When I first read this chapter in Cheryl Richardson’s book,
I thought, hmmm . . . this month’s homework is going to be easy.
I had already implemented or was actively practicing all six of her sensitivity-protecting suggestions.
I’ve been ‘turning down the noise’ my whole life so that was easy peasy.
I only listen to the news when I’m driving in my van in the middle of the day so I don’t take all that negativity (or the violent visuals of the television news) into my dreams.
I am learning how to manage technology so that it is my servant and not the other way around.
I am slowly creating a more soul-nourishing environment in my home, including my home office.
I’ve been striving to live more fully in the present moment since I was introduced to Eckhart Tolle‘s work several years ago. That continues to be a moment-by-moment challenge, but one that is definitely worth the effort.
And I’ve been (to use Cheryl’s words) ‘putting limits on toxic people’ for about the same amount of time.
Voila! Homework successfully done.
Except . . .
there is always the opportunity to go deeper. To learn more. To expand my awareness even further.
That happened for me this month with the Toxic People point. Even as I gave it my invisible check-mark, there was a niggling feeling in my gut accompanied by the whisper of a thought,
Oh yeah? What about Cassandra? (not her real name)
Whenever I hear that phrase–toxic people–Cassandra comes to mind. She was a very powerful woman, able to create amazing things in her life, but she was driven by so much anger that those things inevitably unraveled. Something always went wrong.
I think it was because her negativity alienated the people around her, but it seemed that other people were as incapable as I was of talking to her honestly about her effect on them. She was just too formidable. If you didn’t agree with Cassandra, you were stupid. Period. So I imagine, instead of speaking truthfully, they went all passive-aggressive and did whatever they needed to do to get out of Dodge and Cassandra would find herself hurt and angry over what she perceived as a betrayal.
I was working very hard on setting limits with Cassandra and it wasn’t going very well. It was just too damn scary to disagree with her let alone tell her I didn’t want her in my life anymore, especially after hearing her vent (her keen intelligence was coupled with a vicious tongue) about yet another person who had betrayed her.
Over and over again I would promise myself that this time I would calmly, kindly voice my disagreement with her hard-line opinions and verbal lacerations of others. This time I would end the relationship. Over and over again I would find myself hunched against her diatribe, enduring the ‘visit’ until I could slink home and collapse in exhaustion.
The bottom line was I didn’t want her to turn her anger laser on me so I never did ‘tell her my truth,’ or ‘call her on her stuff,’ or set even a whisper of a boundary.
And then she moved.
Immense sigh of relief.
Problem solved and I didn’t even have to deal with it.
So why do I still feel queasy every time I think about her?
And thanks to this month’s Extreme Self-care Challenge, I’ve been thinking about her a lot.
For years, I’ve pointed out to others (mostly my husband and children) that no one can MAKE them feel a certain way–it’s entirely their choice–something I believed intellectually, but obviously still didn’t really ‘get ‘ as witnessed by my recent facebook post.
On Mondays, I try to post some sort of encouragement for anyone participating in this Extreme Self-care journey on my Turtle Dreams facebook page. One Monday I posted this:
As we Extreme Self-Care students continue with our homework this month, I’m wondering how you’re handling the people in your life who make you anxious or feeling less-than or who leave you with an energy-sucked hangover. Have you been able to set some boundaries?
One friend replied:
A conversation about boundaries is so important. No one can make us feel or do anything that we don’t let happen. It is all up to us!
I double-checked my post. Yup. I had written those words, people who . . . make you anxious. But I don’t even believe that!
Or do I?
Well . . . there’s still Cassandra. Just the thought of her makes you feel queasy, remember.
And then another friend posted:
I take 100% responsibility for my own energy. No boundaries needed.
Now I was really confused.
No boundaries needed? But no boundaries was what made me feel (there’s that phrase again) so awful when I spent time with Cassandra. I needed to put up a boundary! Didn’t I?
So I asked my facebook friend:
It seems to me that setting a boundary–“I am no longer willing to listen to you complain if you are not willing to do something about it” or “Please don’t talk to me like that”–IS a way of taking responsibility for my energy. Is there something I’m missing?
And she replied:
It sounds like that is a step into your power. AND, my experience is that no one can ‘make me feel anxious or less than or leave me with an energy hang-over’… If I don’t like being around someone, I leave. Mostly, I attract awesome people to be around. Or I bring out the best in the people who join me. When I feel icky in an interaction, it’s because there is something for me to look at inside that hasn’t been resolved. As I clear it up, less and less ickyness is reflected back to me.
Actually, make that two hmmmm’s.
Hmmm Number One: I obviously need to work on my courage quotient. I couldn’t imagine ‘just leaving’ mid-conversation (or even mid-diatribe, apparently). Which raises the question: what the heck was I doing agreeing to another tea date in the first place when I knew how it would play out?
(insert sound of chicken bocking here)
Courage, Maxine. The courage to gracefully decline the invitation in the first place.
And, Hmmmm Number Two: what was Cassandra reflecting back to me about myself? When I feel icky in an interaction, it’s because there is something for me to look at inside that hasn’t been resolved. Was her anger a reflection of unacknowledged cesspools of anger seething within me?
And this reminded me of my electric toothbrush.
Bear with me.
Bizarre as it sounds, there is a link here.
Years ago, my dentist recommended I switch to an electric toothbrush. I disliked it immensely. (And that is an understatement.) Every tooth brushing session was an ordeal. It hurt my gums and rattled my skull so I quit using it. Lately, things in my mouth have been deteriorating and I have to use that electric brush to keep the runaway plaque from taking over my body.
Visions of dentures floating in a glass by my bed finally got me to drag out the torture machine again and guess what? It didn’t rattle my skull any more nor did it hurt my gums.
As I pondered this, I got all metaphysical.
Over the years, I’ve been steadily working on reducing the emotional, mental, and physical jangle in my life. Is it possible that, years ago, that vibrating toothbrush was the last straw at the end of a stressful, jangling day so it felt like it was going to rattle my skull right off my neck? And now, having successfully reduced the jangle in my life, the buzzing toothbrush is no longer an issue? I don’t know, but today I have no trouble using the electric toothbrush. In fact I quite enjoy the fact that it lets me know when the requisite two minutes of brushing is up. My electric toothbrush has become my friend.
So, to follow this line of reasoning (if you can even call this left-field chatter ‘reasoning’) would it be possible that, after all these years of personal growth, if I was to have a cup of tea with Cassandra today, I would be totally unaffected by her energy?
Have I cleared up enough of the submerged anger in my own life to no longer be affected by hers? Maybe, like with my electric toothbrush, I’ve changed my vibration enough that I could handle being in her vicinity again.
Or . . . if I still found it too icky to be around her, would I now have the courage to excuse myself and walk away?
Or . . . maybe she’s changed and mellowed over the years.
Maybe she hasn’t come back into my life (and neither has anyone else like her) because I have resolved this issue and no longer need to work through it.
Or–here’s a good one–
Maybe I was the one bringing out all the anger in her!!
Or maybe . . .
It’s a bit crazy-making trying to figure this stuff out. Trying to do the right thing. What is the right thing? What is the truth? Why do these things happen? Why do I react the way I do? Am I too sensitive? Do I think too much? (I’ve certainly been accused of that!) Should I set a boundary or are boundaries really not necessary?
My husband is looking forward to the conversation he hopes takes place after he dies when he gets to ask all the ‘why’ questions that accompany so many of life’s experiences here on earth.
Those pressing questions like:
Why doesn’t my electric toothbrush bother me anymore?