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Looking inward and heeding the information we acquire is one of the most painful journeys we will ever take.
It is also one of the most rewarding.
We live in a world where distractions are both numerous and enticing. We are incredibly busy and, oftentimes, going inward is the last thing we want to do. It is also incredibly helpful when unlearning programming and stepping into more accountable versions of ourselves.
I recently found myself engaging in an old pattern—one I thought was no longer active.
I stayed in a situation too long because I was afraid to rock the boat even though I knew we had reached the point of stagnancy in our relationship. As someone who does not like change and who actively works “process improvement” in my own life, the dialectical practice of progress has been an education into evaluating my choices. It has also forced me to regularly step out of my comfort zone and into the void.
What have I learned?
Life is hard for all of us, and we all have programming that operates against us. Whether maladaptive coping strategies, projections of our injuries, wounds we inherited, or even just unhelpful behaviors, none of us are free from self-sabotage. Many times, we didn’t start it either. We all have fallen victim to painful and traumatic situations.
Survival looks different for each of us and the tapestries that weave through us are unique as we are.
This is why the journey inward can be such a treacherous one. In seeking our own evolution, we are both uniquely qualified to make change and to prevent it. When fear creeps in (which it does), our programming can kick in and often work to slow us down. Because of this, most early inner accountability work is more about dismantling what doesn’t work than implementing what does.
This is where many of us get stuck and stop. I know I have more than once.
Challenging ourselves to look at what isn’t working requires us to take accountability for our choices as we understand them now without blaming anyone else. Amends to others are often warranted and sometimes we must make them to individuals who will never even understand the apology. Hell, I’ve made amends in relationships where I believed myself to be the more damaged party because I no longer wanted to carry the weight of the choice with shame. That is okay.
We apologize for ourselves—and when we do, we are no longer emotionally plagued by the error.
Doing this repeatedly illuminates so many truths about who we are in our strength and where we can empower ourselves. Being wrong or making mistakes does not make us bad. It’s part of the human condition. None of us are immune from it—even perfectionists and people pleasers (I know this one quite well). There is no way to protect ourselves from getting hurt or to prevent us from ever hurting another human being.
We can control our intentions and behaviors sure, but the effect it has on others is determined by them and not by us.
Communication can be difficult, even on a good day.
While what we say may be well-intended, the impact of our words can have a different effect. It is also subjective to the person receiving the words. I determine the impact your words had on me, and you determine the impact my words have on you. I don’t determine your reality. I can determine how I want to respond in our relationship. This is where the inner work comes in handy. Knowing myself (and my shortcomings) allows me to be accountable and kind today at the same time.
When I am not busy justifying my behavior or validating phenomena as if I were writing on a scorecard, I can drop in with empathy, close my mouth, and maybe learn something. The first time I asked someone to share how I had hurt them and really listened was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.
If I have hurt you, I have hurt you. I will apologize for the hurt I have caused, even if that was not my intention.
While I learned this in relationship with others first, the relationship most changed by this practice has been the relationship I have with myself.
The rewards have been miraculous.
So, where do we start?
A proactive step is to decide how we want to proceed and then to take steps to change for the better.
What parts of yourself do you shame, ignore, or distract yourself from?
The work is with the shadowed parts of ourselves and lighting the path starts with getting curious. My favorite question has become, “What am I not listening to today and why?”
While I don’t always like the answers I get, I know that addressing the issue with compassionate accountability will improve the quality of my life. Sometimes I ask these questions when I walk; sometimes when I journal and sometimes in deep meditation.
The answers are not always readily available either. The idea here is to get curious and allow your intuition a greater voice in your consciousness. As with most things, practice makes progress. Once you begin to familiarize yourself with asking accountability questions, you will notice that there are places in your life where you can show up with greater mindful awareness.
I have two practices that have helped me in directing my own growth arcs.
The first is to take a non-judgmental stance when evaluating my own behaviors. Again, curiosity is a key component here and the idea is to implement observer consciousness. Rather than looking at the situation from only my perspective, I regularly step beyond my own experiences and look at the situation from a more global perspective.
This often includes active listening with my friends and loved ones as well as being accountable to change.
From there, a plan can be made. Fortunately, there is a wealth of information available to us about how to process our emotions, set better boundaries, communicate more clearly, and how to determine what authenticity and integrity mean to us.
The quest is less about the “method” itself and more about the commitment to changing ourselves for the better.
This commitment is also one we make repeatedly. I make it at least once a day if not more and on the days that I don’t do so mindfully in the morning, I tend to find myself wading through my own BS by midafternoon.
Mindfulness practices have helped me to integrate many of these practices with greater ease.
The bottom line here is simple: practice makes progress.