Tuesday, August 29, 2017

New Website

I have moved into a new website:

Mirandageorgearticles.wordpress.com

New articles and links to published articles are there.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Fail Safe

This article is Part 4 of a series on codependency, written for the Sisters in Law Blog. Here are links to parts one, two, and three.


Remember the scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 where Harry tries to grab the sword of Gryffindor out of the frozen pool in the Forest of Dean? Where right before he grabbed the handle of the sword the horcrux hanging around his neck (the thing he intended to destroy) attempted to strangle him?


(Source: Harry Potter Wiki)


I can identify.

I decided to leave my university teaching position. Long story short, I have had my fill of adjunct teaching. I wanted to commit more time to teaching little kids and trying to figure out who the hell I am, I was taking steps to unearth the person I buried decades ago for the sake of pleasing and placating.

Handing in that resignation letter, I felt strong. I was saying "no" in more ways than one but most of all, "No, I do not have to teach college just because I have a doctorate."

It snuck up on me, the depression. The number one identifiable symptom was the way I sounded playing the trumpet. Codependency-related shame-based performance anxiety is completely unmanageable when I experience depression. My upper abdomen becomes a cemented wall and I don't have the abdominal relaxation necessary for a singing effort (ease) or compression. That was my horcrux, the codependency, dying hard. The timing couldn't have been worse, I had three performances in a row all surrounding Easter weekend (there was nothing I could do but survive those gigs). It turned out I played fine for the most part, it just felt terrible. I'm glad someone enjoyed it. The director from my Easter gig hired us again a year in advance.

"You're an Idiot"

This shame tape played over and over those several days. I had examined this phrase before but it was time to give it new perspective. I did what I always do with shame, I locate the source, I reality check the message, and seek empathy by sharing my story with someone I trust.* The source? My father. It was what he would say whenever I didn't do something exactly as he instructed. Even if he didn't say it, he made me feel that way many times. My mom had her own version of this line too: "If you don't _________ then I'm not going to help you when _________. She always liked to throw some religion into the manipulative mix as well. This was how my parents always pulled me back into pleasing and placating, back to hustling to be a daughter who isn't an embarrassment. Anytime I toed in the line of autonomy, this shame tape brought me back. 

It was a failsafe, just in case I ever attemped be my own person. It worked back then, I was already conditioned for self-blame thanks to multitype maltreatment and negative reinforcement. No wonder I have never processed this particular shame tape. It only plays on the edge of freedom and I can't remember the last time I tried to break free.

So, that depression was from my struggle with that codependency related shame. I started to feel freedom but also, a tiny part of me wanted to hang onto selling the perception that I am a college level authority on the subject. Am I a capable college teacher? Yes, but I acknowledge that my teaching ability is sickened in the same way my performance ability is. 

I called a handful of friends to let them know I was struggling. They were amazing, responding right away, texting, calling, some of them forcing me to hang out, eat brunch, get a mani/pedi. One of them made plans to visit me from out of town. They all listened patiently as I laid out the latest self-awareness outline. I don't think it's an accident that the depression set in right as I was too busy to attend support group meetings for a few weeks. I started attending again. I made sure I was committing to self-care.

My trumpet playing remained difficult throughout those several weeks until I made a very important decision. 

Game Changer

I have recently understood my trumpet playing as the torch bearer of my codependency. It makes so much sense. The trumpet took over for my parents, as the conduit through which I received love (unfortunately, conditional love: validation, fleeting and scarce). I was 11 years old and all of a sudden I received praise regularly. All I had to do was practice and BAM: chair advancement, solos in the band literature, all-region/area/state auditions, medals, awards and scholarships galore. All of the ways in which I was inadequate in my family and in the Indian community didn't matter anymore because in band, I belonged. I worked so hard and I was rewarded. I decided to major in it. 

All of the hustling, 3-4 hours of daily practice, worked until something didn't go my way, in my junior year in college. That was when I learned that my beloved trumpet playing could betray me. I didn't know it at the time, I thought I wasn't good enough, but the truth was, I hit a wall built by deep seated fear, cultivated by a childhood of multi type maltreatment:

"If you don't _____________, you will be denied love and belonging."

I responded to hitting this wall with what others may have described as ambition...only I wasn't ambitious, I was obsessed. More aptly put, I was jonesing for validation. The 3-4 hours became 4-6 hours, I slept four hours a night, if I wasn't practicing I was listening to recordings, doing anything and everything to avoid failure. The crazy thing was, I was praised for being such a hard working student.

Addictive levels of validation seeking, codependency,  connected to classical trumpet playing. Accepting this truth was so heartbreaking. No wonder trumpet playing while in depression was so hard for me. The depression said, "Do nothing." The codependency said, "Do everything you possibly can or you will not survive." The anxiety was an unshakable lockdown.

Was it time to quit? For good? Throwing away decades of study and performance?

A New Leaf

It was time to quit something. It was time to quit using the trumpet to be enough, but how was I going to rewire? 

I decided in addition to leaving the university, I am going to stop padding my curriculum vitae. No longer will my performances be currency for my teaching and performing career. I had to figure out how I could get back to being the kid who couldn't wait to play, before I used the trumpet for validation. 

I decided to call a mentor and schedule a lesson. I shared my current dilemma and the challenge at hand, to make the act of playing trumpet a tool for self expression and creativity. He helped me with creating a performance goal that shares no path with that of validation seeking. I have no idea what the trajectory of creativity is when it comes to playing the trumpet (with the exception of jazz, which was a haven from the hustle of classical playing) but I'm looking forward to discovering it.

I decided that I am not going to share my plans with everyone, I am drawing a boundary around who I share this with. The truth is, no one else has to know what I am doing with my creativity. It isn't *for* anyone else. I'm only sharing it with those with whom I have a history of trust. I will still play gigs, and perform wherever I am hired, whatever I say yes to. However, those gigs will never be currency for my sense of love and belonging. I'm already worthy of that. It seemed as though the minute I made these new plans, this bout of depression vanished.

Though music making was only one area with which I sought validation (others include appearance, friendships/relationships, grades/academic accomplishments-there's more work to do), I feel as though I have truly acquired some power with this new acceptance, new boundary, and new plan of action. 

Today was my last day as a brass faculty university adjunct. I could sense the dying breath of my teaching ego. The ego that doesn't want my students or colleagues to see me be ordinary. Funny how being ordinary would be the bravest thing of all. 

Take that, horcrux.



Source:

*Brene Brown, Daring Greatly



Sent from my iPhone

Monday, March 6, 2017

Withdrawal

This article is part 3 of a series on codependency, guest written for the Sisters in Law Blog.

Part 1 may be found here: https://sistersinlawblog.com/2016/12/16/independent-codependence/

Part 2 may be found here: https://sistersinlawblog.com/2017/01/03/love-beyond-baseline/?platform=hootsuite


I went out for a walk with my dog, Lucky. The early January (in Texas) weather was cool, there was a slight breeze, and the sun was out warming my face. Everything was quiet except for the sound of Lucky's claws tippy tapping on the cement as we walked forward. He was so happy to be out. A tree in a neighboring yard caught my eye. I noticed the varying shades of green, and how each leaf changed color when the wind blew. I sighed, my mind was silent save for one thought:


"God, this is excruciating."




It had been two weeks since I realized I was struggling with codependency. I read every relevant article I could find, especially those by Leon Seltzer from Psychology Today. I made immediate life changes, I pumped up levels of self-care and self-love.


Love...So Far


I am so proud to say that I discovered an effect of genuine love for the first time. It was weird and it was different from than anything I've ever felt before. I had let my dogs outside, they began to act like they had never been let outside before, running and wrestling. They made me laugh so hard. Out of nowhere I felt this strange feeling, like a piece of my heart was outside running around, wrestling with the other piece of my heart. I thought, "I love them so much." Was I feeling real love for my dogs? I knew this was from a combination of reading the research and changing my actions and attitudes, I was taking care of myself, and I was taking good care of the pups.


The love thing happened again when I visited my brother and his family during New Year's. I was sitting in front of my (then) seven-month-old nephew in one of those bouncy baby seats. He would bounce in that thing all day given the choice. At one point he looked at me and smiled a big toothless smile. I felt that strange feeling again. Like a piece of my heart is in that little chair, bouncing up-and-down. I could have cried.


The next morning I was woken up by my four-year-old nephew, "It's morning time Auntie Miranda." He hopped up on the bed and began to debrief the activities of his Hot Wheels toy cars that morning, how fast they were going, which car hit what car, what colors they were. I sighed and thought, "I love this kid so much. I could listen to him talk all day." I felt a strong commitment to regularly be present in my nephews' lives that day. 


I sat at the dinner table to chat with my sister-in-law.


ME: Do you ever look at your kids and feel like crying? Like they're little pieces of your heart walking and crawling around?

SIS: Everyday.


So, that's love. I am feeling genuine love for the first time at the age of 36. I'm happy to finally know the feeling that accompanies the choice that love is. However, this was love directed toward innocent beings. My dogs and my nephews are so easy to love. Is this possible with adults, family and friends? I know the answer is yes but I don't know that for myself.


Bump


The excruciatingly mindful walk that I mentioned earlier with my dog? That was just a few days later. I had to figure out what that was all about. For once, I wasn't numbing. For once, no maladaptive daydreaming. For once, I was not imagining ways to control or manipulate anything in the future, rehearsing scenarios/possible conversations, or numbing with highlights/thoughts from the past. This is something people strive to have and there I was thinking "Ugh, this is what it's like to have a clear mind?"


I figured once I moved to my new place everything would feel better, no need to dissect this, just be happy to have attained focus. Moving was the best thing I had ever chosen to do. I was elated once moved out and nested. This was home.


My life had improved significantly after the move but things got tricky a few weeks in. At first, self care was easy, my schedule had been amazing (open, free evenings to relax!), and I was scheduling time with my friends who I really cared about spending time with. I don't know how I kept up with so many acquaintances before but I totally understand that now as a codependency thing (put out more feelers for higher chances of receiving validation).


A smidge of stress returned in mid January. I started a podcast with two friends about growing up as a first generation American child of Indian immigrant parents (The Jilted Indian Podcast with long time friend Anju and SIL writer Puja), a passion project. While trying to record podcasts, ton of atrocious things were happening in our country, and I found myself in a protest every other week. Last but not least, I was to present a clinic on musicians' performance anxiety at the Texas Music Educators Association Convention in February. That was the real butt kicker.


I rewrote the speech for that clinic 7-8 times and I didn't land on the final version until the day before. The reason why it took so long was because I wanted to understand codependency as much as I could before my clinic. Learning about this being a source of performance anxiety kind of threw my initial plans for the clinic into the trash. I went on a Google Scholar bender and read several books and articles in the span of the two weeks preceding. 


The maladaptive daydreams returned. Sometimes I would go shopping when unnecessary (spending addiction), I stress ate like I was going to win an award for it, at the bar was stocked and depleting. I couldn't clear my mind and I felt messed up. I tried to schedule an appointment with my therapist but I had a rehearsal for a solo performance that prevented me from having any free time for that.


My therapist called the return of the maladaptive daydreams and the other numbing devices "a bump" in the road, saying it was natural to have this happen when making major life changes. 


Why? It seemed that I was doing all of the right things to move past this codependency shit. Why was this still a problem? Well, there was pain to numb.


"Having become nothing less than addicted to pleasing others—and people pleasing really is kind of relationship addiction—for them to "abstain" from such habitual approval-striving requires a great deal of patience, restraint, fortitude, and discipline...there will be a strong deep seated resistance to changing it. And this opposition will hold regardless of how much, consciously, the individual truly desires to change it." 

-Dr. Leon Seltzer


Addiction? This is an addiction? I have an addiction?


Barrage


I didn't accept this. I couldn't. Back to the books. I was going to book read, research, and strategize my way out of this...


“The way they think and behave brings them relief and they are not about to give that up. These kinds of thoughts require a large amount of denial of the truth and of reality. Because of 'euphoric recall,' they easily remember the good times and forget the bad times. This is called “nicotine nostalgia” for smokers or “cool happenings” for codependents and serves as an additional stimulus to continue.”*


"Compulsion is an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against one's conscious wishes. “Approval seeking by association with 'the right people' at any cost to oneself is a common compulsive behavior for codependents. One becomes a hanger-on because the reward and relief is considered such a driving force.”*


“The body can become physically dependent on mood-altering chemicals. This is well-known as addiction to chemicals or chemical dependency. But the body can also become physically dependent on certain behaviors. So compulsions to use substances and/or behavior become the armament of the codependent.”*


"Shame doesn’t initiate codependency; it results from having the disease of codependency.”*


"Compulsive behavior is often so subconscious that we hardly realize we are indulging in it. Like so many other aspects of our lives, we are unaware of the here and now for extended periods of time. We cannot refrain or modify a compulsive behavior if we are unaware of it.”*


“When you feel pulled in more than one direction trying to meet the needs of several people, your fear of disapproval (the flipside of the need for approval) can freeze you up, leaving you in a quandary: Whom should you please? How should you choose? What if you end up pleasing no one?”**


“As a veteran people-pleaser, despite your persistent efforts to make everyone else happy, you will rarely if ever feel satisfied with the job you are doing. You continually expand the circle of others whose needs you try to meet. The pressure this produces and the inevitable drain on your energy create profound feelings of guilt and inadequacy that you will attempt to repress by trying harder to please even more.”**


 “In fact it is the avoidance of disapproval—more than the attainment of approval—that moves people-pleasing behaviors from compulsive habits to bona fide addiction.”**


“you are addicted to the praise and absence of criticism or rejection that you receive for some but not all of your people-pleasing efforts. For this reason, you find yourself compelled to please more and more people, acquiescing to more and more requests and needs in order to increase the frequency of your rewards.”**


“The need for approval stems from childhood when parents doled out the praise you learned to crave as well as the criticism, disapproval, and rejection you learned to avoid through the development of People-Pleasing Habits.”**


"Approval indicates that, at least for the time being, the child is safe from abandonment.

Disapproval, on the other hand, becomes downright dangerous. If these parents disapprove, they disavow the child’s worthiness and security. While approval signals love and safety, even a hint of disapproval threatens abandonment, danger, and fear.”**


"As adults, they are finely tuned to the slightest hints of disapproval from others. The emotional baggage of their childhood still makes grown-up approval addicts respond to criticism [or the possibility of it] with intense anxiety.”**


Well, shit. 


Every quote was a sucker punch. In addition to these two books I glazed over plus the several books and articles I read previously (including Brene Brown and Julia Cameron), and I was unhappy to find that my eyes glazed over whole portions of text where trauma and codependency were mentioned. No strategies offered, only the suggestion for seeing a mental health professional and attending a support group. I went back to the Seltzer articles and realized my eyes passed over the word "addiction" without my processing it, because I really thought that wasn't my problem.


Was this an addiction? Am I an addict? Is it true that I'm not going to be able to book read my way out of this? Was I now a part of this club of people who need special help?


It was hard to admit...yes.


Painfully, yes. I have finally realized I can't do this on my own. I can't research and write my way out of this. I needed other people, other people like me.


Anhedionia


An inability to find pleasure in regular things is normal in early recovery; the medical term for this is “anhedionia.” It passes as our intensity-addicted brains rewire themselves into clean and sober living.”***


This. This is why that walk was excruciating. I began to look into this term more specifically and fell into a neuroscience rabbit hole.**** In poor summary, I was experiencing the absence of chemicals that I usually get a rush of in pursuit of validation or conditional love seeking. It made sense that anytime I was taking really good care of myself, I would never get a "rush" out of anything I do, probably due to the healthy detachment that self care provides.


It was time to surrender. I needed help. My anxiety, a pathological fear of disapproval ran rough shod, cultivated by multi-type maltreatment and conditional love seeking in developmental years. Once my parents set my conditional love seeking in stone, classical trumpet playing took over, an instrument and idiom with which I received vaildation more frequently, hence my unyielding dedication. Hence my unhinging upon my first disaster and my hustle to make up for any potential disaster that followed [read:survival]. Holy cow, everything made so much sense.


I began to draw boundaries. I decided to stop dating and I disabled my online profile, and right in the middle of talking to a really cute programmer nerd. Sigh. I was pretty sure he wouldn't understand my current dilemma, so I disappeared. I began to admit to a few close friends that I thought I had an addiction and that I was going to find a support group. All of them were so kind to me and receptive of the information. A few of them, I discovered, had been in 12 step groups themselves or they had family members in one. They gave me amazing advice. My therapist was supportive as well. It took me a while to find a home base, hard to do as an agnostic, but I found one specifically for codependents, called CODA. 


I attended several meetings and listened to others share. There were people with a very levels of  problems. I thought it might be a place where everyone shoves their god concept down my throat but that wasn't the case, at least not with my particular group. It was basically sharing for an hour. Empathy for an hour, because everyone in that room feels what you feel. It made sense why this works why people come back again and again.


I share in every meeting, not hard for me (case in point, this article). At times someone will say something relevant and meaningful to me and then other times someone will say something completely unrelated to what we are all there for. I get so annoyed and feel like it is a waste of time to listen to this person. Sometimes I want to leave immediately after sharing. This is hilarious, because by not wanting to listen I was entertaining controlling and codependent behavior, and in a CODA meeting. How meta...or appropriate. I have a long road ahead of me.


After only one month of attending meetings, I can tell things have changed. I have attained more of a healthy detachment with the goals I make for myself, a healthy detachment with my students and their progress, and a healthy detachment in my friendships and family relationships. I'm more self-compassionate than ever. New technique has presented itself to me in both trumpet playing and singing (though I am conscious to not exploit these things in a codependent way, hard to do). I sat with one of my best friends at brunch last weekend and felt the same love for him (as my friend) that I did for my nephews and my dogs. I can do this. This love thing is possible. There is more recovery ahead but this little bit of progress gives me tremendous hope. 


It is worth it. No. Wait...I am worth it. I deserve a life of love and healthy detachment. I'm going to keep going to meetings, seeing my therapist, and reading every book and article under the sun about this.  I'll do whatever I need to do to continue to achieve interdependence, until I can experience unconditional love between myself and my family and friends, until I can truly be courageous in everything I do.



Sources:

*Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse and Joseph Cruse, M.D., Understanding Codependency: The Science Behind It and How to Break the Cycle


**Harriet Braiker, PhD, The Disease to Please: Curing the People Pleasing Syndrome


***Joe C. Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life


****keywords (if you would like to jump in the rabbit hole with me): anhedonia, pre frontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine. [have fun!]


  • Leon Seltzer, “Codependent or Simply Dependent: What’s the Big Difference?” (psychologytoday.com)

Brene Brown, Daring Greatly


Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

Friday, February 10, 2017

TMEA Lecture

This is the text I read from for my clinic "Antidotes for Performance Anxiety: Teaching Confidence", presented for the Texas Music Educator's Association Convention in San Antonio, on Friday, February 10, 2017. Audio for the clinic may be found here: 


Hello, thank you all for being here this morning.

Before I begin, I would like to extend my gratitude toward several of my friends, as well as a few of my coworkers from Coppell Middle School East and UT Arlington for, at one point or another, being a sounding board since I proposed this clinic. Many thanks to my readers, several of whom are here, for sticking with me through 45 vulnerable articles regarding this topic. Last but not least, a very special thanks to my students who have demonstrated to me just how important this information is.

Lets dig in.



Show of hands, how many of you are performers or used to be performers and have experienced nervousness on stage?
Show of hands, how many of you have stood before a hard working, talented student, or next to a fellow performer, bewildered by how nervous they are, unable to get them to relax, or bewildered that their technique is all of a sudden different?
How many of you are conductors who have stood before a group of students who refrained from taking risks with their music making even though they were well prepared and highly capable at that very moment?

Maddening huh?

Well, I know your frustration. I know your frustration not only because I have been there, but because I stand before you as “exhibit A”. I am the poster child for your most perplexing case of performance anxiety. If you looked at my resume or looked at the programs from my gigs, you might be confused. You would see that I have had the amazing experience of playing alongside a few members of the Dallas Symphony, members of the Fort Worth Symphony, Dallas Opera Orchestra, and Dallas Winds, as well as several of DFW’s finest commercial and jazz musicians for the last several years. I was a member of the One O’Clock Lab Band, the second female to ever make the trumpet section. I recently had the opportunity to play a few cities on the national tour of 42nd St. and guess what? I struggle with performance anxiety. 

Before I started a 3 year long research based quest to understand this topic, I did try to figure this out. I looked up and read all of the books people read, like The Inner Game of Tennis, Effortless Mastery, et cetera. Great books, but, none of them worked, or some of the books I read had strategies that would work for a while… then not work at all. I can't tell you how many times I have been devastated by my inability to focus, my inability to remain calm, devastated by the disappearing act of my best abilities due to debilitating tension or shortness of breath. I have lost count of how many times I have wanted to quit because maybe I wasn't talented, maybe I was this hard working anomaly that should just “let it go”. I might have done just that had I not developed a casual interest in singing and big band jazz, the two things that not only sustained my career, but gave me the extended time to stumble on the knowledge and solutions I will be sharing with you today. I am speaking to you as someone who spent a great deal of time in a place of struggle. This is the place from where we begin this conversation, especially for those of you who do not understand how or why anyone could be so locked down by this.

Performance Anxiety

Performance anxiety is experienced both mentally and physically. 

Anxiety is something we all experience, it is part of our wiring. Anxiety is a result of the fight or flight response (also known as acute stress response). This is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival, preparing one to fight or flee.



Now imagine you are taking a casual stroll in the central highlands of India and you happen upon one of these. It is doubtful that you will go, “huh, a tiger”. Your first reaction will be…fear!  Chances are, in this situation, you are dead, but you're going to do whatever you can to extend your life. You are programmed for this. A few physical reactions that may occur: increased heart rate, loss of appetite, cold hands, muscle tension, salivation, loss of hearing, tunnel vision, shaking, the problem solving areas of the brain are highlighted for quick solution for survival… 

These are some of the same things that happen for those who experience fear in performance.

The most tragic thing about experiencing fear in music making is that the very response that is supposed to save you from whatever you're scared of, which tends to be "screwing up", that response has the capacity to  prevent you from performing freely.  Oddly enough, this is also part of what I have come to love about performing. It requires one to be authentic and brave.
Not all performance anxiety is the same, anxiety may be felt in varying degrees and it is dealt with in different ways. Some musicians feel it and move through it, some musicians use the onslaught of excess energy to their advantage, some musicians are derailed by it, others are completely shut down by it.

I have found that performance anxiety falls into one of three categories.



Adrenaline (Thrill-Seeking/Excitement)
Some people get excited about performing. So excited, that they have an excess amount of energy that causes shaking in the body. In thrill seeking, dopamine comes up when we are attempting to accomplish a challenge. Adrenaline readies us for action when we see “danger”[or our one shot, so to speak]. Endorphins keep up our endurance.” (Source: Dr Susan Heitler) This all sounds wonderful, except for the part about adrenaline . Adrenaline causes the shakes, which can be rattling for a performing musician, and possibly cause a loss of focus. Believe it or not, this is the most gentle form of performance anxiety, because it is the easiest to fix. I think of it is a distant cousin from the other categories. 



Instability
This category of performance anxiety is brought on by unforeseen events. Sometimes our flight or flight response kicks in and we play poorly because of it, and sometimes we play fine but the experience is unenjoyable or undesirable. 

Examples of this include:
*Sickness, injury, or exhaustion
*Varied levels of preparation or ability by fellow musicians
*Unforeseen circumstances (in one's personal life, in the ensemble, in world events)
*Social disconnection (playing with or for people we dislike or don't get along with)
*Various annoyances, micro aggressions, or anger.
Instability draws our focus away from music making and everyone is susceptible to it. That fear of not knowing what’s going on, dealing with random pressures, or not having any control jump starts the fight or flight response. Thankfully these moments are temporary, as long as the discomfort is not over-identified with.



Shame
Before I rip off the band-aid with this category I have to explain, if I am performing and I'm dealing with a little bit of the shakes, my first thought is, “(gasp) I'm not destroying myself right now, cool!”The shakes are distracting, and not fun at all, but it is far preferable to the full scale shut down that can come with shame.

Much of the information I'm going to share with you surrounding this category hails from renowned  shame researcher, Brene Brown.

Shame is "I'm not good enough". Shame is “I would be good enough, if only I would…”. Shame is “I'm not a real musician because I haven't performed this way, or made it into a certain group, or because I can't make it through a recital”. The reason why shame is so damaging is because we are wired for belonging. Shame is the fear of disconnection. It is believing that one is not worthy of love, not worthy of belonging. Several events occur as musicians that have the capacity to make us feel disconnected from having a sense of belonging:
Unsuccessful auditions or Low Placement
Playing poorly on a paid gigs
Playing simpler music than colleagues of the same age (or younger)
Loss of ability/technique, especially because of over-identification as a musician
Traumatic performance experiences
Evaluating one's ability to play based on the success or failure of others (comparison)
Working harder than others to no avail
Some students who have a deep sense of worthiness, in these events, are resilient to shame (they move through it and past it). Some people experience these events and become crippled by shame because there is an unhealthy attachment to their self-worth.
If your worth is coming from your ability to perform, you are in trouble. This is often perceived by the body as a threat.

When you perform, your worthiness of love and belonging is NOT ever to be on the table. There are no prerequisites for worthiness. All you have to do is show up, be authentic. That’s it. Show up often, embrace the uncomfortable beauty of imperfection. Work toward your goal. That’s it, plain and simple, however…

This is complicated. Deeply embedded, highly repeated messages of shame often develop in childhood in family relationships, sometimes in school with friends, classmates, or teachers, sometimes messages of shame are relentlessly delivered from every area of our culture. How we experience shame, the frequency in which we experience it, and the power it has over us in the moment has everything to do with our personal story.

Ways in which musicians may experience shame-induced performance anxiety:
1. Not practicing, but procrastinating, putting all of one's energy into presenting the fa├žade of “I am prepared”...because it is easier to blame failure on procrastination than it is to give it your all and possibly still not be good enough.
2. Fear-based practicing, maintaining constant surveillance on your playing while you're playing. In performances like this, there is no connection, these performances are survived rather than enjoyed. Evaluated by survival. This is validation based and perfectionism driven, based on the perception of others. (This is crazy because perfect does not exist as we cannot control what others think).
4. After the performance, NOT taking a compliment, or shaming oneself as a response.
5. Going back to the practice room after a disaster to undo or make up for a recent failure, not owning it, but running from the dreadful feeling that accompanied the failure.
6. Imposter Syndrome: The inability to internalize one's accomplishments.

This is hard to talk about for so many reasons, but that is part of the very definition of shame, it lives and thrives by three things, secrecy, silence, and judgement. If you don't talk about it because you want to pretend it isn't your problem, it will stick around.

 The good news is, the minute you bring shame into the light, the very second you speak shame it dies. So there is a way out.



Pshysiological/Psychological Solutions

Let's talk solutions. All of these solutions treat all of the categories but some are specifically helpful for certain types of performance anxiety.

Slow breathing
Breathe in for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds.
Breathe in for 5 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds.
Breathe in for 6 seconds, breathe out for 6 seconds.
Breathe in for 7 seconds, breathe out for 7 seconds.
You get the picture. Increase the count until you feel calm. Make sure you are aware of how you feel, take a refreshing normal breath if you feel like you need one in between.

If experiencing shakes within the performance of a piece, slowly breathe in for phrases, if there is n opportunity. Instead of breathing in one beat, slowly breathe in for one measure or two.

Heart breathing (for anxiety, source: Doc Childre)
Imagine there is a pinhole in your back. Imagine breathing in through the pinhole, into the heart, then imagine breathing out through wherever you feel tension. As you breathe in, think pleasant thoughts. This slows down the heart rate.

Self compassion
Trying to run away from your nervousness will strengthen it, so try self-compassion after acknowledging the symptoms. This will help dissipate nervousness. (Source: Kristin Neff). Say out loud:
Hello, my name is ___________.
I am feeling (tense, shaky, short of breath, unable to focus, etc.)
That is because of nervousness, and feeling nervous is okay.
I'm not the only one who experiences this.
This feeling is temporary.
I am doing the best I can with what I have.

Power posing
Hold a power pose. Stand like Superman or Wonder Woman. Hold this pose for two minutes. Power posing chemically changes your body to allow for confidence (source: Amy Cuddy).

Gratitude
Get out a recorder or a piece of paper and name every single thing you're grateful for. Here's a few from my list. If you agree with some of mine, go ahead and say it out loud.

I'm grateful for food and clean water.
I'm grateful for clothing and shoes.
I'm grateful for warmth.
I'm grateful for having a roof over my head.
I'm grateful for a healthy body and mind, memory, motor skills, problem solving skills, regeneration, and immunity.
I'm grateful for family and friends.
I'm grateful for my dogs.
I'm grateful for running water, electricity, technology, and communication.
I'm grateful for my education, my teachers, and my students.
I'm grateful for places to sit.
I'm grateful for having a kitchen and a bathroom.
I'm grateful for my car.
I'm grateful for my employment, and for receiving opportunities.
I'm grateful for my spiritual life.
I'm grateful for music and musicians.
I'm grateful for art and artists.
I'm grateful for having musical instruments and art supplies.
I'm grateful for paper and pen.
I'm grateful for books and stories.
I'm grateful for sleep.
I'm grateful for time to rest and relax.
I'm grateful for all the help I have received from others.
I'm grateful for second chances and forgiveness.
I'm grateful for knowledge and the willingness to be wrong so I may learn.
I'm grateful for hope.
I'm grateful for the goodness of others, for kindness.
I'm grateful to be privileged and not truly know what struggle is, what it is to be hungry, hopelessly ill, or homeless.
Add anything else you want. Practice gratitude everyday. This is the antidote to the fear of uncertainty. (Source: Brene Brown) 


Mindfulness/meditation
Take out a piece of paper, recorder or take a mental note of what you are experiencing through each of your senses so you may regain focus. Be descriptive. 
I see:
I hear:
I feel:
I taste:
I smell:

Meditation is an acquired skill, and focusing the mind may take some training but this is one of the greatest tools there are. There are many meditation apps available for guidance. Headspace is an excellent app, which also has guided meditation exercises for kids.

Moving through shame (source: Brene Brown)
1. Acknowledge it. “I am feeling shame.” What is the shame tape saying? 
“You're not good enough” 
“Who do you think you are?”
2. Reality check the message. When was the first time you heard this message? From who? What was the frequency of hearing this message? Did you hear this from more than one person?
3. Share your story of struggle with someone you trust. Seek empathy. Find someone who will hear what you're saying and say, “That's so hard. I know how you feel. I'm with you.”

Special cases in which strategies may not work, encourage counseling:
Major depression
Major anxiety
Bipolar disorder
Attention Deficit
Codependency


Environmental Solutions
Resilience and confidence is fostered best in nurturing environments. This makes reading about shame very important. To understand shame it is important to understand guilt. Guilt is adaptive, shame is destructive.
Guilt: “Your preparation is unacceptable.”
Shame: “You are unacceptable.”
Guilt: "That phrase was not played musically."
Shame: "You are not musical." 
*too much negative feedback can result in shame as well, even if not shaming in delivery.

Be kind, avoid shaming language, question your employment of  aggressive non verbals. Ask yourself, what is or is not happening in my life that results in my current anger or frustration? You have no control over the way others receive your words, so choose wisely. If your patience is low, tell your ensemble that, make sure they know that your low patience is not their fault.

Ask your ensemble members how they are feeling. Allow them to share their difficulties. Often times, musicians will try to make up for life’s difficulties and shortcomings with their music making, which never works. Sometimes kids have bad days and they need to vent. Nine times out of ten, they will perform better after having an outlet.


If you sense perfectionism, ask your ensemble to allow for mistakes. Then give them ample time and repetition for those mistakes to be resolved on their own.

Demonstrate courage. Demonstrate self-compassion. Demonstrate gratitude. Demonstrate having faith in oneself, versus seeking evidence that one is capable. (Wholehearted guideposts, source: Brene Brown) Allow yourself to be surprised or delighted by their abilities, instead of saying SHEESH. FINALLY. GOD, HOW LONG DID THAT TAKE YOU?! By the way, some students will roll their eyes at your show of faith, be patient (I was one of those kids).

Create a loving environment:
“For me, teaching is about love. It is not about transferring information, but rather creating an atmosphere of mystery and imagination and discovery. When I begin to lose myself because of some unresolved pain or fears or the overpowering feelings of shame, then I no longer teach . . . I deliver information and I think I become irrelevant then.”

-Brene Brown "Teachers, Worthiness and Shame."

Keep things fun, laugh a little. Ask them what they want to play. Give them choice every once in while. Allow them to own what they do.

Encourage self care. Develop a healthy detachment with performance goals, engage in self care, prioritize your life in a way that you may be naturally kind. Martyrdom is not cute.



Build trust with BRAVING. In an environment of trust you may find that students are willing to take creative risks, discover themselves, and love themselves through triumphs, through disasters, and that, I believe, is what music making is all about. That's why we are here.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Love Beyond Baseline

This article is a follow up to previous SIL article "Independent Codependence"

A few weeks ago, I realized and accepted that I have deep seated issues with codependence. Issues that have affected my ability to study and perform music, issues that screwed with my relationships, and affected how I do my job. It was an emotional tornado for me, triggered by a compliment. Countless life experiences bubbled to the surface, demanding perspective. I got my ass kicked. Friends were on notice, my therapist moved our appointment up two days (best therapist ever). This would pass, right? Except...

I Have No Sense of Self

"In attempting to secure their tenuous (and so anxiety-laden) parental bond, they were required to forget about what they really liked, wanted, and needed-- even who they were." 
-Dr. Leon Seltzer in "Codependent or Simply Dependent: What's the Big Difference?" (psychologytoday.com)

That's kind of shitty. Who I was meant to be, who I would naturally become, was buried in the service of people pleasing. Abuse, and remaining in an abusive environment, fueled self-blame and self-deprivation which buried my original self even deeper as negative self imagery took over and began to carve out its path...

Fortunately, this is where music saved me. In my teenage years, playing trumpet was a refuge. My parents knew nothing about it so they couldn't make me feel like a piece of shit. No wonder I majored in it (I don't know that I would have otherwise). My codependence with my parents would eventually become my codependence with my career and this led to countless experiences of shame based performance anxiety. Sounds terrible (a double entendre) but one thing I can be thankful for is that the anxiety I experienced as a musician ended up serving as a litmus test for my resilience. Once finally hip to the shame research of Brene Brown, my journey back to my original self began (though the journey originally began for the purposes of being able to play the trumpet without shutting down, seems silly now).

...so for now, no sense of self. Other than my gender, the fact that I am a dog owner, and that I enjoy comedienne memoirs, no sense of self. Codependency kind of/pretty much has its claws in what I thought were my greatest qualities: that I am a fighter, that I tirelessly seek answers. I hope I'll be introduced to this buried inner child, but that will require tremendous love. 

Love

Dilemma number two:

I have no idea what love is other than what has been written in research books (the chick lit novels and rom-coms lied to me. LIED!). The only love I have ever been taught to know is conditional, which isn't love at all. Conditional love created the idea of a deficit, something to be made up for, permanent until fixed. The goal was to be good enough, a non-fat, Malayalam speaking, super Indian, with straight As, who dresses like a proper girl, who helps around the house. Thanks to shame all I achieved was fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, and fail. With self-deprivation, add 20 more fails. The goal was not to be healthy, connected, and knowledgable, but to feign my grasp on these things. It was all about fooling others (hello, Imposter Syndrome) to be enough. I have engaged in self-care before, which is self-love, but it was always laced with the shame of codependency/people pleasing. The self-care was, until recently, for the purposes of playing my instrument better. 

So I dug back into these books: 

"I define love as thus: The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." 
-Dr. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

"We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection...it is something that we nurture and grow...We can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed, and rare." 
-Dr. Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Extension of self. Nurturing. Okay. Got it. I'm good now, right? 

Not so much.

Control vs Personal Power

I followed the sources of one never ending litany of shame to a Venn diagram of sorts. One between control and personal power. 

"The codependent's behavior—whether controlling, manipulative, supportive, super-responsible, sacrificial, or rescuing—is driven by the same never met childhood need: to be fully, unconditionally accepted by their caretakers, and that includes being able to feel safe and protected, attended to, empathized with, respected, esteemed—in a word, nurtured. So in their seriously misguided adult quest for (unfortunately, conditional) relational acceptance, there's very little they won't do." 
-Dr. Leon Seltzer

"We are the most dangerous to ourselves and the to people around us when we feel powerless. Powerlessness leads to fear and desperation...the feelings of powerlessness that accompany failure start with those all too familiar 'could have/should have' self-inventories and our fear grows in tandem with a strength in our belief that an opening has been forever closed. Pervasive feelings of powerlessness eventually lead to despair...moving out of powerlessness and despair requires hope. Hope happens when we set goals, have the tenacity to pursue those goals, and believe in our own abilities to act. Hope is learned when boundaries, consistency, and support are in place." 
-Dr. Brene Brown, Rising Strong

It turned out that several of the things I was doing to have a codependency laced semblance of control, were the same things I would do to cultivate hope and gain a stronger sense of personal power. This has been the biggest ass kicking of all and here's how it has played out so far:

Goal of working out: 
The minute I press play, I either envision myself thinner or I think about how much more acceptable I'll be if I keep this habit up, what I'll get, how I'll be seen. I acknowledge this as shame and I let the feeling pass. I keep working out no matter how much I want to quit right at the moment, and that feeling of wanting to quit? It's potent. 

Goal of performing: 
Despite knowing better, my playing is on constant surveillance. Not for the purposes of adaptation, but to control or guarantee my success. Perfectionism, imagining how my playing will be received: I acknowledge this as shame and I let the feeling pass, knowing these thoughts are not grounded in reality, I contact a friend for empathy, and then I play, doing the best I can no matter how much I want to put the horn away.

Goal of relationship building: 
This is a doozie. I realize that I talk...a lot. I talk so damn much that I hardly listen. I have friends who know me better than I know them. I have not relinquished control for long enough to listen, truly listen, ask questions and listen, listen, listen. I have finally grown tired of hearing my own voice all of the time. Now, I wonder if I am contributing lovingly to my time with my friends. How could I have loved them, if I had not been unconditionally loving myself all this time? Before I beat myself up too hard about being a shit friend, I acknowledge this as shame and I let the feeling pass. Be self-compassionate, my therapist says.

But Wait...

Goal of mindfulness: 
I'll be walking down the street with my dog and sense that my mind is clear. No validating thoughts, no maladaptive daydreaming. I get uncomfortable with the silence. The high of validating daydreams, foreboding joy, or scenario rehearsal gives me a sense of control. Also, it's a numbing device, it feels good. I have struggled with dropping this habit, and I eventually learned why.

"Having become nothing less than addicted to pleasing others—and people pleasing really is kind of relationship addiction—for them to "abstain" from such habitual approval-striving requires a great deal of patience, restraint, fortitude, and discipline...there will be a strong deep seated resistance to changing it. And this opposition will hold regardless of how much, consciously, the individual truly desires to change it. For the anxious child within can only view such efforts as gravely threatening the need for personal security (which is so intimately linked to avoiding parental disapproval)...like any other addiction, implicitly the keyword has been more. For without the ability to truly "get" that they're good enough, they've spent their whole lives trying to get more and more of what finally could never lead to the self-approval and -acceptance they've yearned for all along." 
-Dr. Leon Seltzer

Ugh. My article would have been more aptly named, "So, You Found Mordor". Mount Doom is kind of still way over there, and you have a lot of walking to do, you may lose a finger, you'll need others to help you even though you kind of crave solitude with this burdensome thing that hangs around your neck...and there are spiders.* 

Love: A Choice

I haven't spoken to my parents in 8 months. I'll continue to stay away until I sort things out, until I'm stronger, until I truly gain a sense of autonomy. I wish I could give them credit for their baseline ability to love me, not letting me die in infancy, clothing, feeding, and sheltering me, seeing that I am educated, but I can't. It is in my head that you better effing do those things if you choose to bring life into this world and oh shit...

That's my go-to...baseline.

I don't naturally love myself beyond baseline. I do whatever is necessary to keep walking along the surface of this planet but I'm not truly living because I have not truly unconditionally loved and felt the effects of that love. Love requires a ton of effort for me.

In an effort to keep perspective and to stick to my newfound goal of cultivating love, I have written down all of the ways in which I loved myself or others that day. Every little thing from getting sleep, brushing my teeth, and making meals, to working out, walking the dogs, doing my hair, reaching out to friends, and playing the guitar or engaging in various other creative acts for fun. Some days it's easy to love myself, other days love takes more time and effort than usual. I realize that love will take a long time to cultivate. Some days I am happy I have a plan, other days I curse that I even have to have a plan.

Love is not a go-to for me. I'm new to its effect, free of condition. I went to lunch with a friend and his kids, I chose to listen to them talk enthusiastically about all sorts of things, and I felt connected to them. It was a strange feeling, I was happy about it though. Another day, my dog ran up to me with a squeaky ball and dropped it at my feet, I chose to put whatever I had in my hands down and we played fetch, it turned into a wrestling match between the two dogs myself as referee. They were so ridiculous, I laughed so hard. I felt more joy playing with them than I had before, and we had played so many times before. I have done several of these loving things before, but as an empty shell.



I didn't have to make these choices to love, but I am always glad I did. It sets everything on a different course. I liken this to a reference made by relationship researcher, Dr. John Gottman, that I will regularly be presented with Sliding Doors moments.** "Not all bids are spoken or obvious...attunement means paying attention to subtle clues. You don't always have to comply with the request, but you should respond with love."

Mantras

Because cultivating unconditional love is going to be the biggest ass kicking of my life, I decided to arm myself with mantras. The latest have been the greatest so I felt the need to share. 

"You were lovable yesterday, you are lovable today, you will be lovable tomorrow."

Whenever I am attacked by shaming thoughts, this is what I have found myself saying. It has, so far, stopped many a shame spiral. I find myself saying the above mantra whenever I pass a mirror or when I work out.

"You are now free to let other people down."

I am not, nor was I ever impervious to letting people down. I would hope the people I let down are compassionate and know I am doing the best I can with what I have, that I have the capacity to adapt, if they have the heart to give me a second chance. If not, who cares? I think this is imperative to worthiness, as it doesn't have anything to do with my reliability to those who matter to me (necessary for trust).

So I'm going to need to be courageous, I'll need to persevere. A lot will be new for me. I know loving beyond baseline will be tough, but it will be worth it. 

It is worth it to figure out how to truly live.



*Lord of the Rings reference for the two of you who haven't read the books or seen the movies.
**Sliding Doors is a movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow, where the lead character has to make one of two choices in a given moment and the movie follows the storyline of both choices.

Sources:

Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

Brene Brown, Rising Strong

Leon Seltzer, "Codependent or Simply Dependent: What's the Big Difference?" (psychologytoday.com)

Leon Seltzer, "From Parent-Pleasing to People-Pleasing" (psychologytoday.com)

Maxwell Maltz, Psychocybernetics

John Gottman, What Makes Love Last

Kristina Neff and Christopher Germer, "Cultivating Self Compassion in Trauma Survivors" (self-compassion.org

Friday, December 16, 2016

Independent Codependence

Originally posted as a guest writer on The Sisters In Law Blog: https://sistersinlawblog.com/2016/12/16/independent-codependence/

Most people who know me would call me a strong independent woman…

I pride myself on being happy by myself. I’ll be the first person to side with my male friends when their significant others are being too clingy and codependent. I might say something like, “Your girlfriend needs a hobby.” (If you’re a wife or girlfriend of one of my male friends, don’t worry, I’ll eat my words in just a few paragraphs). I would be one of those people who cannot stand it when female friends get so sad about being single. I’ll say something like, “You need to learn to be happy on your own,” while actually thinking, “Jeez, woman up, weak ass bitches!”

…hell, thought I was a strong independent woman too, until about a week ago.

I had recently scored a date with a guy on OkCupid (the date was last weekend). I had a feeling the date would go well even though this guy was a fatless muscular specimen, and I’m a girl whose chin and neck are becoming more and more indistinguishable every day.I love telling this joke, and I was about to share it with a coworker at the middle school where I teach (this was a couple weeks ago).

I told him I had a date, and I was about to drop the neck-chin self-deprecation portion of my announcement when he interrupted.

“You’re beautiful.”

This guy has a charming voice and very sincere eyes, if he told you your passenger side front wheel is low, you would think he was hitting on you. I lost my train of thought for a second, robbed of the neck-chin punch line, and I carried on telling him about the future date. Can a guy just call you beautiful and have it mean nothing? I have had male friends tell me I look beautiful before and it meant nothing. I decided to think nothing of it.

Fast forward.

It was last Friday night and one of my best friends just canceled plans on me to hang out with his girlfriend. I was understanding, but also, see the first paragraph above. I got a text from the aforementioned coworker, asking if I wanted to hang out. Yes! We had talked about hanging out for a few weeks but had not made plans yet.

It was a hang like any other hang, we spoke candidly about everything until after the fourth (or fifth) drink went down. (Yes, the fifth. I had worked my twelfth day in a row and I have an iron liver for whiskey). I realized this wasn’t a hang. The charming co-worker started saying very kind things to me, complimenting my intelligence, holding my hand when I talked about my painful past.

This is the point where a normal girl might have said ok, yes coworker, let’s do this. Of course that’s not what I did. My brain went into self protect mode.

“I’m sorry, I don’t try on more than one pair of pants at a time.”

What Miranda? You don’t date more than one guy at a time? That is horseshit.

We continued to drink, we talked about this guy’s other prospects, we eventually left to go to our cars. I was freezing, shivering uncontrollably. I stuck my hand out for my coworker to clamp between his arm and his ribcage. He grabbed my hand and placed it in his jacket pocket with his hand. It was so warm. This felt nice, his hand against mine, and at the same time my brain screamed, “MAYDAY! Get out of there!”

 

The High of Validation

I became unglued for what would be a few days. What the hell happened to me? Consulting friends, some said, “Miranda, don’t overthink this,” or “Miranda, what the hell are you thinking?” Or as SIL writer, Puja, said, “You know what waiting brings, what does giving in feel like?” This would all be fine and dandy if all of the wonderful things I heard this guy say was an affirmation of what I already think of myself (the only comment that was had to do with my intelligence). Instead, somehow, I wasn’t beautiful in my own mind until this guy said so. I wasn’t desirable in my own mind until he said so. What else am I not in my own mind? Worthy of love? Worthy of belonging?

Oh holy shit, this is shame, the fear of disconnection.

I have unpacked stories of shame for almost three years straight in an effort to better understand and get past shame induced performance anxiety that occurs in musicians and other performing artists and athletes (public speakers too, I could go on). I wrote over 40 articles on it. I honestly thought I had reached the ultimate level of “Zero Fucks to Give” resilience, yet, here I am again.

That guy’s hand felt wonderful, holding mine. All the things he said, the way he said it, wonderful too. Immediately, I was shot with an all too familiar high, one to which no amount of cheese, chocolate, alcohol, shopping binges, or workaholism can compare…

…validation from a man.

Not just any man, but a charming, smart, talented, good looking man, who I like as a person. A guy who already had a leg up on my OkCupid date, since I can confirm that he is not a sociopath or a serial killer. If I gave in, I would be numbing, and there is no inescapable numbing device like the validation high I get from a man I’m interested in.

I gathered all of the possible sources of this shame I felt, where it started, who said it, and how these messages were repeated. When did I start harboring the idea that I’m unlovable, undesirable, unwantable? The answers? Parents. Relatives. Society. Since childhood. The idea that I would have to hustle to be any of these desired traits? That my levels of love and belonging could change or be lost? It sounded like codependency. I realized that as many times as I have abused that term while making fun of my male friends’ sometimes needy girlfriends, I didn’t know much about it. Since I wasn’t ruling anything out, I broke open the books and researched my ass off all weekend, only stopping to go on the OkCupid date, which ended up being meh? Underwhelming? Lacking in chemistry? The conversation and the food was good. I just couldn’t see it going anywhere, but I digress.

 

How to Make a Codependent

As I type, I feel a deeply visceral reaction because this part is heavy. I found an article by Dr. Leon Seltzer entitled, “Codependent or Simply Dependent: What’s the Big Difference?” If it were up to me, this article would be required reading. I copied and pasted so many notes, too many to post here. I wrote and wrote and wrote, furiously, like a maniac, to decifer what all of it meant for me personally, and what I have figured out is this:

I have had the message shoved down my throat my only purpose is to be a wife. Don’t be fat so I can be a wife. Don’t be too smart so I can be a wife. Dress a certain way, wear makeup, behave a certain way, be a perfect little religious girl, I could go on. Some women have grown resilient to this message, others, like me, have not, not fully, not yet. When a guy shows interest and we end up dating, I am congratulated by shame on getting just the right combination of all of these hustles for worthiness, fulfilling my purpose as the object of desire. This used to be the point where I stopped doing things for myself (because I had a man! I was done!) until I would get broken up with.

“As children, the codependent’s needy parents repeatedly gave them the message that their own wants and needs should be regarded as secondary to their caretakers’. To the extent that these children neglected their needs and focused on their parents’, they could feel valued. But to the degree that they allowed themselves to assert their own, quite legitimate, dependency needs, they were subject either to indirect punishment (say, the silent treatment) or direct (being verbally or physically attacked). In so many words, they were told that they were selfish, and should feel guilty about thinking only of themselves. And it should be noted here that in such families at least one of the parents was probably an addict, arrested in their development, and (childishly) seeking to compensate for their own earlier deprivation through a “substitute” [read, abusive] dependency on their child. That is, they defined their child’s role in term of serving them, not the reverse. Most codependents, then, learned as children that to be “good enough” to be accepted by their parents they had to deny or repress many of their thoughts, feelings, and impulses. In attempting to secure their tenuous (and so anxiety-laden) parental bond, they were required to forget about what they really liked, wanted, and needed– even who they were.”

Damn. There it was, in that article, my life’s story.

I am an adult survivor of childhood emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse, I have been conditioned for self-blame. So, when I last got broken up with, I swore an oath to being a strong individual woman. All that happened was that the shame of childhood fostered codependency remained dormant, until triggered. Instead of thinking, “Damn, what is behind all of this?” and making an appointment for my therapist, I decided to be alone, to learn to be happy alone, to be a strong independent woman. It was a facade. It was fear. This is why I ran away from that guy, this is why I immediately dismissed any meaning behind him calling me beautiful. Being codependent is what I fear, because it was what ended previous relationships.

“Codependents–and this is one of the most fascinating aspects of their character–may not, outwardly, lookdependent. That is, they can disguise, even beyond recognition, their urgent reliance on others to confirm their fundamental worth. How? By saying and doing things that make them seem quite in command, even controlling. Having learned in childhood to please and placate their parents, most of them can be “managerial” with others, and in ways that convey a contrary message about themselves…in their seriously misguided adult quest for (unfortunately, conditional) relational acceptance, there’s very little they won’t do.”

 

independent-codependent

 

Codependency, the Virus

Well, I wish I could say this stops at relationships with men. It doesn’t. Once I became conditioned for codependency, it followed me everywhere I went, like into the study and performance of music:

“Early emotional survival programs, once adaptive, but no longer appropriate, continue to control their thoughts and actions.”

It followed me into my work environments, my teaching, into my friendships. It affected my ability to become financially independent. Before understanding codependency, I was an empty shell feminist, saying all of the things one should say to fight for women’s rights but I was also trapped behind this unrelenting barrier.

This is not all sad news. Thanks to my devotion to reading everything Dr. Brene Brown (shame researcher) has ever written, I know how to deal with this shame. This is a part of my story. Owning this messy story will give me the power to write a brave new ending, as she says. Now that I own the story, the story no longer owns me. Thanks to the books and articles of Dr. Kristin Neff (self compassion researcher), I know how to be self-compassionate as painful memories become unearthed. I may even extend compassion to all of the forces that made this life hard. Thankfully, I have turned my life into one of self-care and self-love, so it only took a few days to really step out of the shame spiral, special thanks to the empathy of my friends. End of emotional seizure.

 

Redemption

I messaged my coworker.

I told him that I’m not dating OkCupid guy any further. I felt awful messaging him, when I rejected him just days before that, and not because I don’t try on two pairs of pants at a time, but because I couldn’t hear what he had to say and love myself at the same time. I just had to get my story down first. I can’t participate in anything where I don’t love myself. While being happy alone is important, humans are wired for connection. We want to be with others, it was time I surrendered to the wiring.

I told him if he wanted to go out on a date, I’d be down. He didn’t reply for days and I don’t blame him, but he said yes, that would be fun. I don’t know what that means or if/when it will go down at all, but I am at least grateful that I was in the place I was, messy but sort of self-loving, when he was being the way he is: kind and charming. I’m glad that things went wrong so I could figure this out. Some triggers are necessary to pull.

 

Sources:

Brene Brown, The Power of Vulnerability

Kristin Neff, Self Compassion

Leon F Seltzer, “Codependent or Simply Dependent: What’s the Big Difference?” https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/201412/codependent-or-simply-dependent-what-s-the-big-difference