Why you need to start writing …

 

 

 

Ok, so today was National Writing Day!

Did you know there was such a thing? I didn’t! (Face of shame)

I’m so glad this one is a ‘thing’ though  ( rather than, say, National ‘Tidy your Cutlery Drawer Day’. That one wouldn’t happen in our house.)

I’ve not talked much on here about writing. But I’ve talked about stories, re-writing our own stories, (when the stories we or others tell about our lives are tying us down, disempowering us or holding us back).

That’s the fuel in my heart. That runs deep.

But if we are to tell our stories – new, powerful, healing stories, or just funny, quirky, unique stories – and these stories are to last, and be passed on (like torches into the night), then we’d better get comfortable writing them down. Nor let anyone discount us, or tell us that our story doesn’t have value or isn’t somehow important enough.

Because, yes! it absolutely IS! Your story is a chapter in life’s book.  Without it, the book makes no sense.

Some years ago, when I was training as a therapist, I noticed that some people who came to counselling could only share the most difficult parts of their stories if they wrote them down first, and (when/if they were able) shared them with me. Many of them found this really helped them. So when I went on to do research, I explored the two big questions I had:

Why were they writing?
And how was it helping them?

I didn’t know what would happen when I began, but pursuing those questions kind of took over my life!

I left work in the end to chase down the answers. I completed my research.
I was fortunate enough to be able to share my findings at a national counselling and psychotherapy research conference. I shared them through many workshops. And after much editorial blood, sweat, tears and ink, I published them too.

It was a long hard but rewarding road.

And this (in short) is what my research participants taught me…. precious lessons for you and me too.

*Writing helped them to ‘offload’, to get painful and difficult thoughts and feelings out of themselves, onto the paper.
*It gave those thoughts and feelings ‘physicality’, so that they could be explored, processed and understood.
*It revealed parts of themselves that had never felt safe to ‘show up’ before.
*The writing became a place where they could ‘capture’ what they were learning and integrate it.
*It became a place where they could ‘re-story’ their lives and find themselves and their unique voices.

Writing worked because on the page they had control. They had a private space (a ‘room of one’s own’ almost). They had choice (what to write, if to write and if and what to share). They gained confidence.

They were able to find their voice (in private) before they tried it out in public and often they discovered identity and purpose too through their writing.

 

Treasure beyond price indeed!

 

So why am I sharing this on allthingsquiet?

Well, not just because today is ‘National Writing Day’, but because part of the original motivation behind this blog for me was to explore ways to help us, as quiet people, to ‘find our voice’.

Writing is the ideal introvert platform. To experiment, to craft, to explore…. to ‘re-story’.
It’s a prime weapon in our arsenal. A secret tool in self-discovery. A confidential friend along life’s highway.

So, have a go today, try some writing. Pick up your pen. Set up your laptop, and here, for good measure, are some good, accessible places to start:

‘Expressive Writing’ James Pennebaker
‘The Right to Write’ Julia Cameron
‘Journal to the Self’ Kathleen Adams

Maya Angelou wrote that writing ‘puts starch in your backbone, so you can stand, so you can compose your life’

So, go forth and compose!  And if you’ve time, aside from all the writing, let me know how you’re getting on too…

Blessings, til next time..

Lynne x

And if you’re interested in the research, here’s the link:

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/capr.12074

Why we need strong borders… (and it’s not what you think)

This post is not about Trump. Or Mexico. Or Brexit.

It is however about the borders (or lack of them) that affect you EVERY DAY OF YOUR LIFE, and determine

How you develop as a person.
Who and What you let into your life,
How you define and protect yourself
And ultimately, how happy and even how successful you will be.

And alarmingly, you probably AREN’T EVEN AWARE OF THEM…
How scary is that?

But you really need to be, because this is SO much bigger than Trump.
Or Brexit!

The borders I’m talking about here aren’t between nations. These borders are our psychological boundaries.

But, like the borders between nations, we’d better learn to pay attention to them, or we’ll very quickly run into trouble.

Let me start by telling you a story:

So, Picture the scene…. A teenage girl standing in a cubicle at Munich airport, deliberately separated from her family, being frisked and questioned by an unsmiling German female security guard.

I’m feeling just a bit alarmed. Trying to look chilled.
Probably not succeeding.

After a few minutes (it didn’t seem like minutes!) of checking my passport thoroughly, questioning me and (even more thoroughly) checking my clothing, I’m finally let through to join my family.

So … What made me stand out as such a threat?
Why was I seen as a potential danger?

Well, here’s the truth:

A typical teenager, I was pretty much wrapped up in my own little world: keeping up with fashion, music, being only vaguely aware of the outside world, etc, etc…. you get the picture.

But this was Munich, and this was Christmas 1972.

Only months after the Munich Olympics terrorist attack ….

and (as a fashion accessory) I was wearing a fully-loaded (fake) bullet hip belt.

Even today, decades later, I still feel ashamed owning up to this.

Psychological boundaries have a lot in common with national borders.

We need borders to keep us safe.
Not everyone who wants ‘in’ is harmless. We know this. Checks are necessary.
We need to man those borders responsibly.
Borders tell us where one ‘territory’ ends and another begins. They tell us that the customs, beliefs and laws might be different as we cross the border, and that we’d better respect that or there’ll be consequences.

Border control tells us that we don’t get in until we and our passports have been checked and we are deemed not to be a threat, and given ‘permission’ to cross over into another country.

We can’t just barge in. Trespassers will be held to account.

The same applies to our individual psychological boundaries.

I am my own ‘country’.

If I maintain my border well, I decide who and what I let into my life (and when, and under what circumstances)

 

A healthy psychological border is not the kind of Paul Simon ‘I am a Rock’ border wall; that defence mechanism ‘fortress deep and mighty’, built by a hurting soul to keep out love and attachment. That kind of border is impregnable. It lets nothing in, because to the one who built it everything out there is dangerous. There is no safety. No interaction.
It isn’t actually a border. It’s a prison.

A healthy border is different. It’s flexible, but there are rules.
They are consistent, and I get to make them. ( eg. If you disrespect me, I will keep you at a distance. If you respect the rules, you will be welcome). My border, and its’ rules, are there to keep me safe.

And that’s a good thing, not a selfish thing.
I do not have to please you if doing so puts me at risk. And that’s ok.

Having a psychological ‘boundary’ isn’t just about SAFETY though.

It’s also about IDENTITY.

When I leave the UK, and travel into France (for example), I know I’m not in Britain any longer. The language is different, the food is different, (the coffee is better!). The customs, practises and laws of the land are different. (Better remember to drive on the right).

When I set (or meet) a psychological boundary,
it informs me that you are not me, and I am not you.
We are separate and distinct individuals.
And that’s alright.

How does this work then?

Well, for example, you might ask me to go see a gangster movie with you, and I decline because I’m really not into gangster movies (See ‘About’!). We’re both fine with that.
So you go see the movie with someone else, and we plan something different for the two of us.
In this scenario, we are respecting each others’ boundaries, and this is how good relationships work.

But If you ask me to go see the gangster movie, and I say I’m not into them, but your reaction makes me feel guilty, or maybe I want to impress you, or fear what you’ll think of me, so I give in and go …. then I’m not manning my border well, and I’m throwing away and not respecting my self-identity – who I am.

Simple example, but you see how this works?

Safety.
Identity.

 

If you’ve read thus far, and all this sounds a bit ‘me first’ and selfish, well then maybe you do have a border issue to resolve.

Quiet people often do. I know I did!

Some indicators might include:

* Feeling guilty about putting your own needs first
*Continually questioning your own decisions and value judgments, seeking others’ validation or ‘permission’ to act on them.
*Always taking the line of least resistance in social situations.
*Having difficulty saying ‘no’ when you want to.

This is not a happy, or a healthy, place to be!

How did we get here in the first place?

Well, it seems to me that part of the cause is nature, and part is nurture.
( Isn’t that always the way! )

Let’s look at the nature bit first…

As introverts, we tend to be naturally compliant…
Being good listeners and generally ‘nice’ people tends to give us emotional rewards (praise, ‘good girl/boy’ attention), so we do it more. So people expect it. Early on, we learn to be people-pleasers. It’s then harder to lay down a boundary line by saying ‘no’, and dealing with the inevitable backlash. (And the challenge to how others perceive us)

As introverts, we tend to be conflict-averse.
It’s easier not to ‘make a fuss’, thus avoiding the drama of disagreements or the discomfort of asserting ourselves. We appear easy going, but we might be feeling inwardly very conflicted. Not engaging in disputes means we don’t gain experience at doing it well and in a non aggressive way, and so when we do explode … My, we explode!

As introverts, we tend to process slowly.
Often we land on the perfect reply to something way after the event. It takes longer to think of the why and how of saying ‘no’, so we end up allowing all sorts of things into our lives that we really don’t want there.

What about the nurture bit?
Well, that’s a bit more complicated.

It depends on whether your experience growing up was one of being affirmed and encouraged as a quiet person, of having your boundaries honoured, or of being shamed for being ‘shy’ and nervous in company.

It may be that you were pushed (rather than encouraged) to join in and play with other children before you felt comfortable.

It may be that your need of solitude and down time was disregarded, and you were told that your gut feelings about many things were ‘silly’.

None of this needed to be malicious, but the effect it had was TO MAKE YOU DISTRUST YOUR OWN FEELINGS AND DESIRES.
To feel that in some ways they weren’t valid or permissible;
That you needed to be more like others. More outgoing.
And so, you’d stifle those thoughts and feelings and preferences, which were in essence ‘the real you’.

In time, you’d even forget what they were.

They’d emerge as vague feelings of unease when someone or something threatened to stride roughshod over your personal boundaries, but the vague unease didn’t tell you anything clear or useful.
In any case, it felt too much like the social nervousness you’d spent years being schooled out of.
So, yeah, you’re going to ignore it. You’ll let all sorts of things and people into your life that that instinct tells you you don’t really want.

There’s a huge difference between moving out of your comfort zone (something we all need to do occasionally to grow), and letting unhealthy and sometimes dangerous relationships and practises into your life because you’ve been schooled out of your safety responses. We need to know the difference!

Because, potentially, this is a very dangerous place to be.
We could be laying out the welcome mat for all sorts of toxic tenants – Hello, codependency, enmeshment and abuse.

We really need as introverts to be checking our gut feelings and learning to tell the difference between ‘I really want to do this, but I’m feeling anxious’ and ‘I really don’t want to do this, but I’m feeling pressured’. The first is (natural) nerves. The second is (imposed) guilt.

If that’s been you and you recognise that : how do you get back to you?
How do you reclaim yourself? How do you build a border, and how do you man it?

These are big questions, and worthy of more than a brief blog post, but every journey begins with a small step. And life in the end is all about small steps. So here’s some starters….

EXPLORE. Know who you are. Be a detective. What do you love? What’s non negotiable to you? What would you change in all the world if you could? What are your values, beliefs, passions, ambitions? Write them down. Know them well.

OWN those qualities that make you you. They’re the building blocks that you use to build your life. You are the architect. No one else has the plan. No one else can be you. If you don’t live your life as you, the plan goes to waste.

PRACTISE building the border, on your own, in front of the mirror, with trusted friends, in therapy, whatever works for you. Learn to say ‘no’ graciously, but firmly. Justify saying ‘no’, so that you can say ‘yes’ fully to your chosen priorities.

There is only so much space and time in your life. Make sure you pack it full of the things that matter to you.

‘Til next time…

Much blessing,

Lynne x

Should it stay or should it go? ….. The Life Inventory

You can only carry so much

I haven’t posted on here for what seems like ages, and I’ve honestly missed that more than I can say.

But there’s a reason I haven’t been posting….

Over the last four months, you see, along with my family, I’ve been emptying, clearing and selling the family home I grew up in. The home that had been in the family for over half a century. 

It was part of my childhood and growing up. It was the house from which I got married, and which came to be special to my children too, as they rediscovered all the nooks, crannies and play places I had made dens and memories in when I was young.

I’ve learnt that there isn’t much that is harder than parting with your history and your memories. 

Every cupboard or drawer you open tells another story, another memory unfolds from within an item that you might have to relinquish.

What do you keep? What do you lose? How do you choose? 

It sometimes felt as if I was getting rid of myself. 

Pulling up my very roots.

Keepsakes, photographs, old books and belongings that used to speak of who I was … (maybe not now, but there’s an emotional attachment) and a sea of memories comes rushing in. 

It’s very hard. 

I didn’t know where to start. As a family, we researched the best way to do a house clearing. There’s the  William Morris take on ‘stuff’ … ‘Keep only what is beautiful or useful’.     Mmmm…. Deciding what is beautiful or useful turned out to be widely subjective!   Or there’s the mantra that says ‘keep it for six months, if you haven’t  used it, chuck it’.  Problematic. It might take me six months to find said item amongst the mountains of stuff! 

We decided to start doing a basic sorting, and set aside separate rooms for ‘keep’, ‘sell or donate’ and ‘get rid’. That was the easy bit, but I still felt as if I were drowning!

What grid do you use to help you decide what to keep and what to lose anyway?  (I LIKE grids. I like templates, and instructions, and safe, secure ‘how to’ methodologies, but found nothing that touched the real core of the issue).  No one, you see, seemed to take the emotional attachment bit into account. That’s the bit that makes it hard to let go. 

Then came the awful thought…would I fail to get rid of ANYTHING? Would I end up like one of those hoarders, buried beneath a sea of random stuff?  Eaten by Alsatians? (With apologies to Bridget Jones!) 

stuff

Horror of horrors! 

Have you ever noticed that some of the best ideas we get come to us in dreams, or maybe just in that dreamlike state between sleeping and waking? 

Well, I was rescued by a ‘dream’..I woke one morning with the words ‘IDENTITY’ and ‘LEGACY’ swimming in my head. (Normally, the only words swimming in my head on waking are ‘Get up!! You’ve overslept!).  Thank you Lord! I have a grid! I am one happy lady! 

So my grid began to click into place. I began to see that the things we need to keep, and to treasure from the past, are to do with IDENTITY… with who we are, and are becoming. They may be actual things, books, letters, a sewing machine, an old typewriter… They might be relationships that have been significant in helping to build who we are becoming. These things have become ‘family’.. They have become part of our DNA. 

 LEGACY is to do with what I keep to pass on as an inheritance. Not just clocks and cabinets, but personal history and narratives, a love of art or music, a thirst for knowledge and discovery. It’s about finding and identifying the baton so you can pass it on. 

So here are the questions I asked myself, to help me choose what to keep, and what to lose….IMG_2426

Is it still part of my/our ongoing life journey? 

Is it a reminder of those special people in my life and what they have built in me? 

Does it still fulfil a purpose? 

Does it speak of who I really am? 

Does it echo with my plans and dreams for the future or is it ‘dead wood’ from the past, pulling me back and making it difficult to grow steadfastly forward? 

THAT grid was helpful.

I’m not just talking about losing or keeping actual possessions either, I’m talking identities. In psychotherapy, we understand that the powerful image of the ‘house’ often stands for the self. Moreover, our ‘stuff’ (physical or otherwise) can house old and outworn, sometimes unhealthy identities, that NEED to be shed. 

….Like when we keep all the old punk albums we listened to with the scary ex. (Although we’ve always hated punk!) 

….Or we keep the books from that course our parents signed us up to, that we bunked off.

Why are we keeping that stuff? Because until we get rid of it, we’re tied to that identity, that failure. We haven’t let it go, got closure on it…and so we can’t move on. 

Those things are the barnacles on our shells that slow us down. 

Other ‘stuff’ might remind us of parts of ourselves that we need to pick up and run with again, interests and leanings that have lain dormant….      

WE NEED TO DO A HOUSE CLEARING!   DO WE STAY AS WE ARE, BURDENED WITH A LOAD OF ‘STUFF’ OR DO WE DO A LIFE INVENTORY?  

We have to be intentional about what we allow ‘in’ our lives, and what we decide has to ‘go’.  And the decision can only be ours to make. 

So why is it so hard? 

I think it’s hard because on the whole we’re creatures of habit, content to live with our own particular status quo, living in stasis, however cluttered, so long as life will allow. 

The problem is, Life usually doesn’t!   

Because we were not made for stasis, we were made for growth. 

And growth requires reflection, evaluation and making (often scary or brave) choices. Growth can be uncomfortable, even painful, because to be free to grasp hold of something new, you have to let go of the stuff you’re holding onto….otherwise your hands are already full. 

I love watching natural history programmes. Recently I was watching an episode where there was a close up, prolonged footage of a snake shedding its skin. I’d never really thought much about the process, but as I watched, I had one of those light bulb moments…

When the snake’s skin becomes too restrictive for further growth, the impetus for shedding is triggered. 

I don’t know what activates that process….without giving the snake human feelings, I guess he must feel pretty cramped and tight and uncomfortable, and certainly in the process of shedding, the snake becomes cranky, stops eating, and will likely go somewhere quiet and private….because it’s vulnerable at this point. 

But the point is, it cannot grow unless it sheds that skin, and it cannot get rid of the discomfort until it sheds either! No pain, no growth. A bit like giving birth. Pain is an indicator that something HAS to change. Pain is a precursor of birth, of change, of growth. Pain isn’t always something to avoid, to be afraid of.  

C.S.Lewis in ‘The Problem of Pain’ spoke of pain as ‘Gods megaphone’. It wakens us to action. It demands decisions, not avoidance.  

So, what are you going to do?    What needs to ‘go’ in your life, and what needs to be reclaimed?   

You can only carry so much luggage in life. So pack with care. 

Ask yourself these questions:  is this thing/relationship/ habit/lifestyle leading to growth, to health, to happiness – is it helping me on the journey I’m on, does it feed into my values and identity or is burdening me, pulling me back to the past, to old identities, mistakes and memories, and beckoning me along a sideline, not along the main track of my life? 

The biblical concept of ‘Leaving and Cleaving’ recognises this principle of letting go in order to grasp something new. You cannot build strong new attachments until you relinquish or lessen the pull and primacy of old ones, even good ones!   If not, you’ll be pulled in so many directions, master to everyone but yourself, and who you should be. 

Unfortunately (especially for introverts) our Western culture values (demands sometimes!) multiple involvements and commitments. It tells us (mistakenly) that we can have it all, keep it all, do it all – at no extra cost. 

So we need courage and self awareness to choose a quieter, more focused, less cluttered path. 

Self awareness to know what to keep and what to lose, and to shelve the guilt that comes with saying ‘no’ . . 

Courage because choosing to say NO, can (sadly) open the door to being judged as selfish or indifferent. 

Ironically, saying ‘no’ to some things simply means we can be MORE committed to the fewer things we choose to say ‘yes’ to! And depth, not breadth is introvert gold. 

You cannot keep everything in life, nor should you try. Keep only what passes from your hands to your heart. Let all else go.   

Til next time then, 

Blessings,

Lynne 

You cannot keep everything in life. Keep only what passes from your hands to your heart. Let all else go