaking research that is shedding light on old myths that have contributed to unhealthy multi-generational family dynamics and stunted our own personal growth efforts. In this post, I will highlight some of the key shifts that are having transformational impacts in self-development, mental health and personal growth.

Many of us grew up with the belief that vulnerability was weakness. So naturally we tried our best to hide and mask our own vulnerabilities in an effort to protect ourselves. Our blind spot around vulnerability was most likely in the way we responded to others who showed us theirs — we’d recoil, dismiss or diminish what they shared with us. Weakness was to be avoided at all costs.

Brene Brown’s extensive research on vulnerability spans over two decades and volumes of data. What she reveals is that across cultures, most of us grew up with this false belief that vulnerability was weakness — and at the same time, we were told to be brave. This created a tension that made so sense. Being brave requires courage — and we can’t get to courage without leaning in, and exposing, our vulnerabilty. Hard stop.

Brene has long professed that vulnerability is the key to deep, meaningful connections with others. Author and activist, Dr. Shawn Ginwright drives this point home with a powerful image:

“Vulnerability is the portal for deep connection with another.”

I believe that vulnerability and trust go hand in hand. This heartbreaking misconception about vulnerability being weakness may be a huge contributing factor to the breakdown of trust in family dynamics. Children who do not feel safe will carry mistrust with them into adulthood along with the armor they use to hide their vulnerabilities. Brene cautions us that we often don’t believe the stories others tells us about their experiences, which leads to more disconnection, withdrawal and an innate lack of trust.

Vulnerability is not weakness – it is in fact the greatest measure of courage. On both sides of this coin, we can become more aware of this truth and drop the old, harmful belief. We can learn to respond to vulnerability — our own and others – with respect, empathy, non-judgment and a desire to learn more. We will cultivate more heroes than victims of our own stories with this one transformational shift.

Here is a thread that runs from what we are re-learning about vulnerabilty to what we also can re-learn about regret. When author Dan Pink was working on his latest book, The Power of Regret, he was rather astonished to discover that when he openly shared his heartfelt stories of his own regrets, his friends did not recoil — they actually leaned in. There was an exchange of similar stories and shared humanity. Those conversations led him to do several years of research about how we got regret all wrong. Living a life with no regrets means living a life without any reflection, without extracting the invaluable life lessons meant to help us along our path.

Dan Pink discovered that when others opened up and risked being vulnerable about their regrets, their insights revealed what they valued most in their lives. Not surprisingly, as we age, what we value most becomes crystallized. In this case, hindsight was truly 20/20 and most regrets were about thing people DIDN’T do rather than things they did — the missed opportunities and risks they didn’t take because of fear, insecurities or perceived judgments.

Vulnerability and regret are like two missing pieces of a bigger puzzle. Dr. Shawn Ginwright explains that we can’t move from transactional relationships to transformational relationships without vulnerability because there is no emotional risk, nothing is at stake. Transformational relationships help us evolve into our better selves; these are the people willing to hold up a mirror for us and encourage us to grow — especially from our life experiences.

Let me share my favorite example of a transformational relationship — being a parent. Reflect for a moment on how your role as a parent evolves as your infant moves from toddler to teen. There is no greater example of how deeply our shared vulnerabilty with our child forges a bond that cannot easily be diminished or disconnected. When our kids are teenagers, we often use regrettable moments as a tool for helping them gain some agency around their choices and a foothold on creating their personal values.

I love Angela Duckworth’s body of work around resiliency and grit — and guess what, it dovetails right into vulnerability and regret. Angela says we don’t learn well when there’s no feedback.

Feedback from others is something that often feels like a hit to our ego, so naturally we prefer to avoid or ignore it.

Yet if the feedback is coming from someone we respect and is offered as a “mirror” for personal growth, then we should be grateful — and lean in. Feedback, like regret, is another tool for learning. Those people who offer us insightful feedback may be the ones we can develop a transformational relationship with — those who will help us do our most meaningful “mirror” work.

One way to get more comfortable with feedback is to ask for it. There’s no doubt this will foster your willingness to choose courage over comfort. And, you will be setting a good example for others:

“Courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better, and the world a little braver.” –Brene Brown

One of the most revelational breakthroughs has been around emotions. We are emotional beings and yet we rarely tap into the wisdom that our wide range of emotions offers to us. We may have been taught as children not to express our emotions; we may have learned to stuff them and power through hard times; we may be triggered by them and then act on them, often with poor outcomes.

While we often talked about emotional regulation, the focus was more on trying to navigate around our emotions than accepting them, feeling and honoring them, and gaining the knowledge they offered. As more research rolls out from behavioral scientists, neuroscientists, psychologists and social work experts, we are recognizing that emotions are not the problem — it is unprocessed emotions that cause lingering and long-term issues.

In Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown integrates so much research of her own and others, to open us up to a brand new way of thinking about — and learning from — our EMOTIONS.

Emotions are neither right nor wrong, good or bad. Each and every one has some intrinsic value that is a part of our full life experience.

In Atlas of the Heart, Brene gives us a resource guide for 87 emotions and experiences that are common to most of us. She shows us “where we go” emotionally with so many relatable events that happen in our lives. Best yet, she gives us an expanded emotional vocabulary to help us name them, process them and learn the lessons from them. Her research revealed that we often just dumped our emotions into one of 3 buckets — happy, sad or angry. There is no way that we were ever going to be able to untangle ourselves from the complexity of our many emotions without a bigger vocabulary and greater discernment.

Imagine the transformation that can occur in just one generation when we embrace these breakthroughs — recognizing vulnerabilty as a measure of strength and courage; gaining invaluable life lessons from regret and reflection; and accepting and honoring all our emotions, processing them in real time (rather than ignoring or stuffing). Imagine how freeing it will be for younger generations to move through life without heavy armor and emotional baggage. What if we came to see ourselves as heroes of our own stories rather than victims of an old narrative? All of these breakthroughs in how we relate to vulnerabilty, to regret and feedback, and to our vast emotional landscape are the maps we can use to grow forward.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

My recent blog post — What We Got Wrong About Vulnerability

https://inspirednewhorizons.com/2022/02/26/what-we-got-wrong-about-vulnerability/

Another recent blog post – Regret and Reflection

https://inspirednewhorizons.com/2022/02/17/regret-and-reflection/

This very recent episode touches on so much that I have shared in this post — especially about processing emotions in healthy ways and learning from failure — such relatable sound advice https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-learning-to-cope-with-failure/

What We Got Wrong about Vulnerability

I get so invigorated when a breakthrough discovery upends old paradigms and carves a brand new path for us to take on this life journey. Recently I shared how we missed the necessary life lessons embedded in regret. Today, it’s a big one — it’s vulnerability.

Just like the impassioned enthusiasm that author Dan Pink has about reframing regret for its value, this same passion and high energy exudes from author and activist, Dr. Shawn Ginwright, about the multitude of benefits gained from embracing vulnerability in a whole new way.

In his recent conversation with Brene Brown on Unlocking Us, Dr. Shawn Ginwright spoke with conviction about the role vulnerability plays in our most meaningful relationships. Especially, transformative relationships — those rare and invaluable relationships where we are lifted up and given the scaffolding we need to grow and flourish.

When Dr. Ginwright proclaimed “vulnerability is the portal for deep connection with another” I stopped the podcast and let that soak in. Then I rewound it and listened two more times.

As an ardent student of Brene’s work on courage and vulnerability, this concept of a portal gave me an unforgettable image to reframe the role that vulnerability plays in meaningful relationship connections. A portal is a doorway, a gate, an opening — sometimes, a large and impressive one.

When someone is courageous enough to be vulnerable with us, they are literally dropping their innermost drawbridge and revealing the “portal” into a deeper understanding of who they are, what matters most and what they are experiencing.

Dr. Ginwright calls our response to these moments of vulnerability “the exchange of humanity”.

If we peek through that portal and look closely, we can see, and feel, another’s anguish through our own eyes and heart.

Brene Brown explains that this “exchange of humanity” creates a connective energy between people and provides the emotional support for healing and growth.

All we really have to do is reflect on a past vulnerable moment of our own to intuitively know what we would have found comforting. This is where “meaningful connection” takes root – in our shared humanity. Our experiences may be quite different, but those deep feelings and painful emotions are similar.

Vulnerability has been a rich topic of conversation very recently in my book club and with my close friend since we are all reading and digesting Atlas of the Heart. As we shared stories with each other, we began to reframe how we think about — and respond to — vulnerability.

It made me realize that we were actually experiencing what Dr. Ginwright is teaching — our connections were deepening as we leaned in to each other’s stories where they took a leap of faith and bared their vulnerabilities to others.

Brene writes that across cultures, most of us were raised to believe that being vulnerable is being weak and that this belief sets up an unresolvable tension because we were also taught to be “brave.” But being brave implies having courage — and vulnerability is the most accurate way to measure courage.

Real courage means taking that risk, sharing our truth and who we really are, without any guarantee of the outcome.

Courage requires the willingness to lean into uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” (excerpt from Atlas of the Heart).

We are “all in” for courage when we cheer on the protagonist in our favorite book or movie. That kind of courage seems fearless and heroic.

We are far less comfortable with courage when it comes to ourselves. Our fear — of being judged, labeled, diminished or worse yet — cast out from the groups we want to belong to — keeps us armored up and silent.

And here is our conundrum — we want deeper connections in our relationships, but we mistakenly believe that by being vulnerable and opening up to others, we will be perceived as weak. There’s a lot of shame, fear and insecurity wrapped up in this old belief system. We build walls and don protective emotional armor to keep us safe — but it is a false sense of security and a major roadblock to meaningful connection.

That old belief system also set us up for failure when it comes to responding to those who take that risk and share their vulnerabilities with us. If we believe that being vulnerable is weakness, we can easily fall back on old unhealthy patterns of relating to weakness as something to avoid. Like it or not, our first unconscious responses probably are to judge, diminish, recoil and withdraw.

We’d be operating on auto pilot with a harmful belief system that predisposes us to respond to perceived weakness as undesirable.

This is where I find the work of Brene Brown, Dr. Shawn Ginwright and their peers to be game-changing. Shattering these old myths and reframing vulnerability as the portal for connection is a very profound, healthy step in the right direction. As Brene shares in Atlas of the Heart, we have been using perfectionism, people-pleasing and proving to mask vulnerability. No wonder we find it so challenging to really be our authentic selves.

It seems to me that the old belief about vulnerability being equated with weakness also contributed to an erosion of trust. Trust is the bedrock of genuine connection. If we shared our vulnerabilities with someone and their response was to treat us as “weak”, it is only natural that the trust we placed in that person would be compromised.

Brene highlights the importance of discipline and self-awareness when it comes to sharing our vulnerabilities for this very reason. Trust is an essential component of solid relationships. She advises that we mindfully chose those who have earned the right to hear our stories and experiences — those people you deem trustworthy.

On the flip side of this, remember that if someone comes to you to share their stories, you have probably earned their trust. Will you be a good steward of that earned trust?

Reflecting on my life, with this new perspective, I can more clearly see the pivotal “sliding door moments” where both vulnerability and trust were at stake — and the resulting outcomes.

There are moments when I shared my vulnerability with someone I trusted — and they chose to lean in and listen, to be kind and respectful. A warmth washes over me when I recall how it felt to be cared for in such a loving way when I was hurting. And yes, my trust in those people grew exponentially and our relationships have stood the test of time.

There are other “sliding door moments” when others dismissed, diminished or ignored me when I was most vulnerable. These reflections took me back to childhood, marriage, friendships and parenting – where those missed opportunities caused chasms in relationships. These moments feel more like doors closing, my membership card in a group being revoked, and jabs at my self-worth.

I see that now — I did not see it in those moments when it was all unfolding.

My friends and I have long wondered why others respond in ways that amplify someone’s pain, or even inflict more on to them when they are at a low point. Could it be that the old myth of vulnerability being a weakness was the main problem?

The more we are learning, reflecting and sharing, the more we are beginning to understand the root causes of disconnection. It is a complex combination of the belief that vulnerability is weakness; all the ways we employ to keep our vulnerability hidden; the lack of emotional support that we inherently need to help us work through adversities; and our own negative and hurtful responses to others’ vulnerability.

We are “unlearning” what doesn’t work and we are “relearning” a much more beneficial approach for courage, vulnerability and deeper, meaningful connections. It does require that we begin to show up more authentically and not hide our vulnerabilities, that we express our needs and boundaries and that we do our part to build trusting relationships.

Dr. Ginwright encourages us to take all of this “relearning” one giant step further by seeking “transformational” relationships. He defines these relationships as those that help us do the necessary “mirror work” to grow into our better selves. Transformational relationships will help us see where we are stuck, where old behavioral patterns could be problematic, and the hidden potential we possess.

In his newest book The Four Pivots: Reimagining Justice, Reimagining Yourself, Dr. Ginwright emphasizes that we don’t get “mirror work” without these important transformational relationships — and that we only get into these invaluable relationships by sharing our vulnerability. It is through this exchange of humanity that we become connected in ways that cannot be easily dismissed or disconnected.

When I think of a transformational relationship and “mirror work”, I think of my lifelong friend Judy. Over the past six years she has been an honest, trustworthy, truthful friend. We have forged a strong, flexible and enduring relationship bond as we peeled back the layers of our life experiences and searched for the lessons we missed along the way. Perhaps this is why Dr. Ginwright’s teachings resonated so deeply with me. I have firsthand experience of the transformational power of reframing vulnerability in this whole new light.

It is what inspires me to be a transformative “mirror” friend to others. The gift in paying it forward, is that we continue to gather more stories of humanity — those heart-expanding stories that braid the bond with more texture, more color, more fiber, more compassion.

I hope that this revelational new way to view vulnerability opens your heart and eyes to a better pathway for relationship building — and repairing. I will leave you with one compelling message: Please be gentle with those who show you their vulnerability. Even if you are unable or unwilling to be the rock they need in their hour of despair, don’t make their healing work harder. Be kind and respectful. Reflect on how much courage it took for that person to show you vulnerability.

RECOMMMENDED RESOURCES:

https://brenebrown.com/podcast/the-four-pivots-reimagining-justice-reimagining-ourselves/

http://www.shawnginwright.com

Regret and Reflection

I found myself captivated by the recent Dare to Lead Podcast with author, Dan Pink, discussing his latest book, The Power of RegretHow Looking Backward Moves Us Forward. Dan weaves rich personal stories and extensive research together to shatter the myth of that age-old advice to “live a life with no regrets”.

Dan was so impassioned about the role that our regrets play in transforming our lives for the better that I found myself actually leaning into this conversation and hanging on every word. He believes that regret is our most misunderstood emotion and it can be the pathway to our best life.

I’ve had regrets throughout my life and most often I kept them to myself. I recall conversations with friends who would say they had no regrets. We’d all agree that we wouldn’t be where we were in life without some of those regrettable decisions. But it was this insightful discussion that Dan Pink had with Brene Brown that made me wonder what different paths we might have taken in our lives had we learned the lessons that our biggest regrets wanted to teach us.

If we were operating under the adage of “no regrets”, we probably just licked our wounds, and powered on through life without taking the time to even consider our values. Is it any wonder that we were prone to repeating the same mistake? Or that we doubled down on our fear of taking a risk or speaking up?

Dan explained that what we “regret the most” shows us what we “value the most.”

Brene Brown has also addressed the “crunchy” subject of regret for years. This insight from 2018 captures the essence of her findings about regret:

I’ve found regret to be one of the most powerful emotional reminders that change and growth are necessary. In fact, I’ve come to believe that regret is a kind of package deal: A function of empathy, it’s a call to courage and a path toward wisdom. Like all emotions, regret can be used constructively or destructively, but the wholesale dismissal of regret is wrongheaded and dangerous. “No regrets” doesn’t mean living with courage, it means living without reflection.” — Brene Brown (4/26/18)

Dan Pink’s recent research and latest book dovetail with Brene’s body of work – and throughout the podcast, it was evident that they were both inspired by and in awe of each other’s discoveries. This new, enlightened way of viewing regret is compelling.

I began to reflect on the big regrets of my life through a much different lens. What was the life lesson that was imbedded in each of those regrets? It dawned on me that the process of reflecting on regret is yet another tool of self-awareness and personal growth.

How unfortunate that we were told to bypass it.

Just as we are learning that stuffing our emotions and keeping skeletons in the closet was so detrimental to our family dynamics and our own agency in life, this is another big shift in the arena of self-discovery.

Which comes first — the chicken or the egg? Do we recognize our regrets more readily as we peel off childhood armor — or do we learn from regret that we even have that armor, those outgrown behavioral patterns that are not in alignment with our adult values?

Dan Pink pointed out that the older we get, the more we are inclined to look back and have more regrets about the things that we DID NOT do than the things we actually did do. This makes me believe that as we age, and shed the protective armor, we do get more clarity about missed opportunities. We can see more clearly our failures of courage, failures of kindness, failures to take a risk.

All the more reason to teach the value of processing regret in a timely and productive way, so that when life presents a “sliding door” moment, we are better informed and in alignment with our values so that we make the wise choice. This is a radical shift from living a life with no regrets which bypasses the transformational learning.

In his book, The Power of Regret, Dan reveals that “regret is a marker of a healthy, maturing mind. It is so fundamental to our development and so critical to proper functioning that, in adults, its absence can signal a grave problem.” All the more reason not to ignore regret. Perhaps there is some key to our mental well being imbedded in the life lessons from regret. (Learn more about the scientific research that unpacks this in the chapter “Why Regret Makes Us Human.”).

In the chapter “Why Regret Makes Us Better” we learn something we intuitively know — Burying negative emotions doesn’t dissipate them. It intensifies them. It also reinforces all those behavioral patterns we developed in childhood to keep us safe. The problem is we are wearing toddler sized armor in our adult world.

Dan explains that “rumination doesn’t clarify and instruct. It muddles and distracts. When feeling is only for feeling, we build a chamber from which it’s difficult to escape.”

Dan has a better approach for processing regret — Feeling is for thinking.

Don’t dodge emotions. Don’t wallow in them either. Confront them. Use them as a catalyst for future behavior. If thinking is for doing, feeling can help us think.” — (excerpt from The Power of Regret)

Here’s the big distinction that turns processing regret into a tool for personal growth:

“Framing regret as a judgment of our underlying character can be destructive. Framing regret as an evaluation of a particular behavior in a particular situation can be instructive. ” (excerpt from the Power of Regret)

Brene helps us clarify the relevance of this distinction: “Shame is a focus on self — I am bad. Guilt is a focus on behavior – I did something bad.” Framing regret as a judgment of self reinforces shame. Re-framing regret as an opportunity to evaluate a behavior fosters self-awareness and positive change. Game-changing distinction.

Another correlation between shame and regret is that we really don’t want to experience, or talk about, either. Brene has been sharing with us for decades that shame makes us feel small, flawed and never good enough. If we share it, we feel so incredibly vulnerable. When others share their vulnerability, we view it as courage and daring. In ourselves, we view it as weakness.

Is this why when someone takes that first step — and opens up to us about some of their most vulnerable life moments, we can find ourselves breathing a sigh of relief and discover our own courage? It is this mutual understanding and acceptance that forges deeper connections.

That is precisely what Dan discovered when he opened up and began talking about his own regrets. Rather than recoil, people leaned in! People wanted to talk about it — they wanted to engage.

A remarkable discovery was made about disclosing our regrets. Disclosure is both an unburdening and a form of sense-making. “When we convert these blobby, negative emotions to concrete words, it de-fangs them. It helps us make sense of them,” says Dan Pink. That is a mic drop moment right there!

Brene teaches that labeling our emotions correctly is the first step in processing them, and learning from them. Her book, Atlas of the Heart, offers in-depth definitions for 87 emotions so that we can get better at accurately defining them. What we are learning about the misunderstood emotion of regret is that it can be a bucket for many negative emotions, all sloshing around with our values.

So, now we have a “research guide” for an expanded emotional vocabulary in Atlas of the Heart — AND — we have all the wisdom and tools that Dan provides in the Power of Regret to expand our life lessons’ education.

“Our fear is that when we disclose failures, setbacks, missteps of our own, we think that people will like us less — and the evidence is overwhelming, after 30 years of behavioral science study, people like us more. This is vulnerability “ — Dan Pink (stated emphatically in the Dare to Lead podcast). Yes, this is another mic drop moment.

I can share (again) from my personal experience that the above statement is absolutely true. This is precisely what transpired in my Zoom Book Club over the course of two years with a group of women that really did not know each other very well. As we took a deep dive into Untamed, and now Atlas of the Heart, we stuck our toes in the pool and began to share how our own life experiences mirrored what we were reading and discussing. The more we shared with each other, the more we all leaned in, and the closer knit our friendship became. To be quite honest, a group of women scattered across counties and country, with a variety of different backgrounds and experiences have more in common than we could have ever imagined. Vulnerability was indeed the bridge that forged our deep connection.

We haven’t gotten to the chapter on Disappointment and Regret in Atlas just yet, but I have a keen feeling that we will be doing some major exploration and excavation when we do. The more “unburdening and de-fanging” we do, the more space we have in our hearts and lives for purpose and intention.

Dan shares that framing regret as an opportunity helps us transform it — from a leaden blanket to a sharp stick. This image brought to mind just what it feels like when we are emotionally burdened with our armor. I’d trade that any day for a laser pointer on a whiteboard.

Dan’s book is chock full of tips for more effective problem solving and sturdier emotional health — that oddly enough all come from the one thing we’ve been told to steer clear of — REGRET.

What I am enjoying so much about Dan’s book is how he combines his research with heart-opening real life stories from people he interviewed about their regrets. He uses one of my favorite backdrops for revealing how our cracks make us better — the Japanese art of Kintsugi — which is repairing broken pottery by sanding down the rough edges of the broken pieces and gluing them back together with a lacquer mixed with gold. It is not the artisan’s goal to faithfully reproduce the original work or even to conceal those acquired flaws. It is to transform the pottery into something better. The bowls are beautiful because of their imperfections — the cracks make them better. Dan’s gift of storytelling reveals to us how the same is true for us human beings. It is the vulnerability of others as they share their regrets and subsequent life lessons that opens us up to accepting a brand new way of viewing both disappointments and regrets.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Entangled Behavioral Patterns

Each of us has a set of behavioral patterns that we bring into all our relationships. Our patterns and those of others get enmeshed and we actually create a third dynamic behavioral pattern unique to each relationship. This actually explains why some of our relationships flow so smoothly and others are so challenging. Have you ever wondered why you seem to be such a great communicator in some relationships and completely unable to be understood clearly in others? Could it be that the relationship behavioral pattern dynamic is getting in the way?

If you regularly follow my blog, you know I am a big fan of the enneagram for cultivating awareness of our unconscious behavioral patterns. Being “aware” of our own behavioral patterns is the first key step in understanding how they are impacting our lives — and our relationships. Then, the second step is assessing what is working for us — and what isn’t.

Using the enneagram is one of the “fast track” tools for personal growth. The real gift of the enneagram is that it not only helps us diagnose what isn’t working anymore, it offers us the framework to step out of outgrown, unnecessary patterns and into healthier, more enriching ways to engage in our lives and relationships.

Many of our unconscious behavioral patterns originated in our childhood. The same is true of our values, how we view the world, and how we choose our friends and life partners.

Here’s the distinction however — as we grow and mature, as we gain more knowledge and life experiences, we organically re-assess our values. Our world view expands as we finish high school or college, start a job or career, build a life of our own. We find ourselves learning a lot from our friendships and our marriages. We are in a constant state of change. These change prompt us to re-assess our values, our goals, our impact on others and our overall contentment (or discontentment).

Yet while we are in a constant state of change, accumulating more knowledge and information that informs us about the trajectory of our lives — we are dragging around with us all those childhood behavioral patterns. We actually are using child-like navigational tools in our adult world. Ironically, we often strive hard to build an adult life for ourselves that is quite different from our childhood experiences. Yet our unconscious behavioral patterns can become our biggest hurdles to successfully achieving those goals.

As Ian Morgan Cron states so profoundly in this latest enneagram book, The Story of You, those childhood patterns work well — until they don’t.

I found the enneagram to be just the tool I needed to realize the protective armor of my childhood and the patterns that held that armor in place were no longer needed.

Hindsight truly is 20/20 — Just revisiting a few old memories and events with this awareness brought to light the way I would “help” too much, deny my own needs and harmonize when I should have stood my ground. Even with the best of intentions, the downside of my childhood patterns kept me from growing into a healthier version of my best self. My most uplifting discovery was that a healthy enneagram Type 2 often becomes a “helper” in the most incredible ways — by mentoring and resourcing others in their own journeys of self discovery and personal growth. That was the big push that I needed to address my personal roadblocks.

A very simple and effective tool for starting this needed change is to do the opposite of what you would normally do. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? It’s not. A lifelong helper almost has to tie her hands behind her back and slowly exit a room when the intense urge to jump in and rescue, fix or resolve an issue arises! It takes a Herculean effort for a helper to actually ask for help — or say no, when she’s overextended.

My friends who are also Type 2’s have become a support group for this purging process. We laugh a lot, we hold each other accountable, and we cheer wildly when we tell stories of how we “responded in a much healthier way” to a familiar event that once pulled us back into childhood patterns.

What I love about the inner work that we can all benefit from doing, is that it frees us up and creates so much space in our hearts, minds and lives. A mindfulness tool that I’d been trying to implement was “not to take things personally.” As I read about each of the nine types, it became the knowledge base I needed to lean hard into this practice. The more I learned how each of the nine types often “show up” in life, the greater was my awareness of how other’s childhood patterns were impacting their adult lives. Not only did that free me from “taking things personally”, it also increased my empathy for others on several levels. (The seeds of my becoming a more effective “helper” were nurtured in this process.)

This brings me back to recognizing just how entangled we can get in each other’s behavioral patterns. If you feel like you keep buying a ticket to the same “merry go round” when it comes to relationship issues, this just might be an insightful starting point.

Let’s take a look at what might transpire when our old unconscious behavioral patterns get enmeshed with someone else’s.

If a peace-maker and a challenger forge a relationship, you can bet that some friction and fireworks are quickly invited along for the ride. The “challenger” who loves a heated, feisty argument in order to work things out will become a steamroller for the “conflict avoider” who just wants harmony and peace above all else.

It’s likely that the conflict avoider will not speak up and will choose to acquiesce to the needs of the challenger. This will feel like the path of least resistance to a peace-maker. Meanwhile the challenger might get bored and frustrated by that approach. A challenger thrives on high energy, some conflict and a good, heated discussion.

If both of those people double down on their old patterns, a conflict avoider may withdraw and stuff their emotions. A blind spot is not acknowledging and expressing their needs. The challenger might be perceived as nagging and controlling. The challenger is likely to keep bringing up the issue at hand, making more points, turning up the heat, refusing to back off. A blind spot is not recognizing that this approach pushes away the connection and understanding they are seeking. The peace-maker might be perceived as insensitive, unsupportive and dis-engaged.

Can you begin to see how these old patterns get in the way of building a strong, fluid and trusting relationship?

It often isn’t the person we care about that is the problem. It’s outgrown, unhealthy behavioral patterns that prevent us from really getting to know each other, what we need and how best to support each other. We may have common interests, shared core values and similar hopes and dreams, but without peeling back some of our history, we may have a hard time getting on the same page and building a strong relational foundation.

By the way, this is true for all our relationships — be it parent, sibling, partner or friend. If you spend some time reading about all nine types of the enneagram, you will discover deeper insights into the people you think you know pretty well. At the very least, it will create a little more awareness about behavioral patterns and how they show up in our responses to life. A great primer for this can be found at The Enneagram Institute online (https://www.enneagraminstitute.com)

Under the “Learn” tab you can read descriptions of each of the nine types. I especially find the “Levels of Development” section for each type to be so helpful for anyone that wants to shed the childhood navigational system and upgrade to a more mature, self-aware version.

Also under the “Learn” tab, you will find “The Enneagram Type Combinations.” This is one of my favorite resources for cultivating more awareness about how different types interact with each other. You can click on any combination of types and learn what each type brings to that relationship combo as well as learn about potential troublespots. This invaluable resource is the equivalent of having a detailed nautical chart, channel buoys, and a lighthouse to skillfully navigate our relationships with others.

Cultivating more self-awareness helps us discover the places where we get snagged by our outdated, outgrown navigational system. It is an invitation to take a long hard look at how our childhood armor and the behavioral patterns that hold that armor in place just might be the reasons we are having such a difficult time showing up as our best selves in the meaningful lives we are working so hard to build.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Elizabeth Earnshaw is a Gottman certified therapist and an outstanding resource for couples who are committed to a thriving and fulfilling relationship.

Follow Liz on Instagram for more insights like this: @lizlistens

A primer for the Enneagram by Ian Morgan Cron
Ian’s most recent book – Helping you “re-write” your childhood story into a more evolved one for your adult life.

The Transformational Power of an Apology

Some of the greatest gifts that come from a sincere apology are the release of pain, the freeing of false or limiting beliefs, and true clarity about the events and behaviors that were often made very murky by big emotions. An apology offers these healing gifts to both the Giver and the Receiver.

A recent conversation with my book club about an emotional episode of This is Us revealed just how many of us have been impacted by apologies that were never offered.

I’m talking about the kinds of apologies that could shift an entire family dynamic in a dramatic and positive way.

The recent This is Us episode entitled “Don’t Let Me Keep You“, is a case study for dysfunctional family dynamics — and how it sets into motion adaptive behavioral patterns to navigate volatile home environments. As I watched Jack’s dad causing so much pain for his wife and his two sons his children due to alcohol addiction and unchecked anger, I could literally feel my own emotions rising up to match those of his wife and children. The empathy and sadness I felt for them came from my own lived experiences — for I have been both the child and later a spouse in emotionally volatile family dynamics. Many of my friends had similar lived experiences. This episode of This is Us brought many memories to the surface where we shared our emotional stories with each other. We also explored how the trajectory of our lives might have changed had we received a transformational apology.

There was a poignant moment in that TV show when Jack is giving his eulogy at his mother’s funeral and he stated the raw truth that resonated so deeply with me and my friends — “no matter how far away you move, no matter how old you get and how much you rebuild a new life for yourself, a piece of that childhood story stays with you forever.”

I thought about the power that Jack’s dad had to release that whole family from so much fear, pain and trauma. If he’d owned his bad behavior and addressed his demons, he would have helped himself, his wife and children — and freed them from dragging around so much baggage that hung like a dark cloud over their lives for decades. He could have saved his marriage. He could never have lost the lifetime of chances to be a loving, supportive father to his sons. He could have known his three grandchildren.

“Apologize to your children. Children have a strong sense of justice and suffer when a parent’s defensiveness invalidates what the child knows to be true.” — Harriett Lerner

Jack’s dad stayed mired in his addiction and old story for his entire life — estranged for all those decades from his family.

Jack’s mom spent most of her life living in fear, always looking over her shoulder wary that she was not safe. She sacrificed being the kind of mom she really wanted to be for her young children, trying her best to protect them from harm while she herself was constantly in harms way, both emotionally and physically. Later in life, when Jack was a young adult, he rescued his mom. He moved her out of the house and her abusive marriage. I imagine she felt ashamed for needing her son in this way. She probably did not want to be a burden and we see their mother-son relationship devolve to once a week, brief and awkward phone calls. (Hence the title of this episode — “Don’t Let Me Keep You“) Even when she visits Jack and Rebecca and their three babies years later, she is uneasy. She fears that Jack’s dad will know she is there and show up and she is scared. The chasm in her relationship with her son, Jack, creates so much unspoken tension. All the things that they have swept under the carpet for decades makes for a very lumpy, bumpy mother-son dynamic. Both of them needing each other and neither knowing how to express it. They never really find their way back to each other.

Another poignant moment in Jack’s eulogy was when he shared in a very vulnerable way the hard life they had with his dad — and that “they were just doing the best they could.” This was the moment that broke me, warm tears streaming down my face. One man’s hurtful actions put into motion a chain reaction of heartaches and emotional roadblocks for his family. They were “doing the best they could” in an unhealthy environment. How would their lives have been different had Jack’s dad held himself accountable for his toxic behaviors?

Imagine the unhealthy behavioral patterns and protective armor that Jack and his mom adopted out of necessity. As Jack so openly acknowledged, even when they changed their environments, the scars from their lived experiences stayed with them always.

If you are a fan of This is Us, then you know that Jack later struggled with alcohol. He was in constant conflict of trying to numb his pain (both past and present) and not wanting to become his dad. Jack’s younger brother, Nicky, also struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, with big insecurities and low self-esteem. He led a very troubled life for years. Addictions are often passed from one generation to another. So are the unhealthy behavioral patterns we develop to keep us safe. Children are like sponges, soaking up what they watch their parents do. How parents “show up” for each other and their children forges their own patterns.

What causes people to hurt others in such obvious ways and never offer an apology?

Surely they must know in their hearts that their actions caused a lot of suffering (including their own, no doubt). Jack’s dad had to know this. He had to have some awareness of all the collateral damage to his family.

Apologies matter. Accountability matters. Both can change the course of our lives.

I have lived and witnessed this same unfortunate scenario in my own family — and I see the lingering emotional baggage as well as limiting, false beliefs instilled in innocent people. Another’s hurtful behaviors deeply impacted lives, disrupted parental and sibling relationships, and strained family dynamics.

It made my parenting job harder. I was left to mend a heart I didn’t break, rebuild self-esteem I didn’t shatter, and the most challenging of all — instill and maintain TRUST. Trust is the strongest glue of relationships and when it has been broken repeatedly, it takes a Herculean effort to re-establish and repair the damage. In my child’s case, the lingering lifetime impact will always be repeatedly testing relationships for trust.

I sometimes imagine what a genuine apology would have meant to members of my family decades ago. I imagine the healing that could have come from such a gift. What memories we would have made together without so much baggage and conflict. How we could have supported each other through adversities in meaningful ways.

It is human nature to feel very vulnerable when we know we’ve hurt someone. We want to avoid those feelings of remorse, guilt, shame. But hiding from them, or sweeping them under the carpet, will not make them fade away, or even loosen their grip.

This may be hard to believe, but it is true: The fastest route to releasing those painful emotions deep within us is a heartfelt, meaningful apology. And a timely apology will also save a lot of heartache and pain.

When we have been hurt, we usually create a false narrative to help us make sense of what happened to us. Those false narratives have deep roots in our personal history. We may inadvertently double down on our feelings of unworthiness, or of being unloved or not valued. We may become unnecessarily freaked out or distrusting. Someone else’s hurtful actions can trigger our insecurities and old stories. It’s so hard not to get entangled in all of that emotional baggage. This is one of the most prevalent reasons it is invaluable for apologies to be timely. A swift, meaningful apology can stop that emotional snowball from rolling down a very slippery slope.

Apologies that are never forthcoming can deepen the scars of our lived experiences.

It’s no wonder that we can get snagged on the broken parts of our life stories. Many times what we believe to be true gets reinforced through similar situations that often play out the same. Many unhealthy behavioral patterns we developed in childhood could have been avoided with a meaningful apology and honest accountability by the adults in our lives.

The lessons we can learn from this insightful episode of This is Us — and from our own lived experiences — is that awareness, accountability and apologies can make an empowering transformational difference in family dynamics.

Cultivating self-awareness helps us recognize when we are defaulting to old behavioral patterns that no longer serve us well and are not needed for the life we are now living. We can free ourselves from being entangled in our old stories and have agency over how we respond to others and to circumstances. We can step out of old patterns and into alignment with our own core values.

As we become more self-aware, we more naturally cultivate more empathy and “other” awareness too. This helps us show up for others in more mature, calm and relatable ways. It becomes easier to “treat others as you would like to be treated.” There will always be conflicts and disagreements, and they can be discussed and resolved with dignity and respect.

Accountability is such a huge part of healthy relationships. BrenĂ© Brown has brought to our attention that we often don’t hold others accountable because of our own discomfort. To get over that hurdle, begin implementing boundaries as a powerful tool for making clear what matters most to you — and what you need in order for a relationship to work.

Too often, we fear speaking up and asking for our needs to be met, so we just accept other’s behavior — until we reach the breaking point. By that time, the relationship can rarely be salvaged. Nedra Tawwab teaches us if someone expresses a boundary to us, it is a clear sign that the relationship matters to them and they have a strong desire to repair it. Think about that the next time someone expresses their boundary to you. It’s a great gauge of how committed you are to someone.

We can’t let our fear or discomfort keep us from holding others accountable for how they are impacting our quality of life. There are consequences for bad behavior and hurtful actions. Who is paying the price of those consequences?

A sincere apology has the power to heal and strengthen a relationship. Dr. Dan Siegel calls this “rupture and repair”. We are bound to make mistakes, for we are human. When we know we messed up, hurt someone or could have handled a situation better, it is time to apologize. An earnest apology shows that you care about the other person and about the relationship. An apology that is backed up with changed behavior becomes solid foundational webbing that builds trust.

Rupture without repair leads to a deepening sense of disconnection. As Dr. Seigel explains, if ruptures continue and they are not dealt with, it will affect a person’s sense of self. This is precisely why those apologies that are never offered create so much collateral damage. That lingering collateral damage can follow us far into adulthood.

Even if two people agree that they are no longer compatible and that their friendship, marriage, parental or sibling relationship should end — apologies are in order and can go a long way for both parties to heal.

Personal accountability for actions and behaviors reveals our character and core values. When we own our mistakes, it’s a sign of maturity and awareness. If we choose to work on change, it is a sign of a commitment to learning from our experiences.

There is incredible transformational power in a genuine, heartfelt apology. Imagine a brighter future for our young children if we can launch them into adulthood without unnecessary, undeserved emotional baggage.

“The best apologies are short and don’t go on to include explanations that run the risk of undoing them. An apology isn’t the only chance you ever get to address the underlying issue. The apology is the chance. you get to establish the ground for future communication. This is an important, and often overlooked, distinction.” — Harriett Lerner

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

This “grab bag” episode of questions from Being Well listeners touches on so many of the questions most of us have about family dynamics, making big financial decisions, and healing from painful childhood experiences https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xAd4-KXrUQ&t=2279s

Check out this episode of The Happiness Lab to learn about “guilt” and how it can very insightful in understanding how our actions and even emotions — can impact others:

https://www.happinesslab.fm/2022-new-year-mini-season/when-guilt-is-good-and-when-its-not

Greater Good Science Center, Berkley, CA:

Article and Video on Making An Effective Apology https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/making_an_effective_apology

My Personal Tribute to Thich Nhat Hanh

This post has been inspired by the many teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh that landed in my heart when it was bruised and broken six years ago. His tender insights became both a soothing balm and a guide to finding a new path forward. Thich Nhat Hanh died on January 22, 2022. He was a beloved spiritual leader, poet and peace activist.

Although I had read some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s inspirational quotes in the past, it was in 2015 that his mindfulness teachings took root in me. All the brokenness I was feeling so deeply actually opened me up to the lessons I needed to learn.

The quote that you see on the right was the very first image I imbedded in my newly launched blog website on the home page in 2016. When I gaze at that image today and I take in the words he so eloquently offered, my healed and expansive heart just fills with gratitude.

I can recall very clearly how I was feeling back then. I instinctively knew that I needed a calm, peaceful and nurturing environment to find some ballast. I gave myself just that in the form of personal autonomy and a house I lived in alone. Unfortunately, painful memories and emotional confusion after ending an unhealthy relationship had moved in with me. I needed to unpack and purge a lot of baggage if I was going to gain any traction with healing from heartache.

I took great comfort in listening to Thich Nhat Hanh’s soft and soothing voice each morning while sipping my morning coffee. He always chose his words with such great intention. While his lessons were so powerful, his tone was gentle. He became a source of healing, one little parable at a time. He also became a source of inspiration and hope — for his own personal story was so compelling. He too had come from such a broken place. Yet here he was — a world renowned teacher for overcoming adversity and heartbreak. A tender, compassionate guide for evolving beyond what has happened to us.

I chose that first quote for my blog website with great intention. Mindfulness was the very first tool that I discovered as I sat alone, trying to sort out the pieces of my life, and put myself back together — a little better than I’d been before. “When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” My inner work journey began with mindfulness and self-love.

This quote expands on the insight that “hurting people hurt people”. Thich Nhat Hanh offered so much clarity about human behavior — why we push away what we want the most, or project our own fears and emotions onto others, create double standards, lack empathy or are unaware of our blind spots. Again, it was his simple stories that brought these debilitating personal obstacles into greater awareness.

When I discovered the enneagram, this quote resonated even more deeply with me. Learning about the various behavioral patterns often adopted in childhood opened my eyes and my heart. Once I understood the core fears and patterns we use to secure the love and sense of value we need, I found myself able to offer forgiveness and compassion to those who had hurt me in the past. Just this knowledge alone offered answers to questions that had been on my mind and heart for years about why grown people behaved as they did. This deep wisdom from Thich Nhat Hanh awakened my curiosity and empathy for others.

I am still reflecting on this quote today as I continue my personal growth work. In the past, my own outgrown behavioral pattern of helping too much meant that I could become an enabler. While I did not mean to do so, I could disempower someone by swooping in to fix, rescue or take on a consequence that was not mine. My nature is to help others, and now I am learning healthier, more meaningful ways to do that.

One of the greatest gifts I have given to myself is “letting go”. This was one of the hardest parts of my inner healing work yet it provided me with so much room to grow.

I started with letting go of the cravings I had to numb my heartache and disappointment. As Brene Brown teaches, when we numb our pain, we also numb our joy. So I stopped numbing and avoiding the painful emotions — and I journaled furiously. I learned a lot about by myself and I processed things that had bogged me down for decades. And guess what, I did feel lighter and much freer – emotionally. I even came up with a quote of my own — “Letting go frees up a lot of real estate in my heart and mind.”

Another way that I embraced letting go was reminding myself that “I am not attached to the outcome.” I am well aware that having a sense of control was a “go-to” strategy for me when life hit a rocky patch. Yet the reality is that often things are not within my control. This simple phrase reminded me to accept what was unfolding in life. The one thing I can control is how I chose to respond, to show up in those moments of upheaval. What has shifted dramatically for me is that I now have more energy in reserve by not trying so hard to control things. I can tap into that energy for my responses to life’s challenges

I have another helpful quote that I created to remind me to let go when I feel like I want to pull something or someone very close to me, but know what is truly needed is space, a little room to figure things out without interference. This one is “Let out a little kite string”. I love the image — and the feeling — of releasing taut string from a spool in my hands and watching a colorful kite dance freely in a gentle breeze. That image translates so well for me — I can envision how it feels to someone to have that freedom of space to process things for themselves. I believe many of our goals and our relationships ebb and flow throughout our lives, and when we cling too tightly, it feels restrictive. Letting out the kite string means offering space for creativity and reflection — and trusting that what is meant for us will come to us.

This final quote I share today is the one that guides me each and every day. It reminds me of Maya Angelou’s quote “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” I have been through some heartbreaking adversities in my life, and what I am most proud of is that I did not let them harden me. If anything, through all the work I have done over these past six years, I am more softened and opened than I have ever been. And I am also more steadfast in my core values. It feels good to be on a path that enriches my life everyday. This simple quote from one of my beloved teachers encourages me to be mindful of my actions, for they are a true reflection of what I have learned from this incredible life.

The final image I share is a reminder that we are forever connected to people we love and who remain our teachers long after they have left this earth.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Thich Nhat Hanh, Plum Village

https://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/

Building Blocks for Better Stories

There have been a few common themes popping up among my favorite motivational resources recently: Cultivating greater self-awareness, expanding our understanding and language around emotions, and the impact of our stories on how we navigate life.

In my last blog post, Re-Writing Our Story, I revealed the insightful discoveries I made when I revisited my own childhood experiences through the lens of all the inner work I’ve been doing. I went searching for the seeds of the navigational coping skills I used to make sense of my life — and I found them.

It dawned on me that not only do we devise unique coping skills to help us make sense of things we are too young to understand, we often mimic poor behavioral patterns of our parents when we are young. Some of this is by osmosis, some of it is by keen observation. This “aha moment” was a clue to one of the ways that we can better support younger generations. Recognizing our outgrown behavioral patterns and working on them earlier in our lives, would break that generational “handing down” of unhealthy strategies for navigating life.

In one of my prior blog posts, I shared that I went into parenthood armed with a dog-eared copy of Dr. Spock, a list of things my mom did that I would never do, and a fairy tale-like image of what I anticipated motherhood would look and feel like to both me and my children. Looking back, I wish that someone would have better prepared me for parenthood by helping me recognize the childhood behavioral patterns that were no longer needed. I set out to make a better life for myself and my family, but I was unnecessarily encumbered by those patterns.

I vacillated between believing the story I had crafted in childhood and trying to defy that story. On any given day, I could lean heavily into one — or the other. On the one hand, I accepted the fact that I had a dysfunctional childhood and was not so well equipped or educated to enter into adulthood — and on the other hand I would draw on my resilience, optimism and strong desire to learn to stand my ground and pursue a plan or goal with a vengeance.

Oddly enough, it must have been those childhood behavioral patterns that kept me tethered on that see-saw. What I needed was someone to really listen to my story and then help me to re-write what was no longer needed or serving me well. A boost like that would have helped me gain some balance and pointed me in a clear and better path.

Have you ever looked at one of your children and saw yourself reflected back? I know I did. Today, I can look back at my middle son and clearly see the behavioral patterns he adopted from me — harmonizer, helper, easy-going. And I can also see the roots of those patterns that gave me some parenting challenges. He had a really hard time making a decision. It often frustrated me. Now I realize that he was most likely putting all his choices through the filters of what others wanted.

This is one small, yet very relevant, insight into what I am discovering about learned behavioral patterns. I was a people pleaser. I had a hard time expressing my own needs and my fear of those needs being rejected kept me quiet and compliant most of the time. My son adopted that same coping style, most likely through osmosis. It served him well in childhood, and helped him create a safe cocoon when his feisty siblings created chaos. When he was an adult, I would often wonder why it took him so long to make a hard decision — one that seemed rather obvious to me. Now I realize that the behavioral pattern and his filters for what others needed were clouding his ability to stand his own ground and honor his own needs.

Today my daugher looks at her young children and readily recognizes the ways that they are like her. Some of their behavioral patterns are so familiar to her yet she also knows that those didn’t serve her so well — even in childhood. We have some of our best conversations diving into understanding her children and their unique personalities, reading and learning how to parent with better emotional tools, and giving them the best environment to be their true selves.

My friends and I openly discuss how we are striving to help our adult children discover and learn better parenting skills than we had. We also recognize the role we can play in providing scaffolding for both our adult children and our grandchildren in this new landscape. The more we become keen observers of behavioral patterns, cause and effect, and how we “show up” in those moments for these little children, the more likely we will break the generational chain — and the greater opportunity for our young people to enter adulthood without childhood baggage holding them back.

Another area where we can make an impactful difference is by teaching our children that emotions are an invaluable part of their lives — and they are helpful teaching aids that deserve our attention. No more dismissing what a child is feeling, no more assuaging with candy or toys, no more shaming.

When we know better, we do better, as Maya Angelou reminds us. And now thanks to neuroscience and psychological research, we know that unprocessed emotions (especially painful ones) never go away and become the birthplace of poor emotional regulation, harmful coping methods, lifelong emotional triggers, and cumbersome emotional baggage.

One of the most impactful shifts we can make is to change our perspective about emotions. Emotions are the drivers of our lives — that is just how we are hard-wired as human beings. While we have the most incredible brains and the capability of thinking and creating in extraordinary ways, it is our emotions that often derail us from our greatest potential and satisfaction in life.

Imagine how transformational it would be if children learned that it was essential to express their emotions? Emotions are neither right or wrong. They are simply what we truly feel, in that moment. What we often do not recognize as parents is that our child’s emotion is their internal warning system telling them that something does not feel right to them. It could feel scary, dangerous, unfair or unpleasant. Our emotions are the indicator signals tied to our basic needs and values. Kids (like all of us) need to feel safe, to be seen and heard, valued and loved.

Dr. Dan Siegel has written an incredible book, The Power of Showing Up, to help us all become better parents and grandparents for our children. It is how we “show up” when our children’s emotions hit them. How we respond changes everything. How we role model emotional processing and emotional regulation reinforces all the good things we are teaching them to understand about themselves and others.

In her newest book, Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown introduces us to an expanded vocabulary for the myriads of emotions that we human beings experience. Our children often grow up only knowing a few words to describe a multitude of the emotions they feel. Those 3 words are mad, sad and glad.

But within each of those three simple words are many nuanced emotions that we really need to understand better. In fact, if we can label those emotions correctly, we can process — and learn from them — in a meaningful way. We can help our children learn to express disappointment, envy, embarrassment, fear, pride, fearlessness and joy — and so much more. We will all benefit greatly from expanding our language and our definitions of our vast array of complex emotions.

My six year old granddaughter was recently sitting in her car seat, deep in thought. When she spoke, she described three distinct emotions she was feeling. Then she sighed, smiled and said “I think this is a learning experience for me and I think it will help me be patient.” (Note to self — never underestimate the power of a young child to learn!)

Lately I have been finding new ways to reinforce how important feelings are when interacting with my grandchildren. I tell them that I respect how they are feeling — in the moment. “I respect you, buddy, and that you are feeling angry and disappointed right now.” Even though we cannot often change the reality of the moment, taking that time to respect how he feels, to hear him out, often is just enough to diffuse big emotions. It doesn’t mean we can — or should — fix a situation. It might be a lesson in disappointment. It is these tiny moments that help to build emotional agility and resilience.

There is one more area that deserves some attention — fostering a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset for our children. It’s another area where language really matters. We often tell our kids that they are good drawers, good skiers, good singers. The language we use focuses on the child — defines them. Research shows that we should be using our accolades and encouragement to shine light on the “process” that our kids are using for drawing, for learning a new skill or sport, or for the pure pleasure of belting out a song.

We can inadvertently set our kids up for a fixed mindset if we aren’t careful. The beauty of a growth mindset is that it takes away the limitations we often place on ourselves and frees us up to try new things without feeling we need to excel or master them. It is the “process” of learning something new that we find stimulating and enjoyable and very fulfilling. Cultivating a growth mindset in our kids really opens them up to possibilities and agency over their choices in life. (You can learn more about ways to encourage a growth mindset for yourself and children from The Happiness Lab podcast episode I share below in Recommended Resources.)

I’ll wrap this up by summarizing how integrated resources that are becoming more accessible and mainstream will help us all navigate through life a little easier, less constrained, and more fluidly:

  • Cultivate greater awareness of behavioral patterns. Take stock of your own periodically and assess if they are serving you well in your current stage of life.
  • Learn from your emotions — they offer so much guidance to keep you in alignment with your needs and your values. Expand your emotional vocabulary.
  • Foster a growth mindset — give yourself the freedom to try new things without letting your inner critic get in your way. Have fun on the journey and enjoy the process.

The bottom line is that we are emotional beings who keep moving through life with experiences of all kinds. We can make a choice to keep learning, re-assessing what is working and what isn’t from time to time. And we can make a difference in the lives of others, by sharing what we are learning and helping others have an easier path.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

This Being Well episode is Entitled How to Break Your Old Patterns. I have shared often that the Enneagram is such a great resource for learning about behavioral patterns common to many of us. Well, knowing your behavioral patterns are one thing — breaking them is quite another. This episode is chock full of relatable ways to recognize and free yourself from behavioral patterns that just aren’t working.

Click the link on the left to watch this episode.

Check out this Happiness Lab Podcast on How to Adopt a Growth Mindset with David Yeager, a psychology professor at UT-Austin and Dr. Laurie Santos.

The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know

Re-Writing Our Story

A recent Typology podcast with Ian Cron inspired me to do a little more forensic excavating into my own childhood story. It was Ian’s comment that we need to go back and uproot that old childhood narrative that no longer serves us well as adults that motivated me to do so.

The striking difference in my approach to this unearthing project had quite a bit to do with gaining a deeper understanding. It wasn’t just about healing from painful events that happened to me, it was more evolved than that — it was shining light on parts of my family’s story that had remained in the dark for far too long. It was the very first time that I could go back and revisit a poignant memory and recognize the deep roots of behavioral patterns when they were merely seeds.

When I was about three or four years old, we lived in a second floor apartment of an old house in a tiny quaint rural area. There was a little square sandbox in the backyard and one large maple tree. Most mornings, my mom would put me in that sandbox all by myself and return to our apartment, cigarette in hand. A neighbor had a nasty little dog that roamed freely in this backyard and I was frightened of this yipping, biting four-legged terror. My mom would arm me with a closed child’s umbrella every time she put me in this sandbox. Then she’d leave me — alone.

In the past, when I would revisit this memory, I would be sad for that little girl. Mostly I would focus on how I would have handled things differently as a mom. I’ve even used those tools of revisiting that memory and imagining swooping that little blonde-haired girl into my arms and assuring her that she was safe.

But today I was on a quest to discover the seeds of childhood behavioral patterns – those patterns we develop to make sense of our world and navigate our little lives as safely as possible. This is the deeper exploratory work that the enneagram inspired me to do. That one little vignette from my early childhood provided many clues.

Picture a few conversation bubbles placed over that sandbox scenario that go something like this:

Why am I alone in this sandbox? My mom can’t possibly hear me or get down here fast enough if I need her.

I am scared to death of this terrifying dog. Who is going to protect me?

I’m supposed to use this umbrella to hit that dog? I can’t hurt that dog even if I am scared to death of him.

Being alone in this sandbox day after day with that scary dog is not my idea of fun. There is no way I can play while I am constantly on the alert for danger.

Why does this same scenario play out over and over, day after day, even when I have told my mom that I am unhappy and afraid? My crying and pleading never bring any changes.

As I teased apart each of these conversation bubbles, I found the seeds for which I’d been searching. I also discovered the familiar framework that I grew up in — a template for the repeated cause and effect of our rocky family dynamics. My childhood behavioral patterns were deeply engrained by unconscious and unchecked parental actions that repeated themselves for years.

I have a vast collection of vignettes similar to my sandbox story where I was either left to fend for myself or that the consequences of asking for help resulted in a punishment far worse.

What I did not intellectually comprehend through most of my childhood was that I was afraid of my mother.

I’m beginning to see one of the ongoing internal conflicts that led to blind spots in my adult relationships. As a kid, I struggled with being afraid of the one person whom I was supposed to trust and who was supposed to protect me. Was this the origin of feeling not worthy, not valued? Was it part of why I found it so hard to hold others accountable for inappropriate behaviors?

I now realize that another parental complication was also in play: I was mad at my dad for not standing up for me and protecting me while simultaneously empathic and understanding that he was in the same boat — he too was afraid of my mother. Unknowingly I may have adopted some of his ineffective coping strategies. Some of those strategies made it easy for both of us to be controlled or manipulated. My mom had “power over” us.

A few of the childhood patterns that I came to rely on were people pleasing, hyper-vigilance, trust only yourself, don’t complain or ask for your needs to be met, keep the peace at all costs. I am a Type 2 on the Enneagram — aka The Helper.

When I became a big sister, most of my early coping patterns were amplified in order to protect my younger brothers. Adding more children to the unhealthy and stressful parental dynamic only made a dysfunctional template stronger. Now I was not only protecting myself, I took on the hefty responsibility of looking out for my innocent younger siblings.

This forensic excavating that I did was so incredibly catharttic for me. I was just a little kid trying to make sense of things that did not make sense. I even gained some invaluable insight about my brothers as I looked back on our childhood. Both of my brothers also found their own ways to navigate our volatile home life which resulted in behavioral patterns and coping skills unique to each of them. For the first time, I think I understand the root causes of my youngest brother’s short and very troubled life.

When I first discovered the enneagram as a valuable tool for my self-discovery and personal growth, a sense of great relief washed over me. I felt seen, heard and even understood as I soaked in all that I was learning about my type. I laughed and I cried as I recognized lifelong behavioral patterns and began to understand why I adopted them. But at the same time, I could see where these childhood patterns had not served me well in adulthood. I let people take advantage of me. I accepted behaviors and stories about me because I believed I didn’t deserve better. It was hard to dispute the fact that I came from a pretty messed up family. That was the hard truth. Yet there was another truth that brought me so much comfort and encouragement to change — We are not our broken stories.

In the recent 3-part Sister Series of Unlocking Us, Brene Brown and her twin sisters, Ashley and Barrett, openly discuss their childhood experiences and the behavioral patterns that they developed as a result. Brene, being the oldest of four, became the “protector” and developed a super power of being able to read a room and moods. She was a hyper vigilant observer of others and always at the ready to do what was needed to protect her siblings from the fallout. This honest, heartfelt conversation between siblings underscores that we all have recognizable behavioral patterns that developed from seeds that were planted in childhood.

The enneagram is a field guide for behavioral patterns. It helps us define them and make sense of our own. With increased awareness of specific patterns, we begin to see, and feel, when they arise in our day to day lives. It is from this vantage point that we can figure out if those patterns are really serving us well in our current stage of life.

This brings me back to Ian Morgan Cron’s podcast about uprooting our childhood stories, and writing a new story. Again, the enneagram is such a helpful tool for crafting this new story — because if you use it to help you move toward the healthy end of your type’s spectrum, you will be cultivating your unique gifts, talents and strengths in a way that fosters your personal growth. Changing our outdated, outgrown behavioral patterns is the uprooting process. It opens space in our inner gardens to give the good seeds –the best parts of ourselves — room to grow. Without the heavy dark shadow of old patterns, light and fresh air fall onto the best parts of ourselves. This is how we get out of our own way! This is how we craft a better story for our evolving lives.

There is another thread to my recent excavation process that is worth noting. I don’t think we go out into the adult world openly stating “I am less than or I am not worthy.” I think those buried beliefs are wrapped up in shame. We are ashamed or embarrassed of our broken stories. At 18, I could not deny that my family history was messy. So two things happened: If someone reminded me of that truth, I relegated myself to the second-hand bin of life. The bar had been set low and I just acquiesced and kept my dreams small; or, I kept my family story hidden and fought really hard to push that bar for my own life beyond those restricting limits. In the middle of those two scenarios was a whispering self-doubt, keeping me tethered to my old story.

Are you beginning to see how old patterns, old belief systems and avoiding emotions are inter-connected?

We have such a rare and inspirational opportunity right now to combine the wisdom of the Enneagram with the body of work that Brene Brown offers on Emotions in Atlas of the Heart. These two invaluable resources have the potential to dramatically improve our self-awareness and our understanding of who we really are and what makes us tick.

This post is part one of my excavation discoveries. In my next post, I will share what I’m learning from my research and my friends about how we can help prevent childhood narratives from trapping our children and grandchildren. I am very excited about all that we are unearthing in our own personal growth journeys that will help others on their own paths.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Ian Cron’s latest book on the Enneagram – and a great resource for re-writing your own new story
Listen to this episode on childhood stories
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ul0U5JLjU0Y
Beatrice Chestnut’s latest book – written as an introduction to the Enneagram . Beatrice is a renowned Enneagram expert and a friend of Ian Morgan Cron. Dr. Dan Siegel – author of MindSight and the Power of Showing Up , writes the forward for this book!

Expanding our Emotional Vocabulary

Unpacking the multitude of mysteries around our human emotions could be a daunting task — and yet the more we really understand, the more intriguing it becomes. For starters, Brene Brown’s research revealed that most of us operate under the guise of three basic emotions — happy, sad and angry.

In her newest book, Atlas of the Heart, she unearths 87 emotions and experiences that are woven into the fabric of our lives, our relationships and how we make sense of our world. From 3 to 87 — imagine that! Now imagine what it might be like if we really understood the complex and nuanced landscape of each of those 87 emotions and emotional experiences. It literally changes everything — from self talk, to relationships, to parenting, to better understanding others.

Although Brene Brown is a decade and half younger than me, her childhood experiences and learned behavioral patterns mirror many of my own and those of my friends. For far too long now, prior generations were taught not to show –or even acknowledge — their emotions. Is it any wonder that we found a lot of creative, but unhelpful, ways to navigate rocky emotional terrain? This is especially true of negative emotions because it is human nature to avoid what hurts.

As Brene recently shared on The Happiness Kit podcast, “Many of us grew up with the belief that we are “thinking, doing” people who on occasion feel — and that can get us sidelined.”

The truth is our emotions play an instrumental role in the quality of our lives. What really sidelines us is not paying attention to our emotions. We can change the old belief system that feelings are best left unacknowledged. That meaningful work starts with us.

How empowering to really get to know our full range of emotions, to understand why some are stronger for us than for others. Building a more expansive vocabulary to help us articulate clearly what we are feeling could be a bridge to better communication and deeper understanding of ourselves and each other. Most importantly, we can teach younger generations to embrace their emotions, and to learn from them. No more hiding our true emotions and our authentic selves.

What happens when our language is not as expansive as our human experience. What does it mean when we have to shove an experience of despair or disappointment into one of these 3 buckets? (sic. happy, sad, angry) It cripples our ability to own and communicate our emotions. — Brene Brown, The Happiness Lab Podcast 1/2/2022

Brene highlights how neuroscience informs and supports her research and findings especially as it relates to how our bodies instinctively respond to our emotions. It is our personal history that often snags us and amplifies an emotion even decades later. We refer to this as being “triggered”.

Having better language to name our emotions can be a catalyst for loosening the grip of our emotional triggers and help us better respond biologically. Our bodies not only react to an emotion, if we label an emotion incorrectly, our bodies will respond to that too. Brene shares an example of how we often misuse the word “overwhelmed” and that sends an emergency message to our bodies to begin a major shut down. Once you understand what happens when the brain releases chemicals in direct response to your emotions, you will be motivated to learn more about emotional regulation.

About 4 -5 years ago, we started seeing how language doesn’t just communicate emotion, but it also shapes it. We are individually and collectively in trouble if we don’t have language.” –Brene Brown in her interview with Dr. Laurie Santos on The Happiness Lab Podcast, January 2, 2022

If you are familiar with Besser Van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score, you will recognize the intrinsic value of helping our bodies process emotions, anxieties and trauma in a more immediate and healthier way.

Perhaps the most eye-opening discovery that Brene makes is how languages shapes our relationships. She admits that for many years, she believed that we just needed to get better at reading other’s emotions. At the conclusion of all her research for Atlas of the Heart, she now acknowledges that this is not possible.

One compelling reason is that so many emotions present the same way.

In Atlas of the Heart, Brene gives us not only language, but relatable definitions and real life examples for these 87 emotions and experiences. She explains the impactful differences in words that we often use interchangeably such as envy and jealously. She’s organized the book in chapters that help us recognize “The Places We Go When (fill in the blank with your own emotion)”. It is an incredible guide to understanding where we go in our bodies, our old narratives and our actions when emotions are in the driver’s seat.

Once we begin to realize all the ways we ourselves are impacted by our own emotions, we can gain greater empathy and patience with others.

While we can’t read emotion in people, we can get curious — and connect with them deeply – as opposed to diminishing, questioning or challenging the stories and the emotions they share with us.” — Brene Brown

Along with an expanded vocabulary for our wide array of emotions, Brene sheds much needed light on the reality that our emotions show up in layers. She offers these four B’s to help us understand these layers:

Biology — Emotions are called “feelings” because our body is the first responder — we FEEL emotion. Emotion is physiological — Where in your body are you feeling it and what are you feeling?

Biography – What did you grow up understanding, believing or learning about this feeling?

Behavior – How are you showing up when you are triggered by a strong emotion? Do you want to punch the wall, hide and cry, feel like you are coming out of your skin?

Backstory – What is your personal history and lived experiences? How do they impact your emotional responses in life?

I’ve been on my own self-discovery journey for over six years and it required a lot of unpacking of emotional baggage and entangling myself from behavioral patterns I developed as a young child to help me navigate an often confusing, disruptive environment. None of that was serving me well as I matured organically through life. I believe that we can all benefit from the game-changing research of Brene Brown and the field of neuroscience about emotions. It is time to bring our emotions to the forefront of our self-improvement work and get to know them intimately. They power our lives and have so much to teach us.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

This January 2, 2022 episode of The Happiness Lab podcast is a great introduction for anyone who wants to hear directly from Brene what she offers to us in her newest book, Atlas of the Heart.

The Happiness Lab podcast is brought to you by Dr. Laurie Santos and this coming year she is focusing her attention on learning from our negative emotions with dynamic guests and relatable stories.

This will become one of your greatest reference guides in your home. It is a coffee table book — and will require lots of conversations over coffee to fully appreciate its value.

Getting to Know YOU….

Do you love really getting to know someone? Do you find yourself drawn to a new friend, eager to hear their story and gleefully discovering common interests, common ground? What stories do you tell your new friend about you?

I was thinking a. lot about Brene Brown sharing with us in Atlas of the Heart that we can all become better at being good stewards of stories. She guides us to become good listeners, to hold space and withhold judgment and to “accompany” others on their journeys rather than attempting to fix, rescue or dismiss.

As I reflected on Brene’s teachings, I wondered just how well we really know ourselves — are we good stewards of our own stories. Just maybe, we need to start there…..

I’m so grateful for my “marble jar” friends because I can go explore this idea of self-discovery and self-awareness with them on a deep and personal level. What fascinates me is that I have known several of these remarkable women for many years. I’ve known them to be big-hearted, resilient, hard-working good human beings. It is only recently that I have come to know the broken parts of their stories – and they are learning mine. My love and respect for them has grown exponentially as we pull back the curtains and take a deeper look at our lives honestly and face the truth about the places where we have room for transformation and growth.

Most of us are in our 60’s and 70’s. Why did it take us so long to do this inner work? How would our lives have been different had we known how our old narratives and lived experiences had impacted the way we showed up in the world? What were we teaching our children by osmosis when we armored up, shut down or shape-shifted to fit in?

As we unpack so much of our personal history, we begin to see more clearly why we get emotionally triggered by certain things. The more we open up to each other, the more common ground we find in behavioral patterns that we used to navigate our life situations. Most importantly, we gain a lot of clarity about how easy it is for all of us to get stuck on the broken shards of our past.

Each of my marble jar friends was independently working on self-improvement — and frankly had been for decades. Our nightstands and desks hold stacks of books from the “self help” section of Barnes and Noble, countless journals and post it notes with inspirational quotes. We all had found authors, inspirational speakers or podcasts that were pushing us along our path. Could it be that we were spending all those decades doing this work secretly, hoping that no one would notice that we felt flawed in some way, that we longed for life to flow a little easier?

I remember years ago sharing parts of my young harried, married life with girlfriends. We all commiserated about the juggling act of parenthood, jobs, marriage, housework and bills but we never really took a deep dive into our emotions. My generation was encouraged to suck it up, put your head down and plow through. We read magazine articles about the top 10 ways to “(fill in the blank)” — get organized, get in shape, get more done, clean your house in 15 minutes. There was often more gossip than genuine support when the wheels came off of life.

The “window dressing” of our lives that became prevalent with social media over the past decade only took us all down this rabbit hole a little further. We slowly were digressing away from revealing any of the messy parts of life and showcasing the highlight reel instead. The more we would compare our lives with others through the lens of social media, the more likely we were to keep the broken parts of our own lives to ourselves. Just maybe we were becoming isolated long before the pandemic struck.

I can almost laugh when I look back six years and realize that it was a pretty bold move for me to launch a blog on personal growth and be so candid about the messy life event that pulled the rug out from under me. This was not at all typical fodder that you’d scroll through on social media. Yet I had a found a little community through Mindfulness Magazine and knew I wasn’t alone. Often in life, when I’d hit rock bottom, I would try my best to be a good example for moving on. Helping others who were in similar situations helped me get through big challenges. Two of those past challenges were breast cancer and the sudden death of my beloved husband. Now my life challenge was getting to know myself on a much deeper level.

It was this blog and an online Brene Brown discussion group that forged a reconnection between me and two friends from my younger life. Today these two women are treasured trust buddies. We know more about each other know than we thought possible and we have each other’s backs — and hearts — through thick and thin. It turns out that we each could feel the “nudging” for self-discovery and personal growth. The realization that we were not alone in this feeling drew us to each other like a powerful magnet.

It may have been the very first time that any of us had done this deep exploratory inner work with a trusted friend. We’d gone to counselors, met with pastors and been to support groups. But to have a “dive buddy”, who was on the same quest — well, that was uncharted territory. The more we explored and unpacked, the more common ground we found. Not surprisingly, we also discovered that many of our behavioral patterns, triggers and vulnerabilities looked and felt exactly the same. We were not only willing, we knew it was necessary, to do this hard work.

Over the course of the past two years, these two treasured friends have introduced me to other women who are also longing for increased self-awareness and personal growth. Our circle of friends has become an invaluable network for transformation and self-development. Together we are discovering passions and purposes for this chapter of our lives. Oddly enough, it is the “work”, the hard work of breaking old patterns and healing old stories that keeps us so energized, engaged and eager.

The big reason for this is that we have bonded in ways that have deepened our friendship connection and swelled our hearts. Where we once felt alone, we have found others just like us — basically good people who have struggled, who wished to do better, who were weary of dragging around a lot of unnecessary emotional baggage. We are becoming good stewards of stories — our own and those of others.

It was friendship that opened the door and it was vulnerability that sat us down and gently persuaded us to share our stories. I give so much credit to Brene Brown’s body of work for providing us with the framework, the language and the courage to share our messy, broken stories. She always provided us with accessible, relatable real life stories of her own as the whiteboard for the rest of us. When we dumped out our stories, we could all begin to see the common ground we shared.

Ian Morgan Cron, enneagram expert and author of two incredible books — The Road Back to You and The Story of You, encourages us each to rewrite our stories — to let go of the old title that no longer serves us in learning, growing and evolving. It is with his wisdom and encouragement that I have begun to realize that all the broken pieces of our collective stories create the most beautiful stained glass window from which to view our lives anew.

I am witnessing the positive impacts that self-discovery and personal development have been having on me and my friends over the past few years. The better we have gotten to know ourselves, the more space we have created in our awareness, hearts and minds for learning from the stories of others. I can feel empathy and compassion growing.

I’ve shared many times in my posts over the years, how I will notice a theme that seems to overarch many of the resources I rely on. Currently that theme is “storytelling”. You may not be aware of how the “story you are telling yourself” is holding you back from being your most authentic self. Any work that you do to better understand yourself and your life story is the best investment of time and energy you can make.

Here’s to a Happy New Year — and to getting to know yourself and others better. If we all became good stewards of our stories, I believe we will make meaningful contributions to humanity.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

The Enneagram – check out The Enneagram Institute online for a great introduction to this dynamic self-discovery tool. https://www.enneagraminstitute.com

Ian Cron’s Enneagram Podcast – Great discussions with diverse guests on how they use the Enneagram to enhance their lives.

I highly recommend a very recent episode of the Typology Podcast entitled The Enneagram and Shame. Dr. Curt Thompson, a noted psychiatrist, speaker and author offers deep insights into the way our shame triggers” show up and the neurobiological and physiological impact that they have on us. Brene Brown talks often of shame and how it can isolate us. This podcast offers real life examples of how ineffective behavior patterns we adopt to secure love and belonging often do just the open — pushing others away. This podcast was one of the most insightful explanations on shame I’ve heard. Here’s the YouTube link to this episode https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CSr1XKANOY

Relatable stories that will help you better understand not only your own enneagram type but those of your friends and loved ones.

This podcast features Dr. Rick Hanson, neuroscientist and mindfulness expert and his son Forrest as they explore the practical science of building inner strengths and emotional awareness. This “Break Your Old Patterns” episode is a great resource for self-awareness. https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-break-your-old-patterns/