Happy Mother’s Day to all the amazing women in my life! I hope you are taking this day to celebrate just how incredible the work you do is. Regardless of our role in life, we are the caretakers, the nurses, the counselors, the cleaners, the nutritionists, the stress-relievers for the world! Without people who mother, the world would be a dark place indeed. Moms are the people we go to when we are in pain, scared, hungry, tired, lonely, hurt, sad and longing for home. Take moments today to recognize what a gift you are to the people in your life and how lucky they are to have you! You are the life-force that creates universes and nurtures life into existence. Every cell in your body is unique and put on this planet as a gift to humanity. Without you, the world would be a smaller, darker, sadder place and the people around you would be a little more lost. Hug yourself and thank yourself for continuing to shine your light and be yourself even in the hardest and darkest of times. You are incredible just the way you are today, no matter how you are feeling, no matter what you choose to do. You are a gift! Just by your existence alone you make the world a better place!
I wanted to share with you some wisdom that I have been grappling with in my own life in hopes that it resonates for you and brings some lightness to your life.
Today is the day to do some spring cleaning just for our own well being. I invite us to have an energy yard sale today and let go of other’s peoples burdens that may have accumulated in our space and start practicing sovereignty!
As women, we have a tendency to do the emotional work for others in our life AND the people in our life have come to expect us to do their emotional work for them. Emotional work/labor has been a hot topic in the feminist movement in the last few years, if you aren’t familiar with the term I encourage you to google it and see what you think. The gist is that as we move through the world, we take on the burden of making those around us feel better without even knowing we are doing it or being explicitly asked to make them feel better (see the opening paragraph of this letter for all the examples of how and when we do for others). In the process of constantly doing emotional labor, we expend more energy and do more than our share of the work in our environment. In addition to doing more than our fair share, we also do more work than we have the energy or resources for and have the physical and emotional consequences of being energetically over-extended. Take a moment to consider whether this is true for you.
Some clues to ponder-
- Are there places in your body that feel heavy, burdened, broken in ways that are hard to explain? In women our shoulders, our hips, our feet, our stomachs, and our hearts can all be places we accumulate excess emotional baggage.
- Are there people in your life who you resent, are irritated with or can’t keep your cool around? Often times we are triggered unconsciously and our response to situations can seem exaggerated or greater than the situation requires.
- Are there people in your life that you seem to care or worry about the consequences of their actions more than they do?
- Are there people in your life that only talk to you when they have a problem?
- Do you struggle to relax when engaging in self-care activities?
- Do you regularly feel more exhausted after self-care activities than when you started?
If you answered yes to multiple questions above then you have likely over-extended yourself. There is good news! We can incorporate daily practices into our life to create our own sovereign existence and encourage the people we love to do the same. For those not familiar with the term sovereignty, it is simply self-governance without outside interference. It is learning how to operate on your own terms within your own limits, not dependent on others. This doesn’t mean that we don’t need people in our lives or that we are not interdependent. It means that our sense of self is so strong and boundaries so clear that we don’t merge, entangle or blend with those around us as we interact. We maintain our energy and don’t over-extend ourselves in doing others energy work for them.
If this sounds like something you are interested in keep reading! If not, know that I love you and am so grateful to have you in my life and hope you remember every day just what an incredible woman you are!!!
If you are interested in practicing a new daily two-step practice to become a sovereign being read on! There is nothing difficult in the two steps however it does require attention to our emotional health and well-being a few moments a day and building awareness for ourselves of our own needs and limitations. If this seems too daunting you have my permission to flirt with the concept instead of committing to it. Doing the process once is still beneficial. Doing the process once a month is still better than not doing it at all. Standing on the road to awareness and looking around is better than staying lost in the woods and blaming others that we are lost.
Step 1 Spring Cleaning Visualization
This internal visualization process should only take a few moments a day once you get familiar with it and can be incorporated into any regular daily activity you already do. Mindfulness can be put into any regular activity we go through in our days. You can do this visualization while you brush your teeth or take a shower, while you are commuting, while you are cooking or exercising, anything that you would typically be thinking about other thoughts because you know how to do it so well you go on autopilot. If you already have a prayer or meditation practice you can also of course include it in that.
Begin by closing your eyes or focusing on one point in front of you and turn your thoughts inward. Start at the top of your head and begin to do a body scan. You are looking for the places that your body stores accumulated energy. Think of this as the closets, garages, attics of your body. Generally you will be able to find these in places that are tense, hard to relax, stiff, sore, they may even be painful depending on how long you may have been storing stress unchecked. When you get to a place that you sense is a storage location, take three deep breaths while you focus on that place in your body. Inhale through your nose to a count of 3–5 and exhale through your nose to a count of 4–6. It sometimes helps to rest your hand gently on the location you are working on if that feels comfortable. At the end of each exhalation visualize yourself letting go of other people’s baggage that doesn’t belong to you. As we go through the world doing the emotional work of others we accumulate their emotional baggage. Our boss’ judgement, our children’s failures, our partner’s expectations, our friend’s worries and so on and so forth with the people in your life. These are not your burdens, these are not your problems, these are not your responsibility. Let them go, they do not belong to you!
Don’t try too hard, push or strain during this process just breathe and let go and observe what pops up for you. When I first began this process I began to picture a yard sale where inanimate objects popped forth from my sub-conscious. I didn’t understand their meaning or what was attached to them. I just went with the process of breathing in, breathing out and letting go; filling the lawn with objects that I was letting go of from the places in my body that were tense. Attempt not to over-analyze or think too deeply during this process. This is a physical process, not a mental process. We are simply using mental clues to prompt your sub-conscious and physical body to work together. The important thing to focus on is breathing in and breathing out.
Breathe in and breathe out. Depending on your patience and how deeply you let yourself go into this practice you may find yourself taking more than three breaths in each tense location. Allow your body to respond intuitively to what you need, however if someplace is tense attempt to make yourself take at least three deep breaths. If you are struggling with what the sensation of letting go feels like try taking a deep breathe in, holding it and tensing the muscles in the particular area you are working. Let’s say it is your shoulders, breathe in and hold your breathe raising your shoulders to your ears and tensing all the muscles in your neck and shoulders, as you breathe out drop your shoulders and relax the muscles. If you are really struggling letting go and relaxing in a certain area you can also add a noise and loudly exhale through your mouth. I like AHHHHHHH, or OOOMPH with some force behind them. Think of the noise that karate masters use in their practice.
Scan your entire body and breathe into each area, letting go of the accumulated energy in each location. Depending on your patience and focus you may need to spread this work out over multiple days. Stay with the practice until you have finished an entire body scan. If you want to never do this practice again after than you have my permission to never do it again. However, if you have made it far enough to try out one area, give your body and yourself the gift of healing and clearing your entire body. At the end of your body scan, check one more time to see if there is any area that needs some extra work. I have found that sometimes particularly difficult items to let go of will transplant themselves to other areas in my body. There are some people in my life that I store energy for more willingly and have a harder time letting go of. As you continue to do the work you will become more familiar with your patterns. Remember that if you focus on the sensations in your body and your breathe that your intuition will take care of the rest of this experience. It will be an effortless practice that simply requires you to breathe in, breathe out and let go.
If you have the time and energy after your sessions you can journal about your experience however this isn’t necessary. This practice will help you even if you never consciously understand what is happening and you are just breathing through different parts of your body. Breathe in, breathe out and let go!
Step 2. Daily yard sales
As we go through our days we all have the chances to interact with people in our lives who are struggling with their own emotionality. They are stressed, sad, scared, lost, over-worked, over-stimulated, irritated… they are experience some sort of negativity in their lives. From our partners, to our kids to the checkout person at the grocery store. This negativity is not our problem. Let it lay in the yard sale and don’t buy it and take it home with you. Again, I repeat, this negativity is not ours to purchase. Even if they try to directly make it our problem by blaming us or asking for our help. IT ISN’T OUR PROBLEM! Or said in a more powerful way, THIS IS THEIR PROBLEM. If they want to purchase it from the yard sale and take it home with them, let them! I have given myself permission to not take home other people’s problems. I encourage you to do the same. Their emotional debt is their problem and they have the power to solve it themselves if I let them and they choose to. In any yard sale there is stuff that gets sold, stuff that no one wants, and stuff that the owner takes back. I don’t need to pack everyone’s junk up and take it home with me! If I do that then I am the only one paying the price.
Okay, we get the general concept but HOW? I think that is the million dollar questions. Society has taught us and reinforces that women should do the emotional work for the world. I don’t know about you but I am done with that BS. The people around me can start doing their own work. I don’t pretend to have any of the answers on how but I am happy to share what I have been practicing so far and I hope that if you embark on this journey with me that you will share your ideas and practices with me. I have been taking on other people’s problems my whole life (in fact taken responsibility for the whole country’s problems at times) so let me unpack what this looks like for me by sharing a few different scenarios and maybe we can learn some new tools together.
1. I want to help the person in front of me because I love them. I know when I get to a place with the people I love where I am irritable, want to be alone, am triggered by the littlest thing, that I have it all out of whack and need better boundaries around my own needs and emotional work.
2. I want to help the person in front of me because it will make my life easier. If they are happy and productive then we are all happier and more productive so let me make your life easier. This works right up until I get sick and can’t work or am not making my own deadlines because I have over-extended myself by taking too much upon myself.
3. I want to help the person in front of me because they have made something my problem. Someone blames me or says it’s my responsibility to fix something and I automatically assume they are correct because I am an empathetic, responsible person who cares about others feelings and doing my own work. I end up changing my personality, values or doing work that is not mine that leaves me feeling empty and without resources.
Some new skills I have been practicing-
- When someone has a problem I just listen, I don’t offer solutions.
- When someone is emotional I just sit with them, I don’t console them.
- When someone is blaming me I ask them what they need to feel better, I don’t apologize.
- When someone feels emotional but isn’t talking about it I give them space, I don’t ask them what is wrong.
- When someone isn’t getting the results they want I talk them through new thinking and tools they could use and then let them decide what they want to do, I don’t take over the project for them.
- When someone is struggling with fear or worry I let them know I have faith that they will find a way, I don’t work the emotional ladder with them.
- When someone comes to me asking for help with a problem, I take a moment to ask myself if I have the time, energy and resources to help, I don’t drop everything and charge into solving the problem with them.
- At the beginning of the day I ask myself how much energy I have to give other people based on how I am feeling and then I check in with myself throughout the day.
- If I get irritable or out of sorts I take some time to ask myself what I need to feel better and then give that to myself.
- I pay attention to my interactions with others and ask myself if I get energy from them, give energy to them, or are energy neutral around them. Ie; feel better around them, feel worse around them or don’t have any change of feelings around them.
- I pay attention if I sense my personal problems are going to be an energy drain on others and arrange extra time in the day to take care of myself rather than expect others to take care of me.
- If I have been struggling with a problem and need help I set an appointment up with someone to discuss it rather than springing it on the person.
- I work to ensure if I am Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired (HALT) I take care of my own needs rather than depend on others to meet those needs.
- If I am over-stimulated I get myself to a quiet, dark space where I can be alone.
- I allow myself to sit and feel my negative emotions without assuming they mean there is a problem to solve. If I am feeling the same thing for several days then I begin to problem solve.
I could go into all the reasons that these new tools feel better and are better at empowering the people around me. However, this is just the beginning for me on assessing how I do the emotional work for the people around me and making changes. I am becoming a sovereign being focused on my own power and working within my own boundaries and limitations. I use the tools and wisdom that I have accumulated in this lifetime to ensure I am respecting and loving myself. I hope you will join me on this journey and this will be the beginning of this ongoing discussion. I love you so much!! Thanks for being a part of my life.