Dear Reader: What follows is my most personally revealing blog post yet. I’m taking a risk, allowing myself to be vulnerable. I believe we are all beautiful, messy, ‘works in progress’ and our stories are powerful. I find myself driven toward light, love and purpose and I suspect my nature, my sense of self, developed as I encountered wise ones on my path, benefiting from their candor and kindness, teaching and tolerating me…and encouraging me to embrace both the dark and light of life’s journey.
When a client this week asked me where my “capacity for caring” came from I was caught off guard and responded with a half-hearted, “Oh, you know, we all have it within us” and realized afterward what I’d done. I dismissed her kindness with a deflection…but her query lingered. Hoping I am, indeed, a person who shows “capacity for caring”, I wondered…maybe I ought to meditate for a moment or two to consider, more fully, her question. What follows is the outcome – a bit of my ‘journal to self’ which I’m daringly sharing with you.
Transitions in life can be challenging, whether relationship-related or shifts associated with new routines in work or family roles. Sudden shifts can leave us feeling like we’ve departed for a trip with no packed bags – no tool kits for the tasks at hand. Or worse, we might feel we’ve arrived at a new destination with someone else’s baggage…both in the literal, physical sense, or the heaviness of emotional luggage…Samsonite that doesn’t belong to us.
I’ve learned to navigate the curves, the unexpected bumps that newness brings. Not because I’m blessed with special talents and certainly not because I’m thick-skinned. Quite the contrary. Left to my own devices, I’ll react – not just to situational changes but also to any sudden shift in a tone of voice, a subtle adjustment in body language or eye movement. Maddeningly discernible and detectable…and every now and again, I wish I had an ‘off’ switch.
Long ago, as a survival skill, I learned to read rooms and the people in them, scanning for allies and friendlies. My motivation? I was driven by a need to sniff spaces for safety; identify anyone who might be a threat by tuning into instincts, followed by an “aggregation” – mounding together every morsel of sensory input I could muster.
I didn’t realize I did this until we’d moved, I don’t know, maybe the sixth time when I was kid. Nearly every year brought a hefty transition. New school, new home, new faces, new environment, new climate, new culture, new traditions – all unknown to me. It’s also what children of trauma do: Adjust. Adapt. Morph. I get that, related to my tumultuous home life, and I know I’m not alone.
I learned to watch interactions between people, the spoken and unspoken. I’m quite the proficient lip-reader and can feel waves of ill-intent, auras of inauthenticity. As a result, no one likes to lie to my face. My family has learned…I pick up “things”. 😉
Exhaustion is real. My need for restorative introversion, despite having a helper heart, is largely recharge-related, so I can get back in the game. I pick up on a lot of errant “stuff” that I don’t want or need when I’m around others and while my quirkiness has proven to be an asset, at times, in my professional roles, it’s also burdensome, especially when I don’t want to share everything I’m thinking and feeling. Endlessly sorting, sifting, censoring, cataloguing for later.
It’s taken me years to understand. My head and heart deplete me because of this maddening inner dialogue. I also know this is precisely why meditation matters. I need the dedicated time to empty out – as much as I can. Then, when I’m ready, I can choose to address a concern, with intention, without feeling overrun. Comfort from the inside-out.
One of my mentors pronounced my intuitive sense as a therapeutic gift. Ick. I still hate that. I don’t believe it – it’s just a skill, cultivated as a result of safety-seeking. That, and the fact that one of my core identities is that of misfit. Yep. Outsider, looking in. I’m not sad about it, it’s just who I am and I see both the light and dark of it all.
When we’re in school, we “meet” a multitude of theorists who can inform and guide our evolution as persons. I eagerly embraced theories, generally, because each one felt like a potential road map to better understand myself. One standout? Nancy Schlossberg. She was one of the lesser-known wise ones and her impactful work on transition theories was a thunderbolt for me decades ago…and still, it resonates.
Schlossberg’s work was revelatory for me as a mixed-up college student. Her principles of “marginality vs. mattering” continue to ring true, decades later. The heart of what helped me, then and now was this:
Mattering – state in which a person is important, appreciated, and valued.
Marginality – state in which a person feels ignored, shunned, separated, or on the fringe.
Until I was introduced to Schlossberg’s thoughts about the ebb and flow, the unexpected and routine, I had a perpetual tendency to feel different, odd, judged. Often, I felt like an outsider – a marginalized misfit. Learning about Schlossberg’s ideas helped me understand the need to care for myself with less input (solicited or otherwise) from others.
My constant head-space conversations, evaluating myself against standards from others left me more empty, less fulfilled. Clearing the path to see that I mattered because I AM changed everything. I realized what I often sought in my over-achieving tendencies was recognition, mattering. External validation. The marginalized me? I was unsure and afraid…compulsively evaluating every person, every situation.
Understanding the origins of the behaviors helped me curtail (not eliminate) the endless reconnaissance and I’m grateful. Still, I can see how the many moves and transitions in my young life carved a space for empathy and intuition. I’m grateful that I’m more inclined, the older I get, to focus my attention on others and less on “Vicki repair” — more on developing and maintaining my capacity for care.
If you’ve gotten this far – cheers to you! Thank you for reading and riding along. It matters to me…as do you.
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