Over the last year, in the aftermath of my separation and divorce, I have begun to challenge myself to live in a different way.
When I looked back over the years of my marriage, all I could see was wasted opportunity, isolation and the internalization of my emotions and experiences. I spent many of those years numb to my true feelings, denying the truths that I could not yet process—living by rote and not with passion. When I had uncomfortable feelings, I relied on denial to help me through them, regularly biting my tongue in order to avoid conflict.
Following my divorce when I relocated, it occurred to me that I could choose my life. I could make choices about every single aspect of the life I would live as a single mom. I could structure our time in the way of my choosing after years of having to work around a difficult relationship.
I began to challenge myself to change the way I interacted with myself and my world. No one else told me that I needed to do it, it was something that I felt was essential if I were to become the strong woman and mother I need to be. I made the choice to make my outer life reflect my inner life which meant I had to discover a new way to deal with people and with my own feelings.
I’ve been almost ruthless in challenging myself. For instance, in an effort to be completely authentic and true to my inner voice, I stopped filtering my communication, both the direct form and on social media. To clarify, I am not ruthless to others as in unkind—I am ruthless with myself by refusing to allow old habits to resurface.
When I wonder about someone’s words or behavior, I ask for clarification. When I feel discomfort rising to the surface, I confront the feelings head on and spend time trying to find the source. For a person who identifies as introverted, it can be difficult to express myself clearly to others, particularly after years of hiding so much of myself in an effort to obscure uncomfortable truths about my marriage. I often have to remind myself that when I want to know someone’s motives, I should go to the source rather than waste time overthinking and making assumptions.
This has been a revolutionary concept for me. So often I gravitate toward overthinking everything. I would imagine every potential scenario and analyze every nuance of a relationship. Now I choose to speak up instead.
Recently, I took the time to tell an old friend that I miss our conversations. I confronted him on a behavior that had bothered me and that had ended our relationship. By confronting my feelings and speaking up, we were able to repair the relationship through an open dialogue. I was able to express my feelings frankly and to clearly set the boundaries of the relationship going forward.
While intimidating at first, it has been a relief to be able to communicate more effectively and it has strengthened the relationships in my life. It’s a course I’m committed to continuing and I know that the outcome will be closer relationships with the people I allow into my life. I also realize that another outcome will be distance from those who are critical and don’t understand my journey.
When we commit to our own growth, the first thing we may notice is that the people in our lives fall into two camps: those who ardently support us and those who aggressively stand in opposition to our change. We learn quickly to identify and embrace our supporters and to stand firmly against those who attempt to slow or stop our progress because they are uncomfortable with the impact of our development on their own lives. Ultimately, those who support us do so from a place of love and those who stand against us do so from a place of fear.
When others react to our development from a place of fear, it can be difficult to respond to them from a place of love and kindness. I know that in my own life my need to continue to grow is so strong that I find myself angry when anyone tries to stand in the way of it. It takes drawing on our reservoir of compassion to truly stand up to this type of opposition in a way that increases our own strength without falling victim to anger.
When I removed some of my filter from my social media comments, I received an instant backlash from certain people in my life.
Recently, I put up a post on Facebook to communicate about my difficult day and to thank my support system. The post said, “I’ve had a brutal f*cking day so here’s me minus my filter. There’s an entire bottle of wine with my name on it, and I’m going to settle into Lost Horizon until the words blur. Thanks to my support system for just being here.”
The reaction was mixed. To those who know me well, the use of profanity was not surprising, although I rarely use it on social media. From those who don’t know me as well, I received two different reactions: some reached out to provide support knowing that I must be struggling if my communication was so strongly worded; others reached out to judge and criticize me. I got messages of anger, hate and shame because my outer self was beginning to more accurately reflect my inner self.
Most of the time my authenticity creates no backlash because so much of my focus is on gratitude, kindness and personal growth. However, when I communicate honestly about my anger or sadness or about my personal darkness, and I use language that conveys the strength of my feelings, others don’t always respond positively. I have found that it is best not to respond immediately to those responses, particularly when my first reaction is one of anger and hurt.
I have begun to accept that this type of response from others is natural in the process of change. Not everyone is comfortable being truly authentic to the world. Oftentimes, people are uncomfortable when boundaries begin to change. The people who responded with the greatest negativity to my authenticity were the people who are most concerned with keeping up appearances. They fear what others think and are more concerned with perception than truth. In point of fact, I have always admired my friends who are completely authentic, without filtering themselves publicly or behind closed doors. It takes a certain amount of bravery to be who you are without reservation or concern for the criticism that comes with that. We can be inspired by those types of people to find the core of truth in ourselves and to act on it. However, we cannot expect everyone to understand the bravery of living this way or to embrace it.
Transformation is often painful, but it is a necessary pain for our growth. In my experience, it is essential to pay attention to how people react to our changes as it allows us to identify our support system and weed out those who would hold us back by their own fears. Even identifying our opposition can serve as a learning experience.
This experience provides the opportunity to discover our personal power, to hold firm to our course and to respond with compassion to the fear of our opposition.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Editor: Sarah Kolkka