Deconstructing Patience

Years ago, I was told by a family counselor that I was “too patient”. Admittedly, that really threw me for a loop. “Too patient” — was that even a thing?

You see, my generation grew up being told that patience was a virtue and the definition of a virtue is: behavior showing high moral standards. Back in the day, being patient as a child mean being quiet and well behaved. I can chuckle now in hindsight with greater awareness that our youthful “patience” was really a test of will power — and a fear of the consequences if we failed. It had very little to do with high moral standards.

That counselor’s insight led me to reflect on my relationship with patience. I’d always been proud of being such a patient person, but I began to unpack all the ways that having too much patience might be causing some problems.

The tap root of my relationship with patience was silence. I’d developed a very common strategy of hiding and stuffing my emotions as a child. Better to be quiet than to give voice to what I was feeling. There were severe consequences for emotional outbursts and there were words of praise for keeping it together. So this strategy was reinforced time and again as the working model for success. I constructed a framework for my understanding of patience with a foundation of silence.

This is how the stratification of our childhood patterns begins. My motivation was to avoid negative consequences and keep the peace. This is not how to teach children about values and high moral standards. But my parents’ generation did not know better and was simply perpetuating the old Freudian practices of child-rearing.

As the oldest sister with two feisty younger brothers, I often felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility to protect them. I wanted to protect them from not having patience and I wanted to ensure overall family harmony. A nearly impossible challenge for an 8 year old old. Not only that, my brothers were developing strategies of their own quite different from mine. In fact, I’m pretty confident that my youngest brother employed the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” strategy which he fueled with unchecked, tsunami sized emotions and outlandish behaviors. Attempting to achieve any sustainable peace was like herding cats.

It’s only been with a lot of reflection that I can see now how yet another strategy became part of my framework for patience. I began to put other’s needs ahead of my own. The sacrifice seemed noble when I was young. But it created a big disconnect for me over the years as I lost touch with what was most important for me. As a steadfast harmonizer, my motivation turned to keeping the peace and avoiding conflict. I barely spent any time giving consideration to what I truly needed to foster my talents, to feel safe and to explore my potential.

There was yet another discovery as I deconstructed what patience actually looked and felt like to me — I became a control freak.

Yikes…I did not like facing this truth.

While it was wrapped up in good intentions, my need to “control” the situation was masked as helpful, supportive and even kind. I’d swoop in without being asked to fix, resolve and correct anything for anybody. The sooner a crisis was resolved, the safer I felt. I rarely took the time to consider that what I was doing was overriding what someone else really needed or wanted.

When I was younger, this part of me felt like I was some sort of incredible fairy, possessing a magic wand and skipping merrily into chaos and shifting dark energy to glittery light and sugary joy. As an adult, I altered the image to be more realistic — a competent problem solver or organizer. True confession, I still held tight to the image of a magic wand. I just didn’t show it to anyone.

What I have learned about the unhealthy part of being an avid helper is that inadvertently we are robbing others of their agency, their growth spurts and their consequences. We aren’t helping at all – just overstepping our bounds – and dismissing the needs and desires of others.

Let’s take a step back and look at what I have unpacked about my concept of patience which I developed in childhood and carried into my adult life, mostly unconsciously. These were my blind spots:

I learned to be silent. I did not express my emotions externally and I did not process my emotions internally. I hoarded them. This lead to a many layers of unprocessed emotions and a lot of confusion in my heart and mind.

I became a harmonizing people pleaser and disconnected from an important aspect of myself — my own true needs. Brene Brown writes about how we hustle for validation of our worthiness. I was trying to find that sense of love and belonging by “doing” rather than “being”. I’d wear myself out to the point of exhaustion helping others and forget to take care of myself. The biggest discovery was that this became the root cause of my tug of war with resentment. So much internal conflict between wanting to help others and feeling resentful for not being appreciated or reciprocated.

My gift of being a helper got clouded and I became a controller. I rarely asked for help I truly needed. Pride got the best of me — I had to prove I could handle anything on my own but deep inside I was crushed that no one was reciprocating all the help I’d given. I hid my own vulnerabilities. Brene Brown has emphasized that vulnerability is the birthplace of connection, trust, love and belonging. By hiding my vulnerability, I disconnected myself from my own self-worth and from the stronger, lasting connections that were possible with others when we let our guard down and lead with empathy. We are not here to fix or rescue. We are here to support, encourage and witness each other’s journey.

Deconstructing patience was a meaningful exercise for me and it totally transformed my framework for this quality that I still find worthwhile. In fact, I value my patience today more than ever because the framework and the components of it have shifted. This pivot came from close examination of “motivation”.

I found the enneagram to be an incredibly useful tool for this work. Beatrice Chestnut, author of the Complete Enneagram, describes it as a personal owner’s manual for how we make sense of life. So many of our concepts, beliefs and narratives about who we are were formed in childhood. Our “motivations” in childhood are to make sense of the families and the world we live in. We develop coping strategies and use stories to get our needs met. Our core motivations in childhood pre-dispose us to construct frameworks we carry with us into our adult lives. But the big caveat is that our motivations change as we mature, as does our environment, our autonomy and agency. We often enter adulthood eager to change a lot of things but we use the old framework to build the new…..and we end up re-creating the past.

If I was operating on an old framework of patience that included being silent, not processing emotions as they occurred, not honoring my own needs, over-helping and controlling others, then I could be assured that my being “too patient” was the root cause of so much of my own internal unhappiness.

The starting point was redefining my motivation for cultivating patience.

I wanted to feel calm and grounded regardless of what was going on around me. As an adult, I knew that I cannot control how others react or respond in any given moment. What I can control is me and my responses.

I wanted to feel a strong unwavering self-worth. How I feel about me, my gifts, my contribution to others has to come from within. This required unabashed acceptance, self-compassion and a recommitment to my own self-confidence in my core values and a big nod to the fact that I too have needs.

I wanted to be a compassionate, empathic teacher/inspirer/role model for others. No more fixing or rescuing. Much more listening, holding space and asking questions only others could answer for themselves.

Revisiting my core motivations and upgrading them to be in alignment with the vision of the adult I’d always hoped to be was just the catalyst I need to tear down the old framework and rebuild with my new and improved definition of patience.

The “too patient” framework was unhealthy, full of insecurities and flawed coping strategies. The healthy and empowering framework for my patience has a strong foundation of grounded confidence. The scaffolding of my patience framework is a steady work in progress, flexible and resilient, and always evolving. I am no longer silent; I have found my voice and more discernment about when and how to use it. I know myself better and honor my own emotions, set boundaries and am clear about my needs and my values. I heed resentment if I start to feel it — it’s my warning light that I might be overstepping my boundaries in the helping department. I have replaced “let me do that for you” with “what does support or help look like for you?”

I’d like to think that deconstruction of the old “too patient” framework has been a Goldilocks process for me — and that I have moved to the “just right” place to be with my core value of healthy patience.

The biggest and most rewarding benefit to this entire process of deconstructing our old frameworks of motivation and values has been to witness how parenting is evolving. Children are being taught patience in a whole new way. Mindful parents are proactively teaching their children emotional agility and self control in empowering, healthy new ways. No more dismissing or stuffing a child’s emotions. It takes only a few minutes to help a child name and honor what they are feeling. Parents are helping children make better choices once they are somewhat disengaged from big, strong emotional tugs. Children are learning that they are not defined by their big emotions or their ever-changing behavioral patterns, they are actually learning from them.

The big pivot in changing how we parent and grandparent with emotional agility, healthy patience and greater self-awareness is that our children will get a consistent, supportive framework for who they are, what their natural talents and gifts are, and toolkit of healthy tools for navigating friendships, family and life.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

This conversation with Andrew Chapman, psychotherapist and meditation teacher is so worthwhile if you want to learn how the enneagram can support your self awareness and self observation skills.

CHECK OUT THIS 11/17/2022 EPISODE: Unlocked: Mindfulness and the Enneagram https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/typology/id1254061093?i=1000586586066

Here are two of my favorite books for reading more about each of the nine types of the enneagram. Such insightful guides for understanding what our core motivations are in life:

Greater Good Magazine: Four Reasons to Cultivate Patience

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/four_reasons_to_cultivate_patience

Broken Spirits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

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

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

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

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