Because of my people pleasing and co-dependency tendencies, I’ve always had a very hard time standing up for myself with female friends. For starters, I didn’t trust my own feelings. If a situation happened that upset me, because I had a past of being told I’m too sensitive, I would wonder if my feelings were legitimate. Maybe I was overreacting? Maybe I wasn’t being as understanding as I should be?
I also didn’t speak up because I didn’t think that’s how a spiritually enlightened person acted. I’ve been on a spiritual awakening journey for over twenty years and try very hard to emulate behavior of someone who is awakened. Particularly, I love Abraham Hicks, and he is all about only seeing love in someone else and accepting everyone.
Then again, there are some people in the spiritual community who endorse anger. Jeff Brown says anger tells us someone is encroaching on our boundaries. Brooke Castillo says that we are humans and half of the time we can expect to feel negative feelings. But then Eckart Tolle says that those things might be true, but questions if that isn’t just our ego wanting to stay feeling separate from others and away from the true peace inside ourselves.
The littlest thing could upset me and my thoughts would ping pong all over the fricking place about how I felt, what was right to feel, how I should feel, what should I do to feel the feelings. It was very confusing and exhausting and I felt like a crazy person. I was holding myself to impossible standards.
Recently I went to Kripalu and saw Matt Kahn give a workshop. Matt’s teachings discuss a new spiritual paradigm and while his messages always focus on love and giving more love not less, he started off the weekend by saying, “I will not tolerate disrespect from anyone.” And when someone is trying to gaslight you, you can say, “I am not confused about how I am feeling.”
What I took from his teachings is that instead of thinking our ego is something that needs to be released, or ignored (like I just read we should do in Michael Singer’s new book) it is more helpful to think of our ego as our inner child who is asking for attention and love. Practicing this during the weekend, I saw an immediate shift in myself. When I had an unpleasant thought about myself or someone else, I saw it as my inner child who just wanted attention. I would ask her how she was feeling and give her the love, attention and compassion she needs. Then miraculously, I was able to give this same compassion to others. When someone else acted in an unpleasant way, a dirty look in yoga class, I found myself so easily realizing oh, that’s her inner child acting out and just being in a place of compassion.
I got home from the workshop buzzing with hope for a life where I can finally live how I’ve been wanting to live for so long, a life where I really feel connected to the love inside me, where I have compassion for myself and others.
Then a friend did something that upset me. Instead of jumping to the place I normally do which is to feel guilty for being upset and try to immediately push myself into understanding, I allowed myself to feel upset and accepted those feelings. I asked myself how I was feeling and what I heard was, unimportant. When she treats me this way, I feel unimportant. It wasn’t right or wrong to feel this way, it didn’t mean she was taking my power away or I have issues with this topic from my childhood, it just meant in that moment in time, it’s how I felt. And I also knew that this was a reoccurring issue with this friend. That in the past when this same behavior had occurred it made me feel this same way and I never allowed myself to acknowledge it before. I decided to stand in my truth, take a big risk and let her know how I was feeling.
My friend became defensive and did all the things people do when they are feeling attacked. First, she said that my hurt feelings were now causing her to feel not good enough so now she was actually the one who was hurting. She pointed the finger at me and said I was being judgmental then asked me what might be going on for me that was causing me to be so reactive since that wasn’t normally who I was. She said that no one else has a problem with this behavior of hers so it was obviously me who had the problem not her. She gave me a million excuses why she wasn’t able to have better behavior because of all the life that was happening to her.
Her first response made me crumble into the people pleasing/co-dependent behavior that was second nature to me. When she said that my truth was making her feel badly and not good enough, I immediately retreated. I told her I loved and cherished her friendship, I was sorry.
But that felt awful, because I had committed to my inner child that I was going to protect her when she felt hurt. Soon I was able to get back on track and let my friend know that those things were still true- I did cherish our friendship and love her, but my truth was that something she was doing was making me feel really unimportant and I wanted her to know. I also came up with a simple solution to remedy the situation from happening again.
Each time she came back at me, I was able to see her inner child and feel compassion. I didn’t feel offended by anything she was saying to me. I wanted to help heal her inner child. I don’t stand up often for myself with female friends but in the past when I had, when a friend was in attack mode, it made me feel awful. I’d feel heat in my chest, I’d start shaking and have a trauma response. I don’t attack back. I couldn’t. I’m an empath and an over-protector of other people’s feelings which used to leave me defenseless.
This time was different, I felt amazing. It felt so good to just simply say how I was feeling and then show love to both myself and her, despite how she was acting.
I was telling a new spiritual friend about this situation and let him know how wonderful it felt to stand up for myself and not allow myself to be treated with disrespect.
My friend, who I had just met at Kripalu, has been listening a lot to Abraham. He told me that he didn’t agree with my actions or thoughts about the situation. He said I was allowing my friend to take my power by allowing myself to feel unimportant. (Which made me feel shame for having that feeling) He said I wasn’t accepting her where she was. He said that I needed to be loving.
I have a lot of strong opinions about that and I shared them all with him. That philosophy of “just accept everyone” and “love everyone” kept me in an abusive situation. It made me not see the truth of someone’s behavior because I was so focused on me accepting them and being more loving. That philosophy of requiring people to accept everyone is dangerous propaganda to spout to people who are vulnerable on their spiritual awakening journey.
It felt so wrong to have him argue with me about this. I was finally able to stand up for myself in a really loving and compassionate way and he was telling me I wasn’t allowed to. That I need to continue to make myself small and unseen. He got very heated and ended up shouting at me about how wrong I was, how I should be more loving and that my ego couldn’t handle what he was telling me. The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on me.
I want to share this story now for two reasons. The first is to share how much a shift can be felt when you give your inner child love, attention and compassion. We don’t allow ourselves to actually feel what we are feeling. We tend to try to jump to the feelings we think we should be feeling. For example, I ran into a friend over the weekend who was complaining about how her parents being in town was driving her crazy but then quickly said but she was trying to be grateful they were here. We do this all the time. We don’t just allow ourselves to feel that first emotion and we shame ourselves for feeling anything negative. For me, I know it was because I was scared I would stay in that negative place or feeling. But what happens is, when we allow the feeling to be felt, it moves through us. We don’t stay in that place. We need to honor the true feelings because then we are honoring ourselves and allowing and accepting ourselves.
The second reason I wanted to share this is because I know there are many people like me out there, unsure of what is the ‘right” behavior to take when you are on your spiritual journey. There are so many messages out there from different spiritual teachers about being completely accepting and loving that suggests we are un-allowed to stand up for ourselves. The thing is – if we don’t have compassion and respect for ourselves, we can never expect to have compassion and respect for others. It happens nearly simultaneously. When you are in the practice of giving yourself compassion and allowing yourself to feel the real feelings you have, it’s very natural to then give that same love and compassion to others.
This is the epitome of emotional freedom, which to me means that no matter what is happening outside of you, you feel grounded and love on the inside. And that can only happen when you are in constant practice of giving your inner child attention, love and compassion.