Monday, January 27, 2014

Four Agreements to Make With Yourself

In keeping with my theme this year of books that have meaning to me, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz comes to mind. The wisdom of this book helped me put into perspective my rights and place in this world. Like our mission statement, these four agreements that we make with ourselves, are guidelines to become who we want to be. They both free us and challenge us to be authentic. Another point is that they help us to see others more objectively. Below are the four agreements along with my thoughts and questions that led me to challenge myself to do things different.
Be impeccable with your word. “Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love”  
History has shown us that words can build up or destroy by instilling fear. Small sects to whole countries have been swayed into heinous acts against others by those who wield powerful discourse. Can our words be ones that help create healthy esteem in others? When we’re exhausted, angry or frustrated, can we refrain from saying something that later we wish we hadn’t said? 
You’ve heard me say in several posts that we should treat ourselves as we would our best friend. What we say to and about ourselves can instill self-respect or spiral us into low self-esteem that will deliver us into unhealthy and painful life experiences. Can we use language that is kind and encouraging to ourselves?
This also spoke to my people pleasing issue, the desire to tell others what I think they want to hear so they will like me. Instead, can we honestly express our opinions? I’m not talking about when responding to questions like “does my butt look fat in these pants?”(though that question can be answered as my friend Paula taught me, “They’re okay, but I think you can do better.”) I’m talking about who we are and what we believe. Do we know, in the deepest part of us, that we have a right to our opinion and it’s as valuable and valid as anyone else's? Do we have the courage to, in a kind way, honestly express ourselves?
The book also challenges us to pay attention to what we send out into the world. Are our words kind or hateful? Spewing hatred has caused a deep division among us. Can we spew loving words instead? Can we resist sending that nasty, judgmental email, Facebook post, or Tweet? (That’s a big order for me, especially during elections.) It only feeds the fear and hatred already cloaking the earth and thwarts any healing process. Do we want to cultivate anger and division or respect and unity? 
Don’t take anything personally. We each view the world from the perspective of personal experiences. All very different. Being the center of our world, we come to believe that we are responsible for everything, and everything is about us. Not so. While we may know that the unkind or judgmental thing someone said about us is really “emotional garbage” from their world, we may internalize it. If what they say hurts us, we need to ask ourselves why we are accepting that garbage. Is there something inside our belief system that tells us they are right? If so, we need to clean that up. Knowing who we are and what our intentions are, we don’t accept what others say. If people cut us off as they speed by us in traffic, we don’t flip them the bird. We don’t know what’s going on in their life. They are caught up in their own world, not trying to deliberately annoy us. Like my sister occasionally reminds me, “This is not the Joanna Hunter Show.” It’s not about us, it’s about them. Can we, with compassion, accept that and let it go?
Don’t make assumptions.  When we make assumptions, we believe they are true even though we have no proof. It’s amazing how many assumptions we make during one day. Someone we know walks by us in the mall and doesn’t say “hello,” and we immediately spin an assumption, “She deliberately ignored me. She must be angry with me.” We assume that our spouse can read our minds: “He should know how I feel.” Someone makes a comment and we don’t know how to take it: “She was insulting me.” These assumptions can bring us unnecessary  pain. Can we consider that our friend in the mall was deep in thought and just didn’t see us? Can we have the courage to ask for clarification when we don’t know how to take someone’s remark? Can we not expect our spouse to read our mind, and just tell him or her what we want or need? In other words, can we make the effort to keep communication clear and not assume the worst? Why not assume the best instead?
Alway do your best.  “Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. Everything is alive and changing all the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be as good.”
Can we rest in the knowledge that we’ve done our best, even if it’s not what we could have done had we not had a cold, not been up all night with a sick child, or been given more time to complete the project? A number of unexpected things can interfere with our performance. Can we refrain from beating ourself up and let it go? 

If you practice these, I think you will find, like my husband and I have, they will change your life for the better. Many years have passed since we first read the book. Yet, we still remind each other to “not take it personally,” or “you did your best, let it go.” I have to say it’s released me from a lot of guilt and frustration and made me more patient toward others. I hope you find that, too.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Rebuilding Ourselves and Our Lives After Abuse

One Facebook friend asked me if there was a book that would speak to her now that she’s left and accepted the fact that that relationship is over. I couldn’t think of any at the time. Today, as I stood before my office bookcase, scanning the shelf stuffed with the books on what abuse is and how to leave, It dawned on me that I should be looking at the shelf above this one. It holds most all the books that helped me build the skills to have the life I now have. I thought I’d share some of these books and their lessons with you this year. 
One of the first books I read was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s author, Stephen Covey, shares how we can develop the skills to move from dependence to independence to interdependence. Each an important stepping stone to success in our professional and personal lives. 
Having left our abusive relationship, we are now technically independent. But, do we have the skills to take care of ourselves and family? Possibly not. To survive we had lived in reactive mode, pushed around by someone else’s whim, not allowed to move froward, to grow. We came out with a mangled view of ourselves and obliterated self-esteem. 
Covey tell us to be proactive. Look ahead. Where do we want to go professionally and personally? He calls it beginning with the end in mind. Even if you aren’t sure what you want to do, pick an end result. (i.e. I want to work in a medical clinic.) You can always adjust it as you move forward, uncovering your passion, developing your skills and growing stronger. Determine what steps it will take to get to that end. (i.e. Approach friends in that field for advice. Apply for any job in a clinic. Take classes.) Then set your eyes on that future. Recognize the negative self-talk in your head is left over from the controlling people that were in your life. Tell the voice to shut up.
As you take control you will become truly independent - inner directed and your sense of worth determined by you, not what others think of you or that defeatist voice from your past.
From independence, Covey suggest you work toward interdependence.
“Interdependence is a far more mature, more advance concept. If I am physically interdependent, I am self-reliant and capable, but I also realize that you and I working together can accomplish far more than, even at my best, I could accomplish alone. If I am emotionally interdependent, I derive a great sense of worth within myself, but I also recognize the need for love, for giving and for receiving love from others. If I am intellectually interdependent, I realize that I need the best thinking of other people to join with my own.”
Though we join with others in our professional or personal life, we remain strong enough to speak up for what we believe. We cooperate, truly listen to the others' view points and try to understand their positions then negotiate a win/win solution. One that feels like a compromise not a loss. 
Covey suggests you write a mission statement. I talked about the importance of a mission statement in a previous post (October 2013). If you haven’t done one, this is a perfect time to do it.
Covey’s book is also were I learned about emotional bank accounts (EBAs). If you’ve read my book But He’ll Change, you will be familiar with this term. In every relationship we have an EBA where we make deposits through kindness, courtesy, honesty and keeping commitments. Accounts are drained by cruel treatment, thoughtlessness, no regard for commitments, and any kind of abuse. Of course, we now know to let go of relationships that drain our EBA.
Another important lesson for me was to stop hacking at the branches and go for the root of a problem. This is best described by the saying, “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” Too often we go for the quick-temporary-fix and not deal with the root of a problem. Covey taught me to look beyond the immediate relief choice and deal with the real problem.

The bottom line is to live your life with integrity. Respect yourself and others. Isn’t that the basic lesson of life - Do onto others as you would have them do onto you. Covey gives you steps to get there.