Posts tagged ‘Self-Judgments’

Got Sensitivity? Radical. – Monica Myers

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart”Helen Keller

As a child, one of the messages I received fairly consistently was, “don’t be so sensitive!” and “you’re too sensitive.” Things deeply touched me. I teared up easily—whether it was in response to my older brother hurling insults at me, the suffering of a small furry creature, or the lonely and dejected 12-year-old protagonist in a book. My rich and complex inner life was sometimes mistaken for shyness. Over time, without realizing it, I adopted an underlying assumption that “something is fundamentally wrong with me” and I spent my young adulthood struggling to overcome this weakness.

We can go to great lengths to bury the fear that something is wrong with us and we rationalize it away. We may not even be aware we hold these damaging self-judgments. On the journey to wholeness, though, they will make themselves known, without a doubt.

Before I became a therapist, I taught for many years in the English Department at Front Range Community College. Early in my career, perhaps in my second year of teaching, I experienced a potent moment in class that I can still see with vivid distinctness in my mind’s eye. My Basic Composition students were work shopping polished drafts of their personal narrative essays in small groups. This was a class of struggling “developmental” writers who generally had never been praised for their writing. I wanted my students to realize they had a voice and that their voice mattered, that their stories were meaningful and offered us opportunities for connection.

Untitled-1Toward the end of class, I asked if anyone wanted to read their narrative aloud. After a pregnant pause, much to my surprise, a student who I knew was taking the course for the second time, volunteered to read his paper. Jamie stood up and began with a faltering voice that became more confident as his reading progressed. I looked around to see an engrossed class. He told the story of a drug deal gone very wrong on the hill in Boulder. He was with his best friend and they were young and stupid, he said. Even though I knew the tragic ending to this true story, I still was unprepared for the well of emotion that began arising in me like a wave. His best friend, just a teen, lost his life that night. Jamie stood there humbled and unsure of himself as he finished reading and the class was silent.

I can’t remember what exactly I said that day in response to the courage it took that young man to reveal himself and his pain, but I do know that I was unsuccessful in suppressing my tears. The lump in my throat gave way, and suddenly I found myself crying. In front of the whole class. I was horrified.

In a competitive and achievement oriented society, we are taught that there are certain expectations and best practices around professionalism in the workplace, including rationality. Emotionality certainly isn’t one of them. Of course, I knew this. And I had failed miserably.

Or so I thought.

In fact, my tears did surprise the class, but in a very positive way. The class began to understand how sharing their truth and witnessing others’ personal stories can weave us together. Jamie was stunned to learn that his words had the power to move other people. After I got over my initial embarrassment, the following period the class dropped to a whole new level. We were able to deepen our discussion. Things became more real.

This experience marked the beginning of my resolve to release my self-judgments and work toward accepting my sensitive nature. Because our habitual tendencies can be so ingrained, it takes inner resolve and active training of the heart and mind to change the trance of our negative self-judgments. They are like familiar old friends lurking in the background. We are used to having them around.

I love Tara Brach’s term for this resolve and practice:  Radical Acceptance. She states,

Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is….When we practice Radical Acceptance, we begin with the fears and wounds of our own life and discover that our heart of compassion widens endlessly. In holding ourselves with compassion, we become free to love this living world. This is the blessing of Radical Acceptance: As we free ourselves from the suffering of  “something is wrong with me,” we trust and express the fullness of who we are.

I have deepened my appreciation for my own watery nature and now view it as a gift.

I have learned that emotions have great wisdom.

Personally, allowing their full expression gives me a greater sense of freedom. Most of the time, I am no longer swimming upstream anymore. And if the authentic expression of my inner experience gives others permission to do the same, I am filled with gratitude. My sensitivity has evolved from a weakness into strong intuition and emotional intelligence.

I think it’s okay to reclaim human dignity with heartfelt compassion and tenderness. In fact, I would argue, given the stresses of our modern society, we need to offer this to others and ourselves more than ever. In what way could you begin practicing radical acceptance?

Monica Myers, MPH, LPCC is a therapist and educator practicing in both Denver and Boulder. She loves to hear from you—please email your comments, questions, and curiosities to monimyers69@gmail.com

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth