“How are you?”
“Fine. Busy! You know! How are you?”
“Same, busy, tired!”
How many of our conversations start like this? When perhaps what you want to say is: overwhelmed/sad/frustrated/feeling taken for granted, or: generally quite content but I do get ridiculously cross when my lodger puts things in the wrong recycling receptacle – just me?
January to July I studied every Saturday, the first step toward a new pathway working in a therapeutic environment. Learning about counselling theory and skills, but mainly learning about myself – identifying my actual emotions. “Fine” and “Busy” are not emotions, they are things we say in order to not name our emotions.
I haven’t blogged for a long time. Nearly five months. I could say that I have been busy which would be true; but I have managed to find time to watch five seasons of The Good Wife, almost five seasons of Parks and Recreation and all episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale. Thank you for your understanding and non-judgment of my life.
I had a big chunk of time off in between finishing my old job (Hallelujah!) and starting my new one – five whole glorious weeks when I completed assignments for college, read, gardened and visited friends with young children. I kept promising myself that I would finally find time to attend to neglected activities: journaling, Bible study, and writing. I didn’t though – I felt like there was a block: there was nothing there, I couldn’t connect to anything. I couldn’t seem to sit with stillness or quiet for long, I had to be occupied, either out and about doing things with friends or around the house, or getting lost in a different world. So, I spent many hours binge watching episodes of The Good Wife whilst promising myself that I would get around to the most important things “later” or “tomorrow”.
I was disappointed in myself and angry that I was not utilising this precious and luxurious time nourishing my soul with the things that are important to me.
One Saturday at college we did an exercise: examining our relationships and how we form, maintain and end them. Unless it is with my very closest people I avoid conflict; I swallow any “negative” feelings, telling myself that I “shouldn’t” feel like that. I try to ignore and forget about my “negative” feelings which means that patterns repeat and issues are not resolved. This leads to feelings bubbling over or getting to the point where the relationship ends because by the time I talk about how I am feeling the issues seem insurmountable or the other person is surprised by my expressing such feelings when I have seemed perfectly happy up until then.
I thought about my relationship with God and with myself, two relationships that often come at the bottom of my “to-do” list when they should be at the top. I am someone who likes to help others (ENFJ, Enneagram Type 2) but this can often be at the expense of myself. I reflected on the “shoulds” that I feel others place on me or I place on myself, in counselling terms we call these our “conditions of worth” – these are conditions that we think that we should meet in order to be worthy of love.
I realised (again) that I was exhausted and constantly doing things in order to please other people and to please God as if God was this big master Judge who is never pleased with what I do and I always must do more. I was angry about the restrictions and expectations that I felt were placed upon me and I was resentful. I had disconnected from myself and therefore from God; I didn’t want to get still and quiet and listen to my soul and hear what was going on. I didn’t want to simply “be” with God or myself. I wanted to numb and avoid feeling.
Maybe you do this too? You disconnect from yourself when things feel overwhelming? Shut yourself off to keep safe in some way? Maybe that’s by not going out and seeing people or by throwing yourself in to work or like me by binge watching things on Netflix? However you do it you avoid listening to your heart and that is never good. It will make you sad and tired and resentful.
Talking about my feelings each week made me realised that I often struggle to identify my own, but can quite easily help you out with yours. I realise that I numb in order to avoid feeling emotions which I have decided are “bad”. I had a long hard look at myself and started my own personal therapy. As my acceptance of my own emotions improves (less swallowing feelings and pretending they are not there, more acknowledging and trying to deal) and my awareness of myself deepens, I have noticed that my connection with God seems to have been strengthened. I am finding talking to God easier again and I am excited to keep nurturing my relationship with myself and with God.
There’s something there about knowing ourselves and knowing God and how the two are interconnected in a weird and wonderful way. You need to get quiet and still to know yourself and to know God; otherwise you can’t hear that small quiet calm voice over the loud screams of all.the.things that demand your attention first.
Tuning in to our inner voice can be hard if you haven’t done it for a while. How do you know who you really are? Have your likes and dislikes, your wants and needs got lost somewhere on the way? Are they just a reflection of what you think you “should” like to do? In order to tune into that voice I would start by thinking about something that you loved to do as a child before you learned to grow out of it. Maybe it was painting, or gymnastics or ballet or colouring or writing stories? Whatever it was, start doing it again. Does it still bring you joy? If yes, great – keep doing it – add other things that bring you joy and make time to be quiet (however uncomfortable) with yourself. If it doesn’t? Stop doing it, try something else. Maybe being by yourself in the bath listening to Rod Stewart brings you joy. Great: do you.
When you start doing you it’s like realising you’ve been holding your breath and now you get to exhale.
After I wrote the first draft of this blog post I read the book Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen which put into words better than my own everything I had been feeling. Almost every page I turned down a corner or underlined something. This book will remain with me for a long time. Jennie writes:
“Time with Jesus causes us to feel secure in our identities. By listening to his voice, we recognise the lies that promise fulfilment elsewhere. Do you want to know what you truly believe will satisfy you? Look at where you spend the most time.”
Food for thought indeed.