Coping Challenge: Practicing Forgiveness for People from My Past

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

*Caveat 1 – This is a journal-entry style post so it looks like a first draft with errors, etc. *

Forgiveness does not change what has been done, but frees your future.

~K. M. Shea from the short story “Forgiven” in Snowflakes

Flashbacks

It’s funny what memories and experiences certain times of the year bring to my consciousness.

August is full of memories about relatives and school experiences. The excitement of learning something (always feels safe) combined with the dread of having to deal with people again (never feels safe even now) makes me feel jittery. Yes, jittery.

People were kind because they wanted something from me. Or they were mean because the adults were mean – some even encouraged the racism and bullying. Very few people from my past were genuinely kind and supportive. They stand out like beacons even as the rest of me drowns in fear and hate when the flashbacks take over.

That makes physical triggers (appearance, tone of voice, gestures, etc.) a minefield of traps outside of my safe world. Phone calls, work messages, social interactions outside of my apartment, they all have the potential to trigger a flashback. And that’s when the agoraphobia kicks in…

Reflection

Forgiveness is something I choose to practice as often as possible in all parts of my life. But it’s complicated. Because sometimes one’s words, actions, or choices don’t appear to stem from forgiveness. Or many people’s idea of forgiveness.

That is something that often troubles me. Because while I choose to forgive people and offer chances, I also maintain strong boundaries and do not easily let people back into my life. So am I practicing forgiveness? Or am I just speaking about it without backing up the words with actions?

And what about the alter personalities? Just because one part of me offers forgiveness, doesn’t mean all parts of me do. Or that alters will stay out of interactions with people from the past as we meet in unexpected ways. Because all parts of me get involved when one or more sense potential danger. And interacting with people from the past is a red flag for potential danger.

This is another instance where INTENTION MATTERS. If the intention behind my words and actions is forgiveness, then that is my goal even if the outside world perceives the interaction differently.

Plus, I can forgive people and still be reserved around them. I can choose to be polite and kind without being friendly, open or trusting. And I can keep out people who don’t change in order to stay safe.

Forgiveness

The words are easy to say, but putting intention and action to back them are more difficult.

I’ve had the opportunity to encounter people from my past over the last few years. They often do not result in a positive experience. Random encounters with people from my past scare me and bring out my alter personalities. It’s often a 3/4 to complete switch where I don’t remember words or interactions. And my alters do not often share the experience with me or anyone else either.

But what I can say is that all parts of me have embraced the tenets of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and use the Interpersonal Effectiveness tools as often as possible no matter who is in charge. In that sense, I am not worried about the words coming out of my mouth being abusive or mean or derogatory.

All parts of me do worry about whether or not the words coming out are in alignment with the value of practicing forgiveness or something else.

For me, the definition of forgiveness is in the quote at the top of this page. I don’t offer forgiveness to change people. I offer forgiveness to free myself from the past. That freedom gives me space to grow, change, and bring more love into my life.

Love, acceptance, kindness, forgiveness, empathy, consideration…all those positive words that include all living beings and connect me to something greater than myself.

So when the fear takes over and my alters are in charge, I trust them to consider our shared values as they interact with people from the past. Forgiveness means letting go of the past in order to move on in the present and future. It does not mean forgetting or allowing toxic people to continue hurting me or people I care about.

And that you see is my conundrum. While I do practice forgiveness, I have a hard time giving people from childhood through young adulthood a chance to be in my life again. I don’t trust the people they are connected to not to hurt me whether directly or indirectly. Which means I can’t relax and be myself around them.

The fear gets in the way.

And so I work hard to offer forgiveness while maintaining a healthy skepticism and not letting many people back into my life. For a chance to re-build a relationship, the other person or people must be willing to meet me in the middle in terms of give-and-take, open communication, and acceptance. Trust and respect come later.

The sad part is that many people from my past often come into my life in order to spy on me or get information to use against me. And so I nip that in the bud with brutally honest, borderline rude, sometimes mean-sounding words and actions. I try polite and kind first, even when I don’t recognize or remember them at first.

Because they don’t understand kindness or respect boundaries, I have to use harsher methods to make them understand that they won’t get away with their old manipulations in the present.

And if people who recognize and remember me choose to pretend I don’t exist (my preference), I do the same and continue on with life.

Visiting Home

This is why I am terrified about visiting the city where I grew up. It’s why I feel conflicted about going back to Massachusetts sometimes.

And why I am not excited about visiting family or going to my parents’ home, yet extremely excited to see them, my brother, and my puppy niece.

Forgiveness offers me a chance and a pathway back to my family and some people from the past by offering me freedom from the trauma.

But only I can truly make this work. And that will always be a work-in-progress lifetime goal.

Thanks for reading.

Movement Challenge Facebook Live invite 3/22/2020 at 1:00 PM pacific time – Info Update

Here is the Facebook link Hope to see you there.

Movement Challenge Facebook Live invite 3/22/2020 at 1:00 PM pacific time ‚ÄĒ Scent Reflections LLC

I’m not the most social person. This probably discourages a lot of people from accepting this invitation. That’s okay.

Besides, I didn’t have a lot of details before about what the discussion would be about. Now I do have details. Read below for the update.

This Facebook live event is an invitation for guests of Scent Reflections and Untangled Connections to join me in a group healing meditation. The movement challenge will be to experience how energy moves through us and connects us to each other as a community using our senses.

I choose to thrive in a world filled with kindness, unconditional love, and acceptance

Life Changing Moments: A little of this, a little of that, quotes, and affirmations too

Dear Guests,

Autumn (or fall) is here. It’s the end of September, and I honestly don’t know where to start. Life took many unexpected turns this year. Some of which I can’t discuss because the stories are not mine to share. Other experiences are related, but not, to what I write here. But I am not sure of their relevance.

That brings me to the first part of the title: this, that, and what else? Work is going well; so many new challenges that it takes a lot of my brain power. I’m still dealing with a difficult living situation, but we’re making slow progress there. Plus 5 months left of living here! And some of those experiences I don’t feel comfortable sharing here, they have to do with the positive evolving relationship between my parents and me.

Yup, I said it. Postive. Evolving. Relationship. Parents. Me.

In fact, they’re coming to visit me next week and will be staying (in a hotel) for a little more than 1 week. Yes, I am excited and happy. Nervous too. But mostly excited.

The other news? I’ve decided to stop allowing comments through a feedback form until I can put in something safe and reliable.

You can comment on posts if you want. But I’m getting so much spam that it’s hard to distinguish guests from trolls. Apologies for that…

And, I will be writing less the rest of this year, as I consider what different direction to take Untangled Connections so it stays relevant to its main purpose. As my recovery changes, my life changes and coping strategies change.

There is so much new information about trauma, recovery, PTSD, and more out there that I can’t keep up and still pursue other interests. That means the topics here will change. The tone will change. And the types of resources/information will change too.

What I’ve written about these last 4 years has to do with Survival Mode and the first years after getting out of the dangerous situation.

Now, I am in a different phase with different challenges. And if you are willing to read about them, I will share that here too.

Here are the FAQs; skip the next section for Affirmations and Quotes ūüôā

Q7: How can I write to you? Will you write back to me? What about comments?

7A: At this time, you can comment on blog posts. Most go to SPAM, so there is a chance that your comment does not get a response if I think it is SPAM and does not follow blog rules.

I  tried to offer a comment form, but all comments went directly to the SPAM filter. Since those messages go to my e-mail inbox, I decided that it’s too risky to address those messages because of increased problems with phishing, viruses, malware, etc.

Q8: Where are you? Will you be writing more?

8A: I am taking a writing break. There is a lot going on in my personal life right now, and I’m working on a new direction for Untangled Connections now that my recovery has changed trajectory and the challenges are not the same as before.

365 Days of Affirmations Follow Up

A few times in the past, I shared a personal coping strategy project called “365 Days of Affirmations”.

The point of this project was to change my thinking processes, attitude, and behavior from negative/unhappy/angry all the time to neutral/postive/content/loving instead and apply that to all parts of my life.

The difficult part was figuring out what “positive” meant to me. Because, while I believe in the power of positive thinking, I also believe in potential harm of positive thinking. And have experienced the blowback when positive thinking fails. That is part of why this update took so long.

While I did compose an affirmation every day for 365 days, I failed at writing down each affirmation once a day for 365 days. Some times I forgot to write down an affirmation for one month or longer. Then had to go back and write them all when I did remember to record the affirmations and quotes.

On the other hand, I learned that creating an affirmation for the day did help me change my thinking processes, attitude, and behavior.

I learned how to reframe sentences and opinions to be either neutral or positive, kind, and encouraging, without feeling over-the-top or unattainable. For Example:

Today is not bad out – cloudy and gray, but smells like autumn and not raining.

vs

Today is bright, cool and gray with some clouds. The air smells like autumn rain.

I am exactly where I am supposed to be in order to manifest my goals and dreams

Thanks for reading

Life Changing Moments: Home for the Holidays

Dear Guests,

This time next week, I will be back in my home state (the one where I was born) getting ready to celebrate Christmas with my parents, brother, and father’s side of ¬†the family for the first time in 7 years. Maybe longer. All of us will get together at an aunt’s house on the morning of Christmas Day to open gifts, hang out, and (later) eat a holiday dinner together. Dinner as in lunch…not the evening meal (aka supper).

I admit to feeling many conflicting emotions. Fear, excitement, guilt, joy, anxiety are a few of them. In terms of my immediate family, I’m excited to see my dad. We’ve been talking (FaceTime) and emailing regularly since August. He’s excited to see me too and has been keeping me updated about the rest of the family. I have mixed feelings about seeing my mom and brother (and his wife) again. We didn’t part on good terms, and my child parts are upset about being close to them again. But the adult parts of me are happy to see them again.

For my Dad’s side of the family, I’m excited and anxious to see them again. We don’t relate very well for a lot of reasons, so sometimes sharing space can be difficult. It’s part of why I choose to stay in a hotel or AirBnB during visits home. We love each other, but live completely different lives. And a lot of my life is not something many of my relatives on either side can acknowledge, approve, or accept. Other than some social topics or basic questions and answers, we don’t have much to talk about.

For my Mom’s side, the timing worked to visit with one group of cousins the day before I leave. As I’m only staying for 4 days, I’m grateful for that much and excited to see them. Yes I’m also nervous, but that’s mostly because it’s a new relationship with all of us being adults now. Luckily, we are all foodies and can spend a few hours chatting and enjoying good food.

Have you noticed the food theme? A lot of my family gatherings revolve around food – it was how different generations came together to prepare food, set tables, cook, share stories, and enjoy conversations while eating – as a party or event was often how my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents brought us together.

Why do  this?

The simple answer is closure.
I’m in a positive, healing place that allows me to open up and face some of the scariest parts of my past so that moving forward is less stressful. Plus, I do miss my family. I love them and want the best for them – best as in what works for and with their current goals and lifestyles. Closure allows my heart wounds to finally drain and start to heal.

The complicated answer is more nuanced.
I am going to visit my grandmother. She hasn’t been doing well since her accident back in January. If I can give her anything, it’s one holiday with all of us together like before. We can spend some time together, and I can reassure her that I’m happy, healthy, and safe even if I live all the way across the country.

I’m going for my father. Seeing him in person, giving and receiving a real hug is a gift in itself. We don’t have a lot in common, but we are interested in each other’s lives and actively listen, accept and respect each others choices. Besides that, my Dad is really funny and always finds a way to share his fatherly wisdom with humor.

I’m going for myself, to prove that I can spend time with them as an adult whose triggers don’t get in the way and cause problems. We can be ourselves, share space together, and enjoy the holiday time with less tension and negativity. I don’t have to hide parts of myself and can accept that different relatives will and do hide behind masks – but the hiding is not personal. And I won’t get in trouble for being me. Or cause problems by being me.

In doing this, I can

try to resolve my conflicting feelings about letting any family into my life and being part of their lives.

Conflict part 1: I am happy as I am now being connected again, was happy before reconnecting with any family at all, and am not sure how much I want to be connected with any of them. If I want to be connected at all.

Conflict part 2: I love my family and am happy to be peripherally connected to some of them. But I’ve left behind the dreams of being close with them or having a strong connection where we keep in touch regularly, etc.

In other words, I’m facing some of my biggest fears in less than a week. Wish me luck?

And luck to any and all of you who might be in similar situations with the holiday season.

Thanks for reading.

Life Changing Moments: Changing self perception

I struggle with being body positive and having a positive self-image.

  • Part of that is because of past experiences.
  • Part of it is because my body shape, size, and appearance do not fit any “ideal” standards, so shopping and feeling good about how I look isn’t always easy.
  • The rest has to do with looking like either parent or following “appearance expectations” – my rebellion against this

This struggle shattered my self-confidence, built up on existing shame, and gave me many reasons to “hide” from the world.

No matter what I did or how I tried, something about me always attracted attention.  Something always gave others an excuse or rationale to be mean/rude, etc.  And I believed them when they told me it was my fault for making them act that way.

I still believed that, deep down in a secret part of me, until last week.

WHAT HAPPENED?

An unexpected award at work gave me the push I needed to stop procrastinating about getting professional photos for business/school, etc. ¬†Here’s the short version:

The company I work for in my day job has over 1,000 employees worldwide and a commitment to encourage continuous learning. ¬†They promote this internally by giving employees free accounts to LinkedIn Learning and internal classes. ¬†At every half-year, the people in “people teams” use some metric or formula to find out who took the most classes, etc. and gives them a small award using an internal award system.

I get a lot of down time between projects and hate being bored, so the online classes through LinkedIn were ways to me to feel like I wasn’t getting paid for doing nothing. ¬†The award was unexpected, yet much appreciated. ¬†But it wasn’t until after I answered the survey questions, that someone from “people teams” reached out with a request. ¬†The company liked my answers and wanted to use them as part of a promotional campaign. ¬†Would I allow this and also send a photo to go with the answers?

At first, I freaked out and said “absolutely not” on the inside. ¬†But then I paused. ¬†This was an opportunity, a big one to help me reach the next step of “not hiding” and achieving outside goals. ¬†If I said no, I’d be going backwards. ¬†If I said yes, I’d have to face a whole lot of fears, including putting my face out on the Internet.

I said yes and asked for some time to get them a decent photo.  We agreed on a date, and I booked my first photo shoot in 14 years (since college graduation photos).

WHY IS THIS A LIFE CHANGING MOMENT?

My style group friends have been cheering me along on my journey to self-discovery and being my authentic self always, but especially in how I present myself to the outside world. ¬†With their help, I chose an outfit and makeup that felt 100%, authentically me. ¬†Surprisingly, I didn’t see

  • a little girl playing dress-up in the mirror
  • A woman dressing to look “like a lady” according to parental expectations
  • My mother, father, aunts, cousins, or grandparents looking back at me
  • A clown or over made-up woman trying to be something she’s not

I saw myself – all parts of myself expressed as a single, adult woman wearing a dress & blazer with fun accessories and subtle makeup – as I got ready for the photo session.

The photographer was amazing.  She helped me feel completely at ease and comfortable posing outside.  The whole experience felt like chatting with an old friend and taking photos for fun.  Never before had I felt so relaxed with a stranger taking photos of me.  Part of it was location Рwe took photos in a beautiful park Рand part of it was the overall feeling of rightness that stayed with me throughout the day.

I got to see myself through the photographer’s eyes and camera lens that afternoon. ¬†She accepted my quirks and even appreciated some of them. ¬†Before her, I’d not met many people who also talked to ladybugs or openly expressed a reverence for nature. ¬†We connected over a mutual love and respect for trees; some of my favorite “fun” shots are of me sitting on exposed roots or posing against trees.

Together, we narrowed down to 3 photos that fit the main purpose of this photo shoot: business headshots for work & professional networking profiles.

But I also chose one for school and “fun” profiles too. ¬†My current day job is segregated from my other hobbies and work choices on purpose. ¬†They do not play well together, and I am very private. ¬†Not many businesses want someone with my kind of mental health issues working for them, no matter how good I am at my job. ¬†So 3 photos:

  • One for internal work/business (like email, profiles, messaging, etc.) that showed me and my “professional” personality with hints of non-work life
  • One for business and networking or job hunting profiles that expressed my business professionalism, creativity, and unique personality
  • One for school and personal profiles (personal email, WordPress account, Facebook, etc.) that showed me in a happy, confident, relaxed, open way.

WHAT CHANGED?

My self-perception, self-image whatever you want to call it.

When I look in a mirror, I finally see me.  A beautiful (inside out kind), confident, secure-in-herself woman.  An authentic, person with many alternate personalities who thrives in her chosen life style with family of choice, a support network, and a fulfilling life in spite of many challenges.

MY HOPE

For all people, with and without mental health or trauma issues, to experience a positive change in self-perception too.  I share this story with the hope that someone can relate to the experience, realize he or she is not alone, and have the courage to make positive steps too.

Thanks for reading.