[Orginally published at: womens-plaza.com on 3/21/16]
A few years ago I was teaching a dance class at a high-end fitness club. During a break between songs, something caught my eye. I turned to watch as a woman just outside of the window seemed to be running in slow motion. Shirt stained with sweat, her cheeks were flushed a brilliant red. She moved as if traipsing through quicksand. As she labored on I noticed she was harnessed to something just outside my line of sight. Her face contorted and she summoned the strength to propel herself forward - desperately tethered, yet just as fiercely committed. Just as the students in class turned to look, her personal trainer - a young man at the other end of her rope - came into view. He leaned back against her might and looked almost-bored as he literally resisted her call to action.
“Wow. That looks a lot like my last relationship.” The words spilled forth and, before I could process my regret, the room full of women erupted in laughter. Apparently, I wasn’t alone in that sentiment.
While a certain degree of tension is to be expected in relationship, there may be times when we find ourselves pulling more than our share of the weight. We get angry. Resentful. We want to blame others for dragging their heels in tandem with our efforts. What’s with them anyway? Why do they have to make everything so damned difficult?!
Yet perhaps a better question to ask is: What’s with you? While it may seem like a loving act to continually pull people where you think they need to go, in reality you’re not doing yourself or anyone any favors. Sacrificing vital energy in any direction that consistently opposes you will invariably breed resentment.
My colleagues at the Women’s Plaza have recently offered some great fodder related to the topic of power expression. Danielle delivered a pragmatic crash course on how to say no. And Glaucia presented a demystifying look at work inequalities at home. Now let’s examine what typically lies at the center of our self-sacrifice.
Most debilitating emotional tethers are a result of poor boundaries. If your back is breaking and your heart rate is up, your exhaustion may be an indicator that you have disowned your limits.
Sovereignty is the ability to honor and effectively express your edges. In our most intimate dealings, we often disown our boundaries for the sake of what we call unconditional love. In our efforts to be unselfish, we over-empathize and stop differentiating. We become unwilling to draw a line - to own or express our truth - because that isn’t what love would do.
Now I assure you, I am a big fan of love. Love is the connective tissue that binds our lives to one another. It is limitless, expansive. It reaches our hearts and minds into an emotional stratosphere that lies far beyond the immaterial.
Yet, like it or not, limits govern in a material world. Bypassing personal limits for the sake of love may be necessary from time to time; however, it is absolutely essential to our well-being that we don’t make a habit of it.
What would love do? Love will love, just as the wind will wind. A better question is: What will you do to honestly express your love AND your limits given the current conditions?
An open heart has edges. We must treat our emotional heart-space as we would any other muscle - allowing it to contract with regularity so it might develop the strength and elasticity to expand to its fullest potential.
Sovereignty takes practice. You can start now:
3 KEYS to SOVEREIGN SELF-EXPRESSION
Do I embody my right to be happy no matter what I am “doing”? Or do I hustle to prove myself, allowing the roles that I play and my performance therein to define my worth?
Embody your significance.
Live the confidence credo = “I matter.”
What’s mine and what isn’t? Do I allow the people I care about to tend to their own emotional experience? Or do I intervene, hoping to FIX it?
Allow others the consequences of their choices.
Habitual martyrdom only serves to disempower the people around you.
Am I comfortable expressing my needs? Or does the idea of setting boundaries scare me? Am I willing to unpack, sort through dysfunctional models, and find a more honest and vulnerable way to draw lines in relationship to others?
Together we can divorce the my-way-or-the-highway models we’ve long been fed and recreate a world where reciprocated vulnerability is a shared cultural value.
Healthy expression of sovereignty has perhaps never been more critical than it is today.
And it starts with you.
No, NOT for romantic reasons; not at all. I was single for most of my adult life. I've always loved VDay because I honestly can't think of anything more worth celebrating than the expression of love.
Sound too cheesy for ya? Oh well. In a way, I feel that this holiday reveals my tribe to me... it poses the deciding question:
Is my heart half full or half empty?
Cynics will see the downside of this day... all the lonely hearts, commercialism, and false sentimentality. But I am an artist and lover to my very core... to me, seeing the opportunity and beauty in this day is a matter of perspective.
Perhaps how we love within is reflected outward. If you agree, join me by releasing the grip of rebellious denial. Instead, why not let this be a day to more boldly express the gratitude in your heart to ALL the people that you care for. Love them up! There is absolutely positively someone in your life you can pour your heart into. Your willingness to show up for them reflects a willingness to show up for YOU.
VDay can be about so much more than partnership and ooey gooey sentiments... it's an opportunity to practice more genuinely opening your heart to life itself.
And so... I you and this day, and there's no talking me out of it.
Here's a provocative love letter I wrote to you last year. Give it another gander if you like.
(Another warning: it's no Hallmark card)
Can I trust you?
It's question numero uno when it comes to matters of the heart. Some offer trust freely until it is compromised... others say hell no to that, insisting that trust be earned. Either way, most of us desire reliability in intimate connections. We hold high standards for truth and demand loyalty in our associations. Damned straight. Nothing wrong with that.
Yet how do we trust another without giving away our power?
It's a fine line, isn't it?... for to trust is to place emotional security in the hands of another. One might even go so far as to say that, in trusting someone, we rely on them to navigate life in a way that promises not to unsettle us. Sound far-fetched?... maybe, but this co-dependent definition of trust is a common romantic notion that leads to a whole helluva lot of suffering in the world.
The truth is, trust means different things to different people.
It's near impossible to create concrete guidelines for what exactly constitutes trustworthiness. Regardless how noble the intention, trust can never be guaranteed for it is far too subjective to pinpoint. Some say I'll trust you if you never lie, others consider trust a reward for the overriding of sexual urges... others allow greater freedom as long as they experience loyalty and someone who stays when the going gets rough. While these parameters may overlap, at other times they contradict one another... not to mention they attempt to control and systematize intimate connection - perhaps the most illusive human endeavor there is.
In fact, I've seen relationships crumble through well-meaning efforts to instill trust. Perhaps one partner conjures the courage to offer full emotional disclosure, only to very soon retreat back into silence due to the emotional backlash they receive upon sharing a hard truth. Little by little, trust is compromised, not solely because of the cold hard facts of life's many influxes, but also due to the ways our wounds lash out upon hearing the beautiful-ugly truth we were so sure we could handle. The grown-up parts of us long for emotional transparency; yet, our childlike-primal selves are still learning to navigate it.
It's always a gamble trusting someone... anyone. AND it's most definitely a two-way street. If you want true mutuality of intimacy then you'd better be ready to hear things that sting and/or rock you to your very core.
Will you hurt me? Yes. Probably.
On the surface it seems so simple. If people just tell the truth and keep their word, then no one will get hurt. I'm sure you know by now, that's not at all how it works. The heart doesn't keep score, nor will it always move in the direction of reason. Thus, when you base trust (and good favor) on predictability and someone pledging allegiance to live his or her life according to your edges, get ready to have your boundaries challenged again and again.
Please don't get me wrong, I'm not at all saying we shouldn't hold people accountable for their emotional indiscretions or misrepresentations of fact. I'm just inviting you to take a closer look... strongly advocating that someone be trustworthy might also just be another way that you defer to others, escaping the real work of facing your vulnerability and owning it as power.
For example: Are you making someone else wrong for being true to themselves, denying your power to have a say (and be at play) in how you are "being treated?" You can turn that pain into power by first admitting that the perfection of trust is an illusion.
In relationship, someone is always sure to step out of bounds.
Why? Because no matter how much we line up with others, we are always and will evermore be sovereign creatures with unique desires and ways of moving in the world. The more you deny that reality, the more often life will step in to remind you.
Now believe me, trust is important to me... I know all too well that when trust is violated it sucks royally. And this is true however it goes down: through overt deception - conscious misrepresentations or lies of omission... and/or via a change of heart - what happens when the soul is called to alter its course and loved ones experience the fallout. While the latter is certainly my preference, it can still hurt like hell. Heartbreak is a bitch no matter how ya slice it.
Nevertheless, change WILL happen, and sometimes it isn't so pretty. We can hope for and call upon the very best in people, yet we are ALL equipped with a shadow capable of unleashing hell, especially upon those who love us most.
Are you putting your trust in the right hands?
Trust is an inside job. If you really want mutuality of intimacy in your relationships, you've got to put self-reliance at the center. You are in charge of your needs - expressing them and creating boundaries in response to those around you, every step of the way.
I'm not implying that another's indiscretion is your fault... not at all. Life isn't always fair. You won't always get to choose which of your edges you work (at least not consciously). However, you CAN choose to trust in yourself and your power to respond more gracefully to the hand you are dealt.
What will you do when someone's choices challenge your own sense of justice?
Will you condemn them? Or will you forgive and forget? Will you inch-in closer? Or will you create space between you? Will you make them the enemy? Or will you be your own advocate by owning your edges?
There is no right answer. It's your choice, always. TRUST YOURSELF to show up when you need you most. Self-reliance becomes the ultimate eternal vow. You are no longer a victim of betrayal when you take your power back and own your responses to life.
A few years ago I was teaching a class at Multnomah Athletic Club, a premier fitness club here in Portland. In a short break between songs, something caught my eye just out the side window. A female member wearing a body harness and dripping with sweat was moving across the floor like molasses, using her full physical strength to propel herself forward. She was near impossible to ignore, as she sweated and strained against whatever it was she resisted. Just as the other students in class turned to look, a man (her trainer) came into view. He was at the end of her rope, leaning back against her might... resisting her call to action.
Without even realizing it, I muttered aloud (but mostly to myself)... “wow, that looks a lot like my last relationship.” Just as I was about to blush with shame, the entire room of women erupted in laughter. I was immediately put at ease and smiled along with them. Apparently I wasn’t alone in that sentiment. ;)
Of course, there are a number of reasons why we choose to tie ourselves to relationships leave us panting for air (that’s another post). Yet, I am way more interested in HOW we can open our eyes and untether ourselves from unnecessary strain.
While a certain degree of tension is to be expected in our relationships, all too often we are pulling around more than our share of the weight and/or participating in a co-dependent tango with co-workers, friends, partners, and family members.
So... who’s at the end of your rope?
You may want to blame whoever it is for being there, but in truth you are at fault. YOU are the one trying to force them to get somewhere they don’t want to go. You aren’t straining against them... you are actively fighting against yourself and your innate desire to act as an independent entity. While it may seem like a loving act to pull them along, you’re not doing anyone a favor here. While you might be getting stronger, sacrificing your power to a force that opposes the direction you want to go in inevitably breeds resentment.
Here are some examples of strapping on a harness and giving your power away...
(sigh) I have to pick up my friend at the airport.
I should go to the party because I will be expected.
I don’t want to do it, but I said that I would!
My boss always does this to me; he is such a bully!
I have to stay and work late because nobody else is gonna do it!
I tried to get out of it, but she just wouldn’t take no for an answer.
I really want to go on that vacation. I wish he was into it, too.
The reality is... it’s only true because you say it is.
You don’t “have to” do any one of those things.
You are NOT powerless. You are NOT a victim. Unless, of course, you choose to be.
You can take off that freakin’ harness any time you like.
How? Stop pretending to be without strength. People can only take advantage of you if you believe that they have more power over your life than you do. And that, my friend, is very unlikely. It is high time for you to flex your true power. And remember, power is not a four letter word. It can be expressed with kindness and compassion.
Let’s turn the former scenarios around...
I’m so sorry, Mary... I’m super swamped. Meet me for a drink when you get into town?
As much as I would love to make it to your party, it’s just not a good night for me. Have fun!
No can do. Hope you find someone.
Thanks, Boss. I’ll get to that when I can. Probably next week.
If the work doesn’t get done, so be it. It’s not my business, so it’s not my problem.
I can’t do you that favor. Please don’t ask me again.
[sound harsh? yep! pushy peeps need clear boundaries]
Hey! What if I took that trip to Hawaii with my BFF? It would probably be more fun anyway!
You can do this! Turn your reality around. Put your power into your own words, and take of that harness once and for all. It works. I haven’t worn one in years, and I’m stronger than ever.
Still not sure how to untether yourself from a specific dynamic? Ask me.