Overcoming Isolation: How to Survive a Lonely World.

Over the last hard hitting and heavy week, I have discussed, pondered, lost sleep, and discussed some more the concept of surviving in times that feels so hard and so dark. I have tried to wrap my mind around the desperation and brokenness that people must feel before they submit themselves to a story that ends in suicide. Maybe it’s my perfectionism, need for control, or possibly just the INFP in me that wants to find a path towards healing for those broken and isolated souls. I find myself fixated on gaining understanding surrounding the proliferating rate of suicide in our world today. Perhaps the concept of preventing continued suicide is beyond my capacity and reach; however, I firmly and passionately believe that initiating a conversation might be THE answer to just one person’s plight towards healing.

Did you know the rate of suicide increased 25% from 1999-2016? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of suicide was double the rate of homicide in 2016. A New York Times article from 2016 says:

“Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults. The rise was particularly steep for women. It was also substantial among middle-aged Americans, sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s. . .

The increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation’s suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study.”

Personally, I think there is no coincidence that our consumption of all things internet, social media, etc. rampantly increased at about the same time. I created my Facebook in 2004. About when did you create your social media platform for identity, communication, and entertainment? I was not nearly as obsessed with social media until it was at my fingertips each moment of the day, how many hours a day to you spend mindlessly scrolling, comparing, judging, etc? Let me briefly step off of my soap box to say that I use social media to promote my blog, my side business, to share memories with friends and family…I value the ease and simplicity of communication within this format; however, it cannot be our only source of socialization. Our desire to be constantly connected, I argue, has led to a lack of genuine human connection. I talk about this more in my post Constantly Connected. Despite our ability to be “constantly connected,’ isolation and social isolation seem to be on the rise.

Quick fact about suicide rates, the states with the historically highest suicide rates are Montana and Alaska. Social isolation in Montana is a problem. Due to geographical realities and cultural norms, people are disconnected from one another.  While I recognize that social isolation is not a problem for every community in these  states, I cannot deny the reality that rural communities (typically) provide increased opportunity for isolation.

The fascinating reality of our world today however, is that we can be in a room with 700 people in a city buzzing with activity and have our minds and hearts elsewhere. We are rarely mindfully present in the space we exist. We are engaged in multiple conversations over various platforms at any given moment. We no longer have to be literally isolated by our geography to exist in a state of isolation.

“Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent.

A great paradox of our hyper-connected digital age is that we seem to be drifting apart. Increasingly, however, research confirms our deepest intuition: Human connection lies at the heart of human well-being. It’s up to all of us — doctors, patients, neighborhoods and communities — to maintain bonds where they’re fading, and create ones where they haven’t existed.”

We are replacing our previous inclination to engage in community in our cities and neighborhoods with online interaction. When we go to dinner or to a party with friends, we spend a fair chunk of time staring at our phones. Our comfort in communicating with a keyboard is exceeding our ability to have face to face, meaningful dialogue fueled with nonverbal communication and all the delightful feels that cannot be adequately expressed without eye contact. I love my emojis people, but there is not an emoji or GIF that can fully impress the depth of love, the elation of joy, or the desperation of grief. We need human connection. We need vulnerable interactions to truly understand love, joy, grief, and every other exquisite emotion that makes up our human experience.

Not only does our infatuation with social media lead to less face to face interaction, it creates a breeding ground for comparison. The comparison trap leads to either feelings of inadequacy or judgment.  I am either not good enough or at least I am doing better than that guy.   If you follow my blog at all, you know I love Brene Brown – a shame researcher. She defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. Humans are built for and called to community. We are meant for connection. However, we find ourselves avoiding genuine connection, getting lost in the trap of comparison and wondering why we feel overcome with shame and loneliness.

I am not attempting to solicit support for a ban on social media. As I stated previously, I think our digital connection and access to social media equips us with resourcefulness and allows a different type of engagement. However, I think we MUST recognize the value of human connection and find a balance in our lives that leads to feelings of connectedness. I am also not making a claim that digital connection is the sole cause of isolation and suicide in our world today. However, recognizing the shift in culture, the decline in face to face interaction, and the crumbling of community as we once knew it is relevant in this conversation.

As a mental health professional I recognize that mental illness can be a terminal diagnosis. Despite lifelong battles, medication regimen adjustments, years of therapy…some people do not survive. But what if a willingness and opportunity to connect boosted the brain functionality of even a small percentage of those that are at risk for completing suicide, would reaching out make it worth it? Would promoting a conversation about the beauty of human connection be valuable? I think so.

Make an effort to engage in raw, vulnerable, and real interaction with someone today. Rather than comment on a post or stalk their profile, reach out to a friend that you haven’t connected with recently. Plan to spend valuable time in person. Plan to be genuinely present and mindful during your time with loved ones.

Check on your people. I love the post circulating that encourages us to “check on our strong friends,” we know that suffering does not discriminate.  If you know someone that struggles with shame, comparison, loneliness, isolation, feelings of inadequacy, depression, anxiety or any other human experience that is hard to overcome alone…reach out. Help them recognize their worthiness.  If you are struggling with those realities, release your fears and step into a moment that provides connection. This world is way easier to survive if we are in this together.

Check out the websites listed here:

https://www.crisistextline.org/

http://www.suicideispreventable.org/

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

These are great resources for suicide awareness and prevention. If you or someone you know struggles with thoughts of suicide, know that there are so many places to turn for support. We are increasingly capable of overcoming the pain of mental illness with support. Talking about this stuff is hard, but I will leave you with the quote I keep on my email signature. “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” – Brene Brown. Fostering human connection in our lives might just help us survive.

silhouette of people during sunset
Photo by Belle Co on Pexels.com

Learning to Live with Intention

Intention.

Intentions.

Intentional.

This word, these words…are words that I have often struggled with, but also words that often present themselves during counseling sessions. My personal struggle with the word intentional is that I have never felt like I was intentional enough as a friend, sister, daughter, wife, mother, etc. I am not an awesome gift giver. I typically do not function with a great deal of advance notice, like 48 hours in advance is my average planning time. I may throw something on the calendar further out but the nitty gritty planning and prep happens last minute. This is not a representation of how invested in or how much I care about something, it’s the way I am wired. But I OFTEN say, we may be susceptible  to selfishness, forgetfulness, or other weaknesses but that does not mean that we cannot take steps and make changes so that we are better and ever-evolving humans.

I feel so loved when people are intentional with gifts, gestures, and acts of service. I am quick to compliment what I see as intentionality. Making intentionality a priority for me in regards to relationships continues to present me with a great deal of room for growth. It’s a work in progress. I love with enthusiasm, but planning ahead with creativity is something I am continuing to focus on. Because of this focus, my 2017 One Little Word was Intentional. If you have never heard of the One Little Word experience, check this wonderful website out. This is something I focus on each year.

I chose this word to focus on external relationships; I had no clue that perseverating on the word intentional would change my relationship with — ME. Studying and meditating on the meaning of intention and bringing intention into multiple spaces and places for me led to:

  • Recognize the thoughts that drove my decision and behaviors.
  • Focus on being present in interactions with others.
  • Bring attention with intention to my needs, my rhythm, and my purpose.
  • Appropriately gauge my expectations, in turn, reducing opportunity for resentment.

The perfectionist people pleaser chose a word to improve the way I poured out love but drawing awareness to my thoughts, words, and actions allowed me to grow in my understanding of my inner self. I was over simplifying the meaning and importance of intention. My journey with this word and concept allowed me to recognize the needs and expectations associated with relationships. The coolest part – in gaining awareness of my own needs and expectations, I believe I have become a better friend, sister, daughter, wife, mother, etc.  Not in the way I planned, but in a manner that promotes long term health in my relationships.

Recognize the thoughts that drive you.

Do you ever stop to consider what drives a decision or behavior? Why do you need to have that fight? Why do you need to take that drink? Why do you need to make a drastic change in your life? Why is saying those words important at this moment? What are your intentions? Is there necessity, purpose, or kindness in your intentions? Taking pause to consider the driving force behind our actions is monumental and simple. Think before you speak. Consider the collateral damage of your potentially misguided intentions. If you gather, after taking pause, that your decision is necessary, kind, or purposeful then keep on keeping on. However, if you draw awareness to lofty, selfish, or cruel intentions…maybe it’s a better idea to reflect on how you got to that point rather than reacting.

Focus on being present in your relationships.

Intentionality can be broken down and as simple as eye contact and avoiding distraction during quality time with those that you love. The willingness to focus and give the gift of time to someone is becoming more and more priceless with each addition of technology that makes work, news, to-do list, and noise more accessible. While we all have obligations and responsibilities, setting aside precious moments with your family and friends to sincerely hear them and respond thoughtfully is necessary. Promoting moments of genuine and focused connection helps those you love to feel valued.

Bring attention to your needs, rhythm, and purpose.

Are you intentionally finding moments to connect with YOU? I believe that when we are not in tune with the parts of us that make us unique we become incapable of holding authentic space with family and friends. If we cannot identify our needs, if we are out of touch with our individual rhythm, and if we have lost sight of our purpose…how can we have meaningful connection with others? Talk about imposter syndrome? Journaling, meditation, music, dance, nature, exercise, and a variety of other outlets can help us develop an inward awareness. Find moments to recognize the parts of your heart and mind that feel real to you. Recreate these moments as often as you can. When we grow in familiarity with ourselves, it can help to enhance emotional regulation because of the deeper level of understanding we achieve regarding our feelings and reactions.

Gauge expectations and reduce resentment.

As a people pleaser from way back, I can tell you a thing or two about resentment. Not clearly gauging and communicating expectations, leads to feelings of disappointment and resentment.  Check your expectations. The best example of this I have heard comes from Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong. She tells a personal story about parenting. When one spouse is out of town, the other spouse can manage to juggle all the roles and responsibilities with minimal stress. They make it work. When both parents are in town, busy weekends end up leading to increased conflict and frustration. The root of this is when we know we have to make it work alone; we manage with minimal emotional reaction. When we anticipate that having our partner around will make the busy weekend stress free because they will manage half of the responsibilities  AND we do not clearly communicate these expectations…we end up feeling ALL the resentment. We must create realistic expectations and have assertive communication about said expectations. No one is going to read your mind. Without sharing your hopes and dreams for days, weekends, or life in general with the people that you do life with, you set the stage for bitterness and resentment.  This is wrapped up in the word INTENTIONAL, because this behavior was something I had to intentionally implement into my life, specifically my marriage. My hubs is great at a lot of things, reading my mind is NOT one of them. If I clearly express my plans and the role I hope for him to play in those plans…we have the chance to either agree to move forward or make amendments to my unrealistic ideas. This level of intentional and assertive communication has been meaningful in minimizing resentment and enhancing our connection.

In my One Little Word journal, I listed these synonyms for intentional: conscious, purposeful, willful. If we set out to live a mindful life…we must learn to speak, act, live, and love with intention. We have power in choosing our reactions to the waves that crash into our lives. Enhance your awareness, define your values, and live with intention. I am thankful to have had this journey with these words. Exploring these concepts with an open mind led to a complete different end result that I planned on and it was such a necessary lesson for me to learn.

Let me know your thoughts on the meaning of intention. How do you implement intention into your life and relationships? I want to hear from you and I would love for you to subscribe to my blog!

Peace love and laughter,

Megan

photo credit: angiedevon (instagram)

Constantly Connected: Is our internet reliance stealing our humanity?

Social media is a driver for my side gig, my blog, and a crutch for relationships that may thrive in a more vibrant way if I did not rely on apps on my phone for the upkeep of those relationships. That is a difficult reality to face, especially when I promote the value of human connection regularly. Rather than scrap-booking or printing photos, I rely on moments or “on this day” features. Rather than texting my friend to ask how her kiddo’s party was, I will just watch her timeline for photos and make a meaningful comment. I check my events tab rather than writing down birthdays in my calendar.  Perhaps social media is the equivalent of cliff notes for human interaction, it brushes the surface and hits the high points but lacks the emotion, connection, and depth for which we are all yearning.

If you talk to me long enough, I might hop up on a soap box about screen time, social media, and how they rob our children of their capacity for human interactions and engaging in meaningful ways. Recently I have been digging into the concept of human connection and our need for tangible, face to face, and meaningful relationships and interactions. In conversations with clients, I have explored the reality of loneliness, the damage of the comparison trap, and how social media can drive home our irrational need for perfectionism. We can easily find ourselves trapped in a battle to save face and match our real lives with our profile. How much do we lose in this fight? I fear that we are losing our capacity for connection, but also ourselves.

In the online article “Why We Are Wired to Connect,” Matthew Lieberman discusses how crucial social connection is to our ability to thrive as healthy humans:

Across many studies of mammals, from the smallest rodents all the way to us humans, the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed.  When this happens in childhood it can lead to long-term health and educational problems.  We may not like the fact that we are wired such that our well-being depends on our connections with others, but the facts are the facts.

We are herd animals. The pattern of behavior associated with screen time and social media obsession leads to isolation and loneliness. If you take a few moments to read my post on Finding Your Tribe, you will learn the impact of meaningful human connection on our brains. Positive and meaningful, face-to-face engagement with loved ones promotes the release of oxytocin in our brains and promotes emotional regulation.  Loneliness and isolation promotes cortisol and leads to our body’s suffering from the ill effects of long term stress. Medium.com has a great article on this topic, this excerpt from The Science of Human Connection and Wellness in a Digitally Connected World says:

Today, modern communication and technology has forever changed the landscape of our human interaction, and as such, we often decline without this type of meaningful personal contact. Today’s highly individualistic, digitally remote, and material driven culture is now challenging all of this, as we turn to science to unlock the mysteries of human connection and wellness in a digitally connected world.

Read that again. We decline when we neglect our need for human connection. Human connection and wellness are closely intertwined. We thrive in community. We rely on human connection. We are starved for physical contact. However, I think we are fooling ourselves into believing that the accessibility of engagement through social media can replace human connection. According to a study conducted in 2002, it was found that online interaction does not replace face to face human connection. In fact, online interaction increases loneliness.

Y’all…Myspace was still a thing in 2002. We have fallen deeper in our reliance on internet based interactions since 2002. While this day in age is progressive, I am not convinced that the current level of remote accessibility should be viewed as merely progress. I have no doubt that the climbing rate of depression and suicide is impacted by our reliance on social media and subsequent neglect of human connection.

As I mentioned from the start of this post…I rely on social media and the internet for my side business, for promoting my blog, and for networking in general. I believe that when utilized in a healthy manner, digital connection and having the world at our fingertips can be beneficial. Access to information and broadened audiences is great! However, as Aristotle says, “the man of virtue is the man of balance.” Virtue can be dangerous when exhibited in extremes. I believe this concept…the art of balance…needs to be applied to our use of social media and digital connection.  The risk lies in the moments when our identity, self-esteem, and worthiness come from our online persona. If our children’s communication is reliant on a keyboard and their faculties are lost in the face of in-person conversation, there is a problem. We need to check in with ourselves (& our families) and practice the pursuit of balance and focus on fostering human connection in today’s widely isolated culture.

One of my favorite words is Ubuntu, a South African term that has no English equivalent.  In essence, Ubuntu means we are all connected. We are all in this together. My freedom is wrapped up in your freedom.  My happiness is wrapped up in your happiness. While we have more readily available information about the struggles that people face on a daily basis and are arguably more aware of pain, hunger, war, genocide, and other evils of this world than we were 20 years ago…we also have the firewall of distance to protect us from emotional involvement. We are removed and desensitized.

We can do better. We are capable of promoting increased humanity in our lives. The Facebook Experiment was a study conducted in Denmark that revealed that people who took a break from social media demonstrated improved well-being and increased positive emotions. This does not have to be permanent, but perhaps avoiding your phone or social media for the first and last hour of your day. Engage with your family. Plan a dinner date with your friend rather than browsing their page for updates. Hold eye contact with the people you talk to. Avoid filling moments of discomfort with mindless scrolling. Mindlessness, disconnection, isolation, comparison, and negative coping skills can all be fostered through unhealthy habits surrounding social media engagement and reliance on digital connection. Engage with living, breathing humans…it will benefit you and those around you!

Take a few moments and watch this video (link below,) this precious child on NBC DFW’s “Tell Me Something Good” segment was encouraged to greet, hold eye contact, and shake the hand of each child entering the school on this particular morning! We need more of this simple, but so meaningful, human connection.  https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/TMSG-Kindergarten-Class-Shake-Hands-Smile-Every-Morning_Dallas-Fort-Worth-483569731.html

 

Are you in AWE of your life?

I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world – present and in awe. – Anne Lamott

How often do you slow down long enough to “smell the roses?” Do you step outside at night to witness the majesty of a meteor shower or a sky full of stars on a clear, crisp night? Can you envision the last time you were in awe of your surroundings? This could be the end of a long hike that brings you to the edge of a powerful waterfall, it could be the first time you saw your child take a step, or it could be the moment you fell in love with your person. Put yourself in that place for a moment right now, recall the wonder and excitement. Man, I wish I could bottle that feeling up and keep it on hand for moments that feel routine, mundane, stressful, defeating. Spray a little awe around in the moments that rob us of childlike astonishment and lead us to forget the world’s expansiveness. What if we could daily acknowledge the brilliance, beauty, and transience of this world?

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I took a little personality quiz on the Greater Good Science Center website today called “The Awe Quiz.” I found that I have a tendency towards engaging in situations that challenge my thought process, make me feel curious, leave me with the childlike awe feelings that we should all seek. I am not sure that I would have had the same results one year ago. Prior to engaging in a journey that encouraged presence and awareness, I think I was missing out on opportunities to live an AWE-some life.  I am thankful for the people in my journey that have helped me to redirect my energy.  I remember the initial moments of resistance when my sister encouraged meditation. I remember doubting the impact and questioning my ability to commit to a new practice. My willingness to engage in moments of wonder and awe is one of the many benefits of living a more mindful life.

I remember being in awe of the sky when I was younger, I have rekindled this love for looking up. Sunrise, sunsets, clouds, the rays emitted from the sun though those clouds, stars, the moon and its phases all remind me daily (and nightly) how brief and ever changing this moment is. It takes mere moments to miss the evolving colors of the setting sun.  I love bringing the attention of my children to the beauty of the sky. I love asking them what they see, what colors stand out? What shapes do they see in the clouds? Absorbing their reactions of surprise and awe is contagious. It is good for the soul. But I wanted to dig into why these moments are so memorable and impactful and potentially how to create increased access to this feeling.

I found an article on the Huffington Post website titled, How Awe-Inspiring Experiences Can Make You Happier, Less Stressed and More Creative. That’s what I’m talking about…let’s dig into this goodness. This article provides various definitions and results from multiple university studies surrounding the emotion of awe.  It discusses a foundational paper:

In “Approaching Awe, A Moral, Spiritual and Aesthetic Emotion,” psychologists Dacher Keltner of UC Berkeley and Jonathan Haidt of New York University outlined how exactly awe works and what affect it has on us. Awe consists of two qualities, Keltner and Haidt say: perceived vastness (something we think to be greater than ourselves), and accommodation, a need to assimilate the experience of vastness into one’s current mental structure. Keltner and Haidt describe awe as an emotion “in the upper reaches of pleasure and on the boundary of fear.”

Awe is the sweet spot between pleasure and fear. I can only imagine the brain’s chemical reaction to these moments. It is no surprise that we cannot exist in these moments perpetually; doing so might remove the component of wonder. I can also gather that what induces feelings of awe for me is not necessarily going to trigger the same reaction in everyone else.  Our experiences with wonder are all unique to the fabric that makes us who we are.

The Huffington Post article goes on the discuss the reality that  experiencing awe provides a healthier relationship with time, boosts creativity, increases our ability to be hopeful and grateful regarding our life, improves our relationship with nature, and aides in transforming our lives.  Abraham Maslow’s description of “peak experiences” seems like another way to describe feelings of awe. He says that peak experiences are indicated by:

“disorientation in space and time, ego transcendence and self-forgetfulness; a perception that the world is good, beautiful and desirable…He emphasized that moments of transcendence could take the form of an intense religious or spiritual experience, but it could also come from the simplest moment of love, beauty or natural wonder. If nothing else, awe teaches us, as Maslow suggests, that there might be something just a little bit magical about everyday life — a realization that can help us engage with life from a place of joy, wonder, and gratitude.”

I recognize a connection to my discussion of human connection in my post about The Importance of Finding Your Tribe when discussing the benefits of awe. When we can have human connections or awe filled experiences that help us get outside of ourselves, we can live happier and more fulfilled lives. When we are not driven only by ego, status, and pride…we are more apt to practice gratitude. Imagine how minuscule the past due bill, lost job, or moment of defeat seems in comparison to the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls,  the incredible life beneath the surface of ocean waters, the birth of a baby, the first time your child speaks the words “I love you,” or the intense beauty of the setting sun.  There are certainly moments that take our breath away, moments that give us no choice but to lose ourselves and be completely consumed in that moment. But what if we are missing out on opportunities to experience the simple beauty and love that can leave us in wonder on a daily basis? Our focus could use some re-shifting from time to time. Perhaps we should make time to slow down and look up more often.

My favorite Emerson quote is tattooed on my back:

Live in the Sunshine, Swim the Sea, Drink the Wild Air. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I try to live in this manner but the more I become consumed with duties, roles, responsibilities, and to-do’s the more distracted I become.  The reality is that I am only gaining more responsibilities as my children get older and become more involved little humans. Therefore, my perception needs to shift. Traveling with my family needs to become a priority. Getting in nature needs to become a priority. Looking up long enough to recognize the beauty in how quickly our life is passing by and the value of relishing in every moment that I possibly can need to become priorities. I think we can live in awe and be ridiculously productive and involved in our communities. For me, mindfulness and presence has been the key to this shifting perspective. Releasing situations or stressors that I have zero control over frees up space in my heart and mind for awe, wonder, and gratitude.  The next step is to seek out moments to experience awe.

Find out your tendency towards experiencing awe…take “The Awe Quiz” now!

Looking to experience awe from your desk…check out this gorgeous series of photographs from National Geographic

Images in this post are all courtesy of the crazy talented, Janey Cooper Photography.

Mom Guilt is Real: Let that Shit Go…

Being a parent is beautiful, exquisite, and painful. It challenges you and fills your cup and sucks the life right out of you again. It is a journey full of ups and downs, unconditional love, growth, pressure, and joy. A huge amount of that pressure, we place on our own shoulders. We establish unrealistic standards of perfection surrounding our ability to parent and believe that everything we do must be a manifestation of the fact that we love our kids more than anything in the world!

The cleverest parties, stylish clothes, perfect pictures, well thought out lunches, fresh spring water that I collected myself infused with organic cucumbers that they drink on the way to their private lessons for their select league. The standards that exist today are impossibly exhausting. My kiddos will be plugged in to activities they love.  I will encourage them to drink water. And…they will most likely have lunchables or crustables in their lunch box. Not for every meal, but for packing lunch on a Monday morning, damn straight. Many of you reading this might cringe at the reality of sending processed foods in my kids lunches, I ask you to understand that I choose the battles that I face. I know where I succeed as a Mother and I know what standards will set me up for failure. I seek health and fulfillment for my babies: physically, nutritionally, emotionally, spiritually, socially, etc. etc. etc.  I also seek this fulfillment for myself and my husband.  As a result, there are some areas where I simply cannot pretend to seek perfection. Choosing my battles and firmly prioritizing my parenting values leads to me existing as a more fulfilled mother. I must remind myself daily to approach motherhood with my intuition and my experiential wisdom, meaning I know my heart and I know my babies, and (because of this)  I will make choices that I feel will best serve my family. This looks different for each parent and each child. We are all incredibly unique — hand crafted with our own gifts and flaws and passions.  I challenge you to use those gifts and passions in your parenting style.

Now…let me pause for a moment, as a social worker I have had the unfortunate opportunity to witness the reality of neglect and abuse. There are children that are not cared for adequately and who are put in dangerous situations at the hands of their parents or caregivers.  This is NOT wisdom or intuition. This is more often mental health, addiction, brokenness, or just evil. I am never condoning neglecting your babies.

Which leads me to a topic that I refer to often in my practice…guilt vs. shame.  And a bit further than that, helpful guilt versus unhelpful guilt.  Let me use some examples to help make the differences between helpful guilt, unhelpful guilt, and shame easy to wrap our minds around.  I am going to use my own life experiences with these feelings because improving myself has been wrapped up in distinguishing between thesefeelings and living a less shame filled existence.

Helpful Guilt:

Yelling. Man I can yell. I have a sharp tongue and a temper. The further out of touch I am with my inner self, the less I pray and meditate, the less I sleep, the less I take care of myself…the more I have a tendency to yell. Some mornings are rough.  I can be short with my spouse and super irritable with my babies. If I sense a level of helpful guilt in the moments, it can help me turn the morning around. When I yell at Rad for saying “Momma I need to tell you something” for the 2700th time in the last 15 minutes and his response is, “I just wanted to give you a hug.”  I feel the ache of immediate guilt. I need to slow down, take a breath, and hear my babies.  They need to listen, demonstrate respect, have manners, etc. but I can also take pause and let them have a voice even though I may have pressed snooze 7 times and am in a frantic rush.  I believe in the power of sincere apologies as a Mom. I am flawed…TRUTH. I do not want to project my struggle with perfectionism onto my children, so when I make a mistake I want to own it with grace. I take a moment to speak rationally and calmly. Then, ideally, we can all move forward in a better manner.

Unhelpful Guilt:

Ok…this morning has come and gone. I yelled. I apologized. We loved on each other and had a good rest of the morning. However, I cannot shake seeing the disappointment on Rad’s face when I yelled. I am allowing myself to believe that he is still sad, just sitting there thinking about how Mommy yelled. He probably thinks I am a terrible Mom. I robbed him of a fun and relaxed day, because every 3 year old boy just sits around over-analyzing his interaction with his Mom from 7:00 AM right?!? WRONG. He has moved far beyond that moment. He knows he is loved. He loves Mommy endlessly. His day is awesome. I need to let my irrational thought process and over-analyzation go. It is just masochism to be that unrealistic about the impact of a brief moment.

Shame:

Now this is where it gets real. Rather than feeling guilt over a mistake or irrationally dwelling on a decision I made, shame is about questioning my worthiness. Shame leads us to question who we are, what we bring to the table, and can impact our core identity and values. Guilt is about what we did. Shame is about who we are. If I allow myself to believe that I am a terrible person. If I journey down a path of self-loathing and genuinely questioning my capacity to mother my babies, I am entering into a shame storm. I talked about my latest shame storm in my blog on struggling with authenticity. Shame is heavy and hard hitting. It gets you in the gut, heart, and soul. It can rob you of confidence and passion. We must not allow the comparison trap of parenthood turn into something that makes us question our worthiness.  We have flaws, but we are and always will be worthy of love and belonging. We are tethered into the fabric of this world and we have purpose.  The National Institute for Clinical Application of Behavioral Health has a chart that perfectly separates guilt, unhelpful guilt, and shame:

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I talk about self-kindness often. I believe, as parents, we must be kind to ourselves and live in a space where grace pours out freely.  There is not one thread of my being that believes that we were called to judge one another or to make other people fighting their own battles feel like they are less than because their unique experiences and values make their rhythm look a little different. What I know about my journey in mindfulness, self-care, authenticity, self-kindness, and as a mother is that when I learn to see each human as someone who is carrying their own torch, winning their own war, or overcoming their circumstances RATHER than someone who is doing life better than me…I have way more compassion and grace. Compassion and grace not only for them, but for myself.  Let’s cheer each other on people! I do not want to be the exact same kind of mother or parent as you…I like being unique. I want my kids to be proud of dancing to the beat of their own drums. With standardized testing, strict routines at school, and the comparison traps that kids face with social media…let’s challenge ourselves to not put our own baggage on their already overloaded shoulders. I want my kids to feel more of my joy and less of my need to be a visually perfect parent.

Social media will not be my standardized test for success in parenting.  Fostering kindness, compassion, empathy, bravery, and confidence in my babies will be my standard for success.  You are all doing an incredible job!!! Your babies feel loved and cared for…do you? If the answer is no, I encourage you to give yourself some grace and let your unrealistic standards for yourself go. Let that shit go. The world is crazy enough, you need to be nice to yourself.

wild world

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan