If you’re on a road that you believe is never going to end and never going to get better, what do you do? Should you just accept that’s your lot in life and you should just deal with it?
Or do you take a leap of faith in a direction that leads to the unknown in hopes that life will get better? There is always hope, but sometimes it has to be pursued.
(The following podcast transcript has been modified for easier readability and to benefit the Deaf and hard of hearing)
I got an email back in March that I read on the show, and I hadn’t heard back from the person until just recently, and I’m going to read you both of them. They’re very short. The first one said, “Hey, I listen to your podcasts, and they help me on a daily basis. I’ve been dealing with a dead-end job, and heavy anxiety and I keep falling back into the same loop where I feel like my life is going nowhere. I’m failing myself and my loved ones and it leads me to using drugs to help me deal with things. I feel lost and trapped in this vicious cycle. Any advice you could give me would be much appreciated.”
That’s the original email and when I got that, I thought how am I going to help this person? I don’t know what to say. When everything is against you, and your job sucks and you’re taking drugs and there’s just no, it feels like there’s no way out of it.” I read that on the episode When life seems like an endless series of dead ends.
That might be useful for you if you are feeling like life is an endless series of dead ends. I hadn’t heard back from that person. When I create episodes, I really want the episode to help the person writing, and anyone else that’s listening that might have issues in their life. It is nice to get feedback every now and then to find out if the episode actually did help.
I did end up getting feedback on this one. It was another short and sweet email that said, “Hey, Paul, I hope you’re well. I wrote to you a couple of months ago and you did a podcast on it. Since then my life has changed drastically and for the better. I have done what I was scared to do, and left my job for a better one. And I have never felt such relief. My anxiety is better and I’ve stopped taking drugs to cover up my problems. I just want to say thank you for your help and wisdom. It’s changed my life. You’re an amazing person and truly do change lives. Much love.”
Wow. That’s the kind of response I absolutely want and hope to get every time I create an episode or help someone out. It sounds like what he heard on that show helped him out. I’m sure there were many, many steps that he had to take that were very difficult for him. He had much anxiety. When life is throwing you all these curveballs and everything seems impossible and you feel like you’re stuck, and you feel like you have no options, you might have to take some big leap somewhere in one direction, or in many directions, in order for things to change.
I wanted to read both of these because I don’t know about you, but in my life, like in my 20s, maybe a little bit in my 30s, I felt depressed. I felt like the world had nothing more to offer so why should I be here? What’s the point? It felt like there was no meaning in life. It felt like I had no purpose. I certainly didn’t feel joy. I didn’t feel any of the positive feelings that I saw other people feeling.
I had to get through this period of my life. That was extremely difficult because I really felt like there was no point. I was unhappy and depressed. I’d think, “Today is awful and the next day is going to be awful, too. It’s never going to end.”
That was my belief system: It was never going to end. But it always does. It always ends. And I know some people might be in a state of mind right now or a depressed state that disagrees with that. Because sometimes there’s loss in our life, in that loss brings sadness or terrible feelings that we don’t want to feel. Or if it’s not loss, it’s failure or just not being able to achieve anything or maybe you’ve achieved a lot and it’s still not enough. You just can’t find a way to find satisfaction in life.
First of all, you’re not alone. And if you’re going through that now, it does transition into something better. It does. And if you don’t believe me, I’m here to tell you that you don’t know what’s going to happen. Sometimes things happen out of the blue. They can shift your mindset in a millisecond. It can change how you feel. It can change how you think.
And I will say this, I don’t know if it’s half the time or more, but often, when you take the leap into a direction, that is how the mindset shifts. That is how you get out of the negative state and into a more fulfilling state – A more purposeful place. But that is a scary leap sometimes. When you feel stuck and you feel like you have no options, and you feel like there’s nothing you can do (which I know is a redundant statement), and it doesn’t feel like things are ever going to get better, you might not make the right decisions. You might not make any decision. Or you might make bad decisions because you don’t think it’s going to get better.
This reminds me of my first long term relationship. As soon as we broke up, when she left, I just wanted to move away. I wanted to pack up our place and move away and never look back. That was my immediate decision. I thought there was no reason to stay and no reason to think I was going to be happy again. I believed this was my life from that point forward. So I decided that I was going to move closer to family. At least then I’d have some connection with somebody that loves me.
That was my immediate thought, probably within a day or two after the breakup, because we lived together. We owned a condo together, and I just didn’t want to stay. Staying meant pain.
So I packed everything up in the house and I gave what was hers to her. Then I was ready to go. If you were to come into my house, you’d find it full of boxes. I was ready! But for some reason, I think it was like a couple of weeks later, I asked myself, “What am I doing? This is crazy. I’ve already established life down here.I have a job and I’m leaving because someone left me and I think I’m going to be unhappy?”
It wasn’t that I was suddenly feeling better. It was just strange to me that I was packing up my life because a part of it changed, and I was just making this rash, quick, not-well-thought-out decision that was going to shift my living arrangement and my reality completely. Talk about a huge upheaval in life! I just wanted to just change everything. I didn’t even give myself a chance to grieve. But I was young and that was my first long term relationship and I didn’t really know how to grieve. I didn’t know how to feel. I didn’t know this was a normal part of life.
I didn’t want to believe that breaking up with someone was a normal part of life but it is. And it hurts. And I didn’t want to do it. Nobody wants to do it. Nobody wants to go through that. Some people may want to break up, but the people who don’t want to break up with someone that go through a breakup, it is painful. And it’s worse for some people than it is for others.
I had a fear of abandonment, and I was highly dependent on my partner. And I was very clingy. I also feared being alone. I had a lot of dysfunctions that I got fulfilled by being in a relationship. But as I’ve talked about before, when you have all these dependencies on someone, and they have a job to create function from your dysfunctions, or fulfill what’s missing in you, that’s a lot of pressure on someone!
And the more pressure you put on someone, the more likely they’re going to distance themselves from you. And you may not think you’re putting pressure on them. I used to think that loving her and giving her all this attention, and always wanting to be with her, was something that she’d want. But it turned out to be clingy and dependent. I was like a little puppy following her around all the time, and that drove her away. That caused her to distance herself emotionally from me.
After a couple years, near the end of the relationship, she distanced herself from me, emotionally and physically. She was just gone! That was it. When it ended, it was over. There was no love anymore. Well, there was love but not the feeling of being in love. She was gone. But she needed to do that. She needed to protect herself to be in a safer space with herself because I put so much pressure on her and because of my dysfunctions.
As you probably know, dysfunctions come from old traumas, old neglects, and old interpretations from when you were younger. When you are with your caretakers as a child, you can misinterpret things they do or say to you. Or you interpret them correctly because they are neglectful, abusive, or hurtful.
We take all these old traumas and old neglects and everything that happened to us as a child, and with our child brain, turn them into things we can understand. Then, when we grow up, we have these learnings from childhood that we take with us into our adult relationships. Then we either stay that child in the relationship with all of our triggers, or we become a new person by dealing with our triggers and understanding the dysfunctions we might have. You may or may not call them dysfunctions, but I do.
I didn’t know back then, when I was a child, they were dysfunctions, but when we learn about these things (either by listening to shows like this, going to therapy, or just figuring it out for yourself), then it’s important to address them so that they don’t cause a strain on any of our relationships.
You can have dysfunctions that cause tension between you and family, or you and friends, or you and your partner. I had a client that had a friend for over 20 years and she didn’t realize how much dysfunction there was between them. Her friend was doing behavior that was emotionally harmful, and she had to distance herself from this friend. It was difficult for her because they were friends. She didn’t realize all that time that it was a dysfunctional relationship, but this is what happens when you start healing and working on yourself: You start to realize what dysfunctions are in your life and what you might need to do so that you don’t have them anymore. When you work on yourself, yes, you might lose relationships just like my ex-girlfriend did back when she decided that she needed to do something for herself which was getting away from me.
She needed to protect herself and find a safer space to be, either with someone else or no one else, but she needed to stop feeling the pressure I put on her (that’s my word: pressure. I don’t know what it actually felt like to her, but I’m assuming it felt like some sort of pressure, or some sort of negative energy inside of her). When she was with me, it was wearing her out and wearing her down.
She may not have been able to explain exactly why she felt the way she did, but after all my healing and all the work I did on myself, and everything I’ve learned, I now realize all of my misbehaviors. I now understand that a lot of my behavior comes from my old traumas, my emotional triggers, and the stuff I didn’t really think was a problem in my life. Just like you might be walking around with things that you went through.
Emotional traumas are old, emotional wounds that you don’t think are a problem today but they show up in ways that create problems in your life, and you may not attribute those problems to what’s going on or what had happened in your life in the past. You have these relationships that seem to have tension in them and you think it’s the other person, or you think it’s something else. It could be that person or it could be something you’re carrying around – some sort of old emotional wound that might need healing.
The scary part of healing is that you discover something you don’t want to discover about yourself which causes you to become very vulnerable. It’s scary! At that point however, you might have to take that leap. I’m talking about the scary leap into the unknown. That might mean you learn something new, or do something that you’ve never done before.
The reason I read this email at the beginning it sounded like this person didn’t want to leave his job. He said he was in a dead-end job, but leaving was scary because what does that mean? It means maybe some deep, dark, primal fear of having no money.
And if you have no money, you’re going to starve.
And if you starve, you’re going to die.
These are the kinds of fears we attribute to the future. The fears in our life today often originate from a deeper place inside of us. Fear of not having a job could actually be a fear of dying at the deepest level. I’ve talked about that in other episodes where you drill down into the fear to figure out where that fear comes from, why you have it, and what it’s about.
When you do that process, you realize, “Oh, I’m not really afraid of losing my job. I’m afraid of starving. I’m afraid of losing my life!” Or, “I’m afraid of not taking care of my family or not being able to take care of myself and being homeless and dying…”
Like I said, when you drill down into those fears and discover their origin, you realize that, “Maybe I shouldn’t be so afraid of quitting my job because I’m holding on to some old stuff. I’m holding on to some old belief systems.”
I’m not saying that if you lost your job, you wouldn’t starve and die. Sure, that’s a possibility. But has it happened yet? I’m asking you, Has that happened?
I’m not saying it couldn’t. I look at my life and the fears I carried around with me. When I made the decision to quit a job when I knew there was no money after I quit, and we were already going to the soup kitchen because we were so broke, I had to face the fear that we were going to end up starving or dying.
I looked back at that time of my life realized I was carrying around unrealistic fear. But at the same time, it was a real fear to me. I had a primal fear of dying at the deepest level because I knew money is how we buy food. Money is how we get around and how we pay for clothes and shelter and all kinds of things. I knew money was the way we run the world. I carried a rigid belief system that one must have money to survive.
Then one day, I had no money. I was married at the time. We lost our jobs, we had to leave our rental, had no money, and we ended up going to the soup kitchen every morning. At that point, I realized that having no money doesn’t necessarily mean death .
I had to change my belief system. I had to believe something new, that having no money doesn’t mean death. I didn’t know how to wrap my head around that! I didn’t know what to do with that information.
One thing that happened was realizing that if having no money doesn’t mean death, then I don’t have to fear having no money. You know what that does? It releases you. If you can get into this space, it takes all the pressure off. That pressure is what we put on ourselves, thinking, “Oh God, if I walk into the boss’s office and quit, and I have no money, then what? I’m going to die. Or I’m not going to be able to take care of my kids or who knows what else?”
I’m not saying that couldn’t happen. It absolutely could. But I look at my 50 years on this earth, and every time I had no money, I somehow made it through. I know, that’s not a success story that everyone has. But I didn’t die.
What does that mean? It means I had to shift my perceptions. I had to understand that having no money doesn’t mean death anymore. And I came to some conclusions. One was that having no money means less options. Of course, having no money means less options, but it doesn’t mean no options because I still had options.
I really had to adopt the belief that having no money doesn’t equal death. When I did that, like I said, I shifted. I moved into a new space inside myself. That allowed me to quit a job when I needed the money most. I hated that job anyway. I didn’t want to work there. I felt like a prisoner at that job. Three weeks into it, I wanted to leave but I felt stuck. I felt like if I stayed, I would be miserable for however long I was stuck there. Maybe the rest of my life?
Whatever belief I had back then, I didn’t want to quit because I knew I needed the money. But after talking to my wife at the time, I decided to quit because she supported it and suddenly, I was free. I was free of the emotional prison that I felt like I was in. That’s very dramatic way to put it, but I did hate it there. And I didn’t want to be there anymore.
Going back to the soup kitchen felt amazing believe it or not. Why? Because of that huge realization that having no money doesn’t mean I’m going to die. I was able to resolve an old fear that I had that running out of money is the worst-case scenario. But it wasn’t. That’s the big leap I took.
I understand some people can’t take that leap. You may not be able to take that leap and I can’t even tell you with 100% certainty that what happened to me will happen to you. Everything I went through, all the decisions I made, were the right ones. I know this because I am here. I’m still alive. I made it through. I’m still surviving. I’m still on this earth and I am still able to eat every day. I consider myself very lucky and very grateful.
That’s what hitting the bottom can do as well: It can make you feel grateful for everything else; for everything in your life. Because once you hit the bottom, there’s nowhere else to go. Then once you start climbing out of the bottom, climbing up, then you realize how much you really have and how much other people don’t have, and how your story may not be as bad as someone else’s story which could be 10 times worse than yours, and you just go through this transformation.
It’s an enlightening phase. And this enlightenment helps you gain a new perspective so that you don’t have such a negative outlook. It takes you out of any type of blah or depressed state. I talked about that a few weeks ago about how you can be in these blah states, and you don’t feel like there’s a way out, and you might have to hit bottom.
The reason I’m telling you all this is because in this email, this person felt like he hit bottom. In the email, he said he felt anxiety all the time and he keeps falling back into the same loop where it feels like life is going nowhere. He was at a loss. He didn’t know what to do.
When I got the email, I wasn’t sure what to tell him at first. Because what do you do when your entire life is against you? What do you do when you are really down and out and you don’t know if you can ever get out of this hole?
First thing I always say is everything is temporary. We’ve all heard this. Everything always changes. Change is all there is.
As great as that is for someone who’s down and out, it doesn’t sound so great for someone who has everything they want. If you are in a great situation like I thought I was with my first girlfriend – I thought I was in a great situation and then suddenly she was gone. When this happens to you again and again throughout life, you start developing a resilience for life itself. You start to realize, “Oh, this is part of life. This is what’s supposed to happen.”
I thought I don’t like this! But this is how it’s supposed to be. Change is supposed to happen. It is a part of being alive. It is a part of existing. Some people might think that’s too painful. I don’t want to deal with that. I don’t want to go through that pain.
The pain doesn’t last though. The pain is temporary. And if it’s not temporary for you, then you might have to take a leap, that leap of faith that I talked about earlier.
That’s what this person did. He decided that even though he was in a dead-end job, and his life was pretty terrible right now, and he really didn’t believe there was a way out of it, he took a leap of faith.
He wrote back to me and said, “You know what? I dealt with this dead-end job for a long time. I dealt with this anxiety too. But I decided to quit this job. I decided to do something different. And because I took that leap, my life opened up. It expanded. It changed. My anxiety got better. I stopped taking drugs. I am grateful for what I have now. I am grateful for you, Paul.”
He gave me a compliment and I’m very honored by this, but he did all the work! He felt like things would never change. When you’re in a place like that, you have to make the change. You have to take the steps. You have to move into a new place.
What that means is you might have to take a leap that you fear taking or that you believe might be the end of you. Don’t take that literally. I mean, sometimes we carry around a fear so deep that we think we’re going to die. That’s the origin of fear sometimes. He might have believed that changing jobs or quitting his job might be the end for him because everything else was going terrible in his life. He probably thought if he had no money, it was all over. But something motivated him, something compelled him to take those steps – to take a leap – to make a change in his life because he wanted something different for himself.
This is sort of my point with this segment is that if it’s not changing, you might need to make that change . And you might need to do something that is very, very scary. But I’d like to ask, what do you got to lose? If you think it’s the worst it’s going to get right now, and it’ll never get better, then why not take a leap of faith? Why not do something big? Why not change something about your life, even though you might have a belief that doing it might be the final nail on the coffin?
I’m not talking about suicide or ending your life. I’m not talking about that at all. That’s the opposite of what I’m talking about. Because when you’re at the bottom of the hole, sometimes the only way to climb up and out of the hole is to take a scary step into the unknown, or into what you fear. Because like I said, “What do you got to lose when you’re already down and out, you’re depressed, nothing’s going your way, you feel stuck, and you don’t think life’s ever going to get better?
It’s at that point that you know something has to change and you might have to be the one to change it. You might have to be the one to take that big, scary step into an unknown future that might just change your life for the better. This is what this person did. And I’m so glad he wrote back and shared this with me so that I could share it with you and maybe give you some motivation or encouragement to do something or make a decision that perhaps it’s time to make.
Maybe not. I don’t know where you are in life. Maybe your life is going great and there’s no big decision you have to make. You may or may not be there, but I believe someone listening needed to hear this right now.
I had an episode a few weeks back where I suggested that every answer we are looking for is on the internet and that whatever you’re experiencing, someone has also experienced, or is experiencing now as well. In other words, you are not alone in your challenges. There is always someone else out there going through the same thing as you.
However, I also said if anyone couldn’t find that person, group, or website, I wanted to know about it. I wanted to find out if there were people that had truly unique challenges. I believe you find almost any solution online, but I was also curious if there were those that couldn’t.
There are a lot of solutions out there. There are a lot of answers. But that doesn’t mean you’re ready for the answer. It doesn’t mean you’re ready to change your life or take big steps. It’s kind of difficult to look for your problem on the internet, then apply the solution because your situation might be different than somebody else’s. Somebody else might have enough resources to do what they need to do and you may not.
Somebody else might have the courage to take a big step regardless of the consequences and you may not be there yourself. It could also be the other way around. Somebody else may not have the courage but they did it anyway. And you may have the courage, but your brain kicks in and says, “That’s crazy. Because when I do that, XYZ is going to happen. And if XYZ happens, I’m in a whole heap of trouble!”
So I posed the concept that somebody has gone through or is going through now, what you are going through. Most people are on the internet nowadays, and a lot of people talk about their challenges and create Facebook groups and other groups where they discuss their challenges so it can be a little easier to find other people with whom to connect. However, I think a big challenge that comes up for a lot of people is that they don’t want to talk about their problems with strangers.
It’s funny actually, I do that every week! I talk about my problems with a lot of strangers. However, I don’t consider anyone that listens to this show a stranger. I consider them either a friend, or a partner in crime, or a partner in emotional intelligence, a fellow emotional warrior, all of us going through life tackling all these challenges. Or at least we’re working on tackling the challenges and going through healing, whatever “healing” means to you.
Your healing could be something minor or a big emotional response to something you don’t like. Or it could be something huge. Maybe abuse that you dealt with in your past, or maybe you’re dealing with right now. Or perhaps some trauma you went through. We all have different levels of healing and growth – what I like to call personal evolution. It’s when we reach a new level inside of us.
Once we heal from something and learn from that thing, and it no longer gives us that negative feeling, I believe we have evolved in some way. This doesn’t include people that we miss or things we feel bad that we did in our past. I’m talking about things that happened to us. There are behaviors that I did in my past that I’ll probably never erase the negative feeling about. Never.
And that’s okay. I think it’s a reminder. I think when we feel bad about something we did in our past, that reminder is an incentive, not only for us to act better now and in the future, but also as an opportunity to reflect. I think when we feel bad about something we did, it’s an opportunity to reflect on it and gain some wisdom.
There’s always more wisdom to gain. And I believe it’s okay to reflect on something that you did. If you feel bad about it, I believe it’s okay to feel bad. You’re going to have to grieve a little bit. You’re going to have to mourn whatever it was. If it’s a loss of a friend or family, or the loss of love somewhere, or you hurt someone and you feel bad about it, I think it’s good to feel bad because it shows that you have heart.
It shows that you have compassion. It shows that you have empathy. It shows that you’re a good person. And if you weren’t such a good person back then, you are now because you feel bad about what you did! It shows heart. It shows an emotional connection that some people don’t have. Some people will go out there and hurt others and not care if they feel bad.
You care. That’s a huge accomplishment. That’s a big thing! And I want you to be proud of that. Be proud of feeling bad. The reason I say that is because you want a reminder that you are a good person, and feeling bad is that reminder. You may not need this reminder. You may not like this reminder, but it’s a good reminder.
It’s good to remember that you have it in you to connect with someone at a deeper level that other people may not be able to. Some people don’t feel a deeper connection. They don’t feel bad for being hurtful or abusive. And because you are this way, you are most likely never going to make that same mistake again.
People who empathize, people who have compassion, people who are emotionally connected to themselves and others, usually do the best they can now, and they always try to do better next time. If you’re not that person, if you’re not the type of person who feels bad for doing something hurtful to someone else, I really don’t believe you’re listening right now. If you are, maybe you’re being forced to. Maybe your partner or your friend or somebody in your life said “You need to listen to this show! And you need to learn what you need to learn so you’ll stop treating me this way!”
I’ve had that happen actually. It happens over at my other podcast, Love and Abuse which is about emotionally abusive relationships. People that need to be guided to listen to something like this, they’re either going to walk away with more resistance, or they’re going to walk away with hopefully something they didn’t know before that helps them. Maybe it will help them realize that what they’re doing is hurtful.
Then there are those that will think this content doesn’t apply to them. These people are either not ready to hear what I’m talking about, or they just don’t want to reflect. They just don’t want to go inside and consider that they may have any hurtful behavior in them. Those are the kind of people that you have to be more careful of. You have to be careful of those who hurt you, or are toxic, and when they are told that they are hurtful or toxic, they don’t reflect on it. We just have to be careful around those people because they may not be the type that are going to connect with you in a way that is helpful or supportive. They’re just not in that space.
I really believe I am not a hurtful person, even when my girlfriend says, “What you just said hurt me.” (But she usually says it in a different way, perhaps with an expletive or two). I have to stop and think “Whoa, what just happened here? I don’t believe I’m a hurtful person!”. (My ego kicks in and says what she said is not true. I may or may not say this out loud.)
I might say, “I didn’t hurt you” but that’s an invalidation. So I’ll catch myself saying that then think to myself, “Okay, I don’t want to invalidate her because what she is experiencing is her experience. It’s her reality. I need to check in with myself and ask, ‘Did what I just say hurt her?'”
My ego still resists this because my intention wasn’t to hurt her. Maybe I believed I was teaching her something or telling her a truth I thought she didn’t know. Or something else. Regardless of my thoughts in that moment, I have to acknowledge in me that she is experiencing hurt, and I love her, and I don’t want her to feel hurt whether my behavior was intentionally hurtful or not. I have to reflect. I have to stop. I have to get out of my head and out of my ego.
I have to reflect on what I just said and how I made her feel, or how she took it, and take responsibility for my role in what just happened so that I can figure out how it devolved to being a hurtful situation.
By reflecting, it gives me the wisdom to not do it the same way again, and to connect with her in a way that is validating and supportive. It allows me to see it from her perspective, which is empathetic. That’s part of empathy at least. Reflecting is educational for me to understand that how I come across might be hurtful.
When you are with someone who reflect, or if you do this yourself, I believe it is an enlightened state of being. It’s not full enlightenment, but you’re probably more emotionally connected, even during an argument, and you are probably willing to back off your attachment to being right, even during the peak of the heat of the argument.
That’s probably one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned. When you are in a full-on argument and you are both capable of listening to the other person and stepping out of yourself so when they say something that makes sense or is right, you can let go of your ego and acknowledge, “Okay, you have a point,” this is when the relationship strengthens and evolves.
Are you capable of doing this? Can you choose to be not so entrenched in an argument and your attachment to being right that you can focus on the bigger picture of wanting to be in a loving, supportive relationship instead? Can you step out of the heat and focus on the fact that you actually love the other person? (if you love them, of course. I’m talking mainly about arguments or heated conversations with those we love).
That’s kind of the thought that comes to my mind when I’m in this heated space. Fortunately, arguments don’t happen often, but they do happen. I think they happen to the best of us. We can think that we’ve learned everything we needed to learn, we can believe we have all the tools to communicate clearly, but it still happens. There’s always going to be a misinterpretation or miscommunication, or some sort of misunderstanding that we are going to have to battle out.
I hate to put it that way, but sometimes it feels that way. We battle it out with our words and we don’t necessarily want to hurt each other but we just want to get our point across and feel like we are understood and that they are validating what we are saying. We put this stuff out there and we just want them to acknowledge it and say we’re right so that everything will be great.
But it’s even better when you’re willing to step back and say “You might be right. That’s a good point. I did not consider that and I might have to reflect on that. I might have to think about that for a while.”
When you can step into that space, you know what it does? It allows the other person to do the same thing. Because it’s so rare that when you’re in a loving, supportive relationship, that when you decide to step back, and step out of your ego to reflect and say, “That’s a good point.” They’ll feel safe enough to do the same thing back.
Again, that’s in a loving, supportive, non-controlling non-manipulative relationship. In a healthy relationship when one of you is willing to do that, the other one usually feels safe enough to do it as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that and my girlfriend later on (typically not in the moment), comes back and says, “I’m sorry, I was so harsh with you. I’m sorry I said all those words.” Then we talk about it. And we apologize to each other, and everything is great again.
It’s amazing to me what happens when I let go and just step out of myself and put my ego in the backseat and just allow myself to be vulnerable in that moment. It’s the scariest moment because you’re in the heat of it, but when I do it, she no longer feels like she has to have the big guns out.
And it works both ways. When she does it, I no longer feel like I have to have the big guns out. When our fight or flight kicks in, and suddenly we’re either ferocious or submissive or whatever it is, when two strong personalities are verbally duking it out, it could go all kinds of ways.
We have to be very careful about how much we’re investing in the argument versus how much we’re investing in the bigger picture of love and connection.
This is where I go. When I’m in the middle of an argument, in any type of heated debate, I remember the big picture of love and connection and that helps me let go of the attachment to being right. It helps me listen, learn and understand, and back down a little bit. Even if there’s a point that I need to make, I choose to help deflate the negative energy in this situation because it doesn’t help our connection. It only helps to fuel our defensiveness or offensiveness. And when we take that fuel away, we can become our normal selves again. We can start to relax around each other and our fangs go back in our into our mouths and our talons start to retract from our hands, and now we can have a conversation. At that point, there’s love again.
It may not happen right away but when the bigger picture is love and connection, it can and does happen again. Of course, we’re in what I would consider a healthy relationship, where there’s not one person that’s trying to dominate, trying to be authoritarian or the disciplinarian where you have to be submissive or they have to be submissive. This doesn’t work with an unbalanced relationship like that.
With two healthy people that support each other, even though that support can still come during an argument or heated conversation, it can and usually does settle back down into love and connection.
The whole reason I brought all that stuff up is because the person I brought up at the beginning of the segment wrote to me said, “I’m having this situation that I can’t find on the internet.” (I don’t even know if this is related to what I just said as it kind of went off on a tangent, but I shall continue anyway). This person said, “Hey, Paul, the podcast you created that’s called “When loved ones resist the decisions you need to make for yourself, you mentioned how the internet is a source for support, and how there is someone out there just like you, and if you can’t find anything like your situation you would like to know, so that you could suggest something.”
She continued, “I think that’s me. I’m the spouse of a retired veteran. I’m in a remote area. I deal with various forms of abuse, not physical, and I’d like to speak with former spouses who left their relationship. Or even someone I could share living expenses with, preferably military. We’ve been retired for years. I just have no more inner strength.”
Wow, that sounds like a no-way-out scenario. It sounds not only frustrating, but like she sounds like she believes she will never get out of this situation. She’s looked online couldn’t find others in her circumstances so she wrote to me.
I am sympathetic for her challenge. One of the reasons I wanted to hear from anyone that couldn’t find a solution is because I have a large Facebook group of extremely kind, supportive people that would be a good starting point for her or anyone else that needs a good support structure in their life.
The group is called The Overwhelmed Brain Empowerment Group. There are all kinds of personalities in there. There are all kinds of people that have gone through their own things. I’ve seen questions come up that say, “I’m thinking about doing this”, “I have done this, what should I do next?”
There are just so many brilliant replies. Everyone has different backgrounds and have had different relationships. They’ve had different jobs. There are so many kinds of people in there. So when you can’t find a solution, I think that’s a good place to start, not because I want to promote the group (it has grown on its own organically just fine and it continues to grow) but because I really believe it is a great start for those who believe they don’t know where to start. It’s also a safe place to share anything on your mind.
And it’s free! Anyone can join. And I personally make sure it stays free of clutter, judgment, and politics. I call it the safest place on the internet.
Now, you may not find someone in this group, or anywhere else, that is in your exact situation, but in this person’s case, you will find someone who was afraid to leave. You’ll find someone who felt isolated like you, or someone who didn’t have money if you’re dealing with that, or someone who didn’t have the courage they needed.
You’re going to find people that have been in your situation or who have known people in your situation when you connect with a large enough group of people that have all these random backgrounds and experiences. So I highly recommend you join!
The last thing I want to talk about today came to mind while I was recording this episode (and I say this with love and respect for you):
Stop getting upset at other people for violating boundaries that you haven’t made clear.
The reason I say this is because I was the biggest violator of this rule most of my life. I would not like my boss for asking me to work the weekend because “He should know better dammit!. He should know that it upsets me. He should know I want weekends off. He should know all the stuff I love to do on the weekend, yet he still asks me to work? What a jerk! Doesn’t he realize it upsets me? Doesn’t he see my face? He must hear my frustration. Why does he keep doing it”?
I would get upset at my bosses over the years when they asked me to do things I didn’t like. However, I never told them what my boundaries were. This might not be the best example because work can be a different animal, but should I really get upset in this example if I never told my boss I don’t like working weekends?
What’s worse, is that when they asked me, guess what I did? I just said “Yes.” I mean it’s okay for them to ask of course, even if they knew I didn’t want to, but I never gave myself the option to say yes or no. I only said yes.
I would something like, “Fine. I’ll do it.” Because I was a good people-helper. I’m a helpful guy. I like to make sure our team and our company is doing great. And I like to be seen as a good worker. Sure, I could probably work things out over the weekend and finish a work project. I know that I was very productive and helpful. But I still got upset, or at least perturbed, at the people asking me to do it when they knew I didn’t like to. But I never said, “You know what? I’m going to take this weekend off. I’m going to say no this time. I never said that!
Ooh, that might be risky though. If you did that, it could get you fired.
Yup. It could.
It could very well get you fired. But who’s going to fire you for honoring your boundaries? And if they did, really, do you want to work for that kind of person? And I know this is terrible thing to say because right now, during COVID, a lot of people need jobs and they don’t want to get fired. So of course, you may not want to take this advice. And I totally get it!
I don’t know if I would take my own advice right now. If I had to report to a boss that said I needed to work, but I didn’t want to work that day, I might work anyway.
At the same time, I have to ask myself, “Can I live with myself?” My answer might be well, “Yes. It’s only one time. Of course I can live with myself. Of course I can do this one time.”
But what if something like this happened in your life over and over again? And you got more and more upset with that person all because you believe they should know better? And because they should know it upsets you. My question is, Have you ever made that boundary clear? Have you ever said, “I’m not going to do that, and I don’t want you to ask me to do that anymore.”?
Again, the work situation might be a bad example, but let’s just say it’s your friend that says, “Hey, will you watch our dog again when we go on our month-long cruise?” Maybe you don’t want to do that. Maybe that’s something that you really are sick of because you’ve done a lot and you lose all your personal time, and you have to walk the dog six times a day, and it just takes up a lot of your energy, but since you’ve done it in the past and you don’t want to look bad, and you don’t want to cause any tension in the relationship, you might say yes.
But what if you didn’t? What if you chose to say, “That takes a lot of energy. And I’m just not going to have that time or energy this month,” or something like that?
What if you thought presenting a boundary would cause some tension in the relationship? If you thought that, why? Friends who care about you, they care about your time. They care about your energy, they care about your happiness.
I ask you to consider that your “no” is an opportunity to find out who really cares about your well being. That could be a wholly unfair statement to make because it could be interpreted as “Oh, you’re saying that if someone gets upset that I said ‘no’, that they don’t really care about me?”
Yeah, something like that. 😉
I know there are exceptions. I know that you might say no to someone and they might get upset and say something like, “You always do this for us. This time you’re saying no? What am I supposed to do?” This response has a bit of selfishness.
Here’s how a conversation with someone might go if they really aren’t concerned about your well-being and only concerned about their own:
Them: “Hey, can you watch my dog for a month while I go on this great cruise?”
You: “Sorry, I can’t do it this time. I just can’t.”
Them: “You can’t? How am I supposed to go then? I don’t know who else to ask.” (They add in some guilt. What kind of friend is that? That’s not a friendly, supportive thing to do).
Them: “Okay, fine. I get it. You don’t want to walk my dog six times a day and it takes a lot of time and energy, but what else are you doing throughout the day?” (Now they’re pushing you against the wall trying to make you feel guilty again. They’re also forcing you to reveal things that they can challenge you on. If you say, “ I am going to read during that time,” they might challenge you on that: “You could probably read an ebook on your phone while walking the dog.” (now they’re trying to get you to comply with what they want you to do, again, ignoring your request and ignoring the boundary you put out there).
If they’re being a jerk, they might continue and say, “Okay, fine. You don’t want to walk my dog. That’s fine. I’ll never ask again.” (Now they’re being a real jerk. They’re saying this friendship doesn’t matter to them, and the fact that you said ‘no’, is a clear indicator that you don’t like them and you don’t care about their happiness. Again, they’re trying to make you feel guilty by turning it around and saying you don’t care about their happiness.)
They could go on to say, “Fine. I’ll never ask you again,” which sounds like there’s going to be tension in the relationship from that point on. And they’re expecting you to submit to something but won’t give you any room to want something for yourself. They only want what they want, and you have to comply in order for them to be happy. If you don’t comply, then they’re not happy and they’re going to make sure you know that you did this to them even though they set it up in a way that would make you feel guilty if you said no.
Once you said no, they came up with all these tactics and techniques to make you feel bad. That’s textbook emotional abuse. When someone ignores your happiness and well being in order to manipulate the outcome that they want, are they really being a loving, kind person to you? Are they really a friend? Are they really a good partner? Are they really a good guy? Are they really a good mother in law?
If that turnaround happens, where they make you the bad guy for honoring your boundaries, you need to wake up if you haven’t. You need to snap out of the guilt phase and snap into the awareness phase of what’s really going on.
Yes, we could state our boundary and that scenario could unfold like I outlined above, but this gives us an opportunity to turn on our awareness to what’s really happening. Once you turn on your awareness and you stand up for yourself and make your boundaries clear, and the person that you’re making those boundaries clear to decides to make you feel bad or guilty or say that the friendship is ruined because of you, then what kind of relationship did you really have in the first place?
That doesn’t sound like a relationship at all. That just sounds like somebody who was happy that they could utilize you, or use you whenever they wanted. We have to be careful when we develop relationships like that. It almost always comes down to our ability to enforce our boundaries or not. If you feel guilty for enforcing your boundaries because the other person makes you feel bad about yourself, then your approach to this is all wrong and you have to see this relationship as something different. You have to see it for what it is.
When someone makes you feel bad for enforcing your boundaries, there’s probably a control or manipulation mechanism in there, and you just have to be careful not to amplify it or bring it out. Or maybe you just have to disconnect from that person to protect yourself.
Some people can get upset at you for making your boundaries clear which is probably why we don’t often make them clear. We probably don’t want to draw that line with certain people because we don’t want to upset them. But just remember, people who love and support you want you to have boundaries. They want to know what’s acceptable and what’s not.
For example, I think I kissed my girlfriend on the back of the neck once. I love doing that. but she got creeped out! Not because it was me, but because it reminded her of something that happened to her in her past, and she didn’t like it at all. So I don’t do it anymore. I stopped completely. But imagine if she never told me that she got creeped out when I kissed her on the back of the neck? Imagine if she just decided to accept it because “He’s my boyfriend and I’m supposed to like it and I shouldn’t have this reaction. I’ll just get that creeped out feeling and deal with it, then swallow my emotions and just get through the moment…”
That would be pretty awful! What would build up inside of her every time I did that? She would associate me with creepiness. I don’t want that. I’m so glad she said something. I felt offended at first. I thought, I’m your boyfriend. I should be able to kiss you on the back of the neck. What’s wrong with that? That was my first reaction.
But then I realized of course we all have our emotional and physical triggers, and we have to be careful when somebody says, “I don’t like that.” We comply. We say we’re sorry. We tell them won’t do it again. Okay, great. Wonderful. There’s no creepy feeling anymore! There’s no negativity.
I had to get into that space when it happened. It never happened to me before. I’ve never had anyone say anything like that but she said it. I’m grateful for that. I’m glad she doesn’t associate me with creepiness. I haven’t pushed the issue and let it be. It was helpful for me to know this about her. I’m so glad she drew that line and said, “I don’t like this.”
Okay, I won’t cross that line again. It makes our relationship better. That’s what boundaries do: They make relationships better.
If you have someone that doesn’t honor your boundaries or gets upset that you have boundaries, and they want to violate them anyway, you have to consider what type of relationship that is. And you’ll need to consider if that’s something you’re willing to live with and accept, because people who love you and support you want you to have boundaries.
Not only because they want you to feel comfortable in your own skin, but because it helps them know how you want them to show up in your life. If they know your boundaries, and they honor those boundaries, then because they love and support you, they know that honoring those boundaries will make you happy, or at least happier.
They should know this. And if they don’t want to honor your boundaries, that’s a different type of relationship that you might need to have a talk about or reconsideration about.
Learning to honor your boundaries has changed every aspect of my life because it makes me feel comfortable in my own skin. I want you to feel comfortable in your own skin. I want you to feel good inside yourself. Because that is your temple, your body, your mind, your soul, your spirit, whatever you are made up of. It’s that sacred space inside of you that you should feel the most comfortable. And when you tell others how you feel comfortable with them or anything in your life, they should want that for you as well.
If you find value in The Overwhelmed Brain and would like to give back, join the Patron program!