the sharp places

I’ve been thinking a lot about my inner sharp places. Those small, bitter shards of resistance that I so often find myself coming up against. No matter how positive I feel in general, no matter how much toxic baggage I let go of, they’re always there.

I mentioned this to a close friend, and she said that over the years, I’ve helped teach her that we have to face our sharp places “like a ninja.” I love that image. Something about the idea of a silent, sure-footed ninja slipping around in my mind, ready to leap out unexpectedly and catch my most resentful, antagonistic thoughts, is really encouraging.

Most of us seem to have these hard, sharp corners, whatever the causes. We keep bumping into them within ourselves, getting cut and bruised, even acting out in negative ways, until we’re willing to look directly at them. To face them like warriors, like ninjas. When we do, when we fearlessly address the issues and emotions causing them, they stop being so wounding and start to break down. It requires us to be brave and honest, to let ourselves feel our disappointment, pain, shame and anger, rather than resisting it.

Sharp places are resistance in its purest form. We’re hurt, or offended, or resentful, or unwilling to accept the way things are—or all of the above and then some. We’re resisting something we don’t want to face or feel, and creating a razor-sharp edge in the process. Only when we soften around them do the sharp places melt to nothing. It isn’t easy to feel these things or face our own hurt in this way, but it’s far easier than the effort of avoiding or ignoring our resistance to what is. The problems may not go away, but our responses can become more compassionate, conscious and positive.

My friend went onto say the edges won’t get less sharp over time but “we’ll get tougher,” and I believe that’s true. I think when we do honestly face them, look at them unflinchingly, the hard edges dull and disappear—the snag is, there are always news shards of resistance being created within us. So we get tougher over the years, in a sense—we’re less inclined to jump away from the jabs or simply get sliced to pieces over and over again. We stop believing that we deserve those endless stings, and instead open ourselves to the sharpness, to what’s behind it, knowing it’s the only way.

I like the thought of sitting quietly and sensing the various sharp places within me, recognizing and even honoring them as resistance, and then consciously softening around them with each deep breath. I’ll never stop resisting things, or struggling with the emotions that create resistance. Sharp places will always appear. But I don’t have to cut myself on them anymore, pretending they don’t exist.

the game of I’m right, you’re wrong

There seems to be a very definite “I’m right, you’re wrong” theme to this month. Deep down I know I’m just as righteous as the next person, so it’s a good opportunity to examine my own behavior as I’m faced with the extreme righteousness of others. It’s been impossible not to trip over someone being RIGHT and TELLING ME SO at every turn, either that or creating negativity and conflict by accusing others of being unhelpful and negative. Which I can’t help but find both hypocritical and ironic.

What’s the lesson in all of these angry accusations and righteous posing? What can I possibly take away from being bullied and blamed because someone believes I let them down, or was a party to letting them down, in some way? Am I truly accountable for others’ perceptions or opinions, or can I release accountability and find a way to balance my need to defend myself against my desire to heal, grow and persist?

Every dark place, painful moment, misunderstanding and conflict holds a valuable lesson. Sometimes the lesson is that the relationship is broken beyond all fixing and needs to be abandoned, or that I can’t be the only one responsible for fixing it and must find a way to make it work within the dysfunction. Or that defensive reactions only provoke stronger attacks, an extremely important reminder. Or that persistence requires courage and calm, especially in the face of anxiety, stress, angry outbursts and fear. Or that accountability for my own feelings, actions and reactions in no way makes me responsible for the feelings, actions and reactions of others—nor their opinions, perceptions or prejudices. I’m accountable for ME, and therefore will own my mistakes, apologize, make amends and learn as best I can. However, I don’t have to take ownership of anyone else’s moods or ideas, nor do I have any obligation to conform to their views or compromise myself to fit their expectations, when these are not reasonable or true to who I am.

There are no “shoulds” when it comes to my instincts and integrity. I have extremely high standards for myself, which I sometimes fail to meet. Those are my own failings, and while I can take responsibility for them, I don’t need to blame, shame or punish myself for having failed. I can admit I was wrong and move forward with self-forgiveness.

I can also forgive others for their failures, though if someone isn’t living up to the same high standards of behavior, respect and integrity that I, and they, expect from me, I don’t owe them my allegiance, trust or the benefit of the doubt. Unless they’ve earned it, I’m not required to give it to them. Nor they to me, if I’ve failed without redeeming myself.

This is an opportunity to step back and change my conduct to reflect greater accountability and vigilance against those who would exploit my failures and use them against me. Avoiding gossip with anyone but those I trust most implicitly, finding positive approaches and solutions—without compromising myself, recognizing and abstaining from righteousness and defensiveness, finding ways to boost my courage and stay calm in moments of turmoil. Taking time before I react, writing things out, breathing, venting to SAFE sources. And, when necessary, apologizing sincerely and taking ownership of my mistakes.

Being with my ex-boyfriend really did teach me a lot about dealing with difficult people, among all the other lessons I learned throughout our relationship. I know that there are situations that simply won’t be made any easier or better by working harder to make them OK. When a situation has reached a certain point of dysfunction, there’s absolutely no way one person can fix it, and often the solution is to simply let it go. I know that there are also some people that will never be satisfied or pleased, no matter how much you give. They’ll simply take more, and punish you for it in the process. They don’t respect others, they don’t respect boundaries, and they’re always going to believe they’re right. These are not people who deserve our time, attention, trust, loyalty or respect. And if you have to deal with them, regardless of this, limiting your exposure to them, avoiding any defensiveness, and withholding any more time or attention than the extreme minimum requires, are the only ways to function successfully.

I know that not everything is my fault, even though there are those who would have me believe that. And that I’m allowed to say no, even if it disappoints people—and infuriates the toxic ones. I know that I’m not always right and never will be, but my instincts ARE, and I can trust them to show me the best way to move forward. I know that feeling beset, bullied, invaded or manipulated is a pretty sure sign that someone is actually doing all of those things to you, regardless of how little you want to believe that. And I certainly know that not everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt or a second chance, but that forgiveness is a gift we give OURSELVES, not the people who hurt, betrayed or disappointed us.

Just as I learned all of these really wonderful life lessons from a toxic, painful relationship, I can find a wealth of juicy wisdom and insights from a toxic, stressful work environment, from every challenge that life throws at me.