Dizziness. Shortness of breath. Racing heart. Tense muscles. This is the way I began my day. This is what I experienced for the hour before and for the hour after I sent an email to my ex-husband that I knew he would not like. These are trauma symptoms. Despite therapy and countless hours of self-work, when it comes to the hard stuff my body still reacts in victim/survival mode and I hate it.
So Brené came in super handy today and actually enabled me to get that email out in the first place. What was the subject? I didn’t notice until a few months ago that early last year when our family court judge gave us a new parenting order she changed my pick up time on Thursday morning from 9:00 to 8:00. This doesn’t seem like a huge deal, I know, which is part of why I didn’t do anything when I noticed. The main reason I said and did nothing was to avoid aggravating a violent ex-partner who will be spending time with my son. What’s an hour? Well, when it is every week of the year it adds up to two whole days with my son and I am no longer willing to surrender that time.
On my journey back from shame I’m going to explore Brené Brown’s Ten Guideposts to Wholehearted Living from her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are with you. The first guidepost is Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think. Four months ago just reading that made me squirm. Focusing on how to be more authentic and true to my real self is a struggle every day. I am and have always been a people pleaser. Not necessarily in the “yes, sir” way but in the chameleon approach to life. Give me a group of people and I will fit in with them in virtually any situation. Put me in a group of people and ask me to be exactly who I am in my soul and I want to run for the exit. Why? Because I have learned to be ashamed of much of who I am.
Brené’s authenticity mantra is “Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Stand on your sacred ground.” What does she mean by this? Don’t shrink. Don’t give in to the expectation. Don’t hold back your opinion for fear that others will disagree with you. Don’t stay silent when you think you know the answer out of fear you may be wrong. Hard, right? Even harder? Don’t puff up. Don’t suit up in your protective suit of expertise because no one can hurt you now. “Well, when I was at Harvard…” “Actually, I was talking to the author of that book on my last book tour and what he meant was…” “Please, call me doctor.” These are exaggerations but I am sure we have all been there. I was the queen of puffing up in my early 20s when I went back to my home town and was the authority on all things theatre after living in New York for a short time. Stand your sacred ground. This is me. This is my thought. This is what I know. This is what I believe. And these are my boundaries.
WAIT. Hold up. Boundaries? Did you say boundaries? Yes, yes I did. One of the most difficult aspects of practicing authenticity is setting boundaries and that is what I was doing this morning.
…Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable…
By setting a boundary with my ex-husband I made myself vulnerable. Has anyone ever communicated with a narcissist? It is hard to get to the point of a narcissist’s email or conversation. There is often a lot of name-calling, blaming, and warped reality to sift through. My divorce heroine, Tina Swithin, puts emails and texts from her ex-husband into an imaginary Narc-Decoder and translates each one in her own blog to brilliant/pathetic end. By setting boundaries I open myself up to the possibility of backlash, name-calling, aggression during transitions with my son, and even going back to court but by not standing up for my rights and what is best for my son I am not being fair to my authentic self. So today I chose authenticity. The response I received only needed a little decoding but I am not only getting my hour back with my boy, I have also established a new boundary.
Experts in the area of personality disorders will tell you that the best thing to do when separating from someone with narcissistic personality disorder is to sever all ties. Advocates for the safety of domestic violence survivors will tell you the same thing. The problem comes when you have a child with said person. Then you end up in the broken family court system where a judge might fall for the act the narcissist puts on or has a default setting of shared custody, regardless of arrest history. Then you are forced into constant contact with this person, via technology and in person. In the fall I wrote about the fear in my bones. Being in the presence of my ex-husband is traumatic. Sounds like a dramatic statement, but I still experience the trauma symptoms mentioned earlier when I am near him and I fight the shame gremlins like nobody’s business in his presence. When Liam is leaving I get to walk away and blow it off for as long as I need. I often go to the gym after watching him drive away with my life. Often I cry. Often I fall into the safe arms of my husband.
When I pick my son up it is a different story. He is in the car with me. I have to be a mom. I’m on and when I have to deal with the eye-rolling and the growling (yes, growling like an animal) or, worse, fake niceties I feel like I’m going to crawl out of my skin. I start the time with my precious boy not being my best self. So beginning tomorrow Liam will walk from the door of the house to the other parent’s car on his own. There will not be regular physical contact anymore. It will still tear me apart watching him leave, but now I won’t have the fear for my own safety which brings down my anxiety levels and allows me to live a fuller life. Boundaries set.
So what do people expect of you? If you weren’t worried about what they would think what would you be doing? Is there a boundary you can set right now? This is not easy and there are no simple solutions. Practicing authenticity is that, a practice. You have to keep doing it. But trust me, the results are greater than any yoga class.
The following PDF of the below image is linked to all posts related to my journey with Brené. Enjoy the trip! 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living