Bubbles

I feel like I live in a bubble.

Due to the current pandemic and being immune compromised, I’ve been in nearly total isolation for about 140 days and counting.

“I feel like I live in a bubble,” popped into my head, and it got me thinking about what kinds of bubbles we all live in, whether self-imposed or otherwise.

I have a family bubble, a friend bubble, a church bubble, a day job bubble, a musician bubble, a “me” bubble, and probably a few more I haven’t thought of just yet.

It’s so popular in our culture to talk about how we must keep each area (aka “bubble”) of our lives separate from the others, especially when it comes to work and our so called “personal lives.” However, is that truly beneficial and healthy?

I don’t believe it is. I believe firmly that I shouldn’t have to be one person at work, a different person with my family, a different person with my friends, and so on. Sure, there’s certain behavior that’s appropriate at home or with friends that maybe isn’t so much so at the office. Those kinds of things aren’t what I’m talking about here. I’m referring to having a completely different or almost completely different personality depending on which bubble I’m currently in.

What if the lessons I’ve learned from things I’ve experienced in my other bubbles would be beneficial to my work bubble or vice versa? Every experience I’ve had in my life whether good, bad, or neutral has shaped me into the person I am today. I can’t just leave that all at the door without becoming a very different person.

The Bubbles – It’s not a perfect diagram, but it illustrates my basic point.

Notice how each bubble in the diagram gets just a small piece of the authentic me and remain separate from the others. I’m never my complete, authentic self in any of the bubbles.

I’ve observed that this push to keep each bubble separate from all the others is turning us into fractured people who don’t know ourselves. As I see it, it’s causing a sort of mass identity crisis.

I know who society says I’m supposed to be. I know who my church says I’m supposed to be. I know who my family says I’m supposed to be. And I know who my friends say I’m supposed to be. But who am I really? If I strip away all of the external expectations, at the core of my being, my essence, who am I?

What do I value? What do I see as my purpose? What would I do if external expectations weren’t a factor? If I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, where would I choose to live? What would I choose as my career? What would my hobbies be? What kind of home would I live in? What would it look like? What “stuff” would I own? etc?

In searching for a new job this past year, I decided that I would go into any and all interviews as 100% me. I wasn’t going to become a different person the moment I walked through an office door. I decided that any company that didn’t want the complete ME wasn’t worth my time and effort. If they didn’t like that I’m a performing musician and music director, if they didn’t like that I’m creative, if they didn’t like that I think for myself and was looking for a company that would value me as a whole person, then this company wasn’t for me. Essentially, I put into practice much of what I’d been working on in therapy: coming out of my shell, being my authentic self, and advocating for myself. (See https://couragetofly.org/2020/07/12/courage-vs-confidence/ for more on that topic.)

Now I’m working for an awesome company that values me as a whole person. This company actually celebrates creativity and intentionally seeks out individuals with diverse backgrounds and life experiences. During the interview process, I was asked my life story. That was seriously the first question I was asked. When they asked that dreaded questions, “So tell me about yourself,” they weren’t looking for a list of work trophy’s and accolades. They didn’t want to hear about only my work bubble; they wanted to get to know the real me. I was asked questions about what gets me out of bed in the morning, what my passion is, etc. They dug DEEP. It was awesome!! It was the most rigorous and difficult interview process I’ve ever ben through, and you know what: I loved it!! I actually felt seen and heard and when I was offered the position my internal response was, “OMG….they actually want…authentic me!” I was SHOCKED and elated!! I’m still pretty shocked there’s actually at least one company in the world that feels the same way I do about this…

We’re meant to be whole beings. To be dramatically different depending on the bubble, is neither authentic nor healthy. If we do not feel safe to be authentically ourselves in any particular bubble, maybe we need to rethink our relationship(s) with the person/people/activities/etc in that bubble.

It’s time to pop the bubbles.

One “bubble” that encompasses all of me

What bubbles are you living in? What can you do today to pop the bubbles and live authentically?

Crushing Perfectionism

Every time I start something new (i.e. a new job, a new project, learning something new, etc) I will arrive at a point in time when I feel crushed by the weight of perfectionism. I grew up in a family that highly valued and demanded perfection. For example: If I got a “B” on a report card, I was questioned, “Why wasn’t this an ‘A’?” If I got an “A”, then it was, “Why wasn’t this an ‘A+’?” I would be immediately shamed for not achieving perfection.

It didn’t matter that I had tried my best and worked incredibly hard to understand the material and was still working hard to understand and learn it even better. If my best didn’t earn an “A+” at the end of the quarter or semester, then I was a failure. It was made crystal clear to me that failure was not an option and coming even just a tiny bit short of the extremely high standards was completely unacceptable and unforgivable. Grades are just one of many examples.

That pressure to achieve someone else’s standard of “perfection” left an indelible mark on me. The daily condemnation and shame that was hurled at me became my inner monologue at a very young age and is something I still battle. Working through it has been a formidable challenge.

We all have times when we get stuck in negative self talk. Perfectionism is a battle we all fight to one degree or another. There are many problems with perfectionism, not the least of which is SHAME.

The big problem with shame is that people try to use it as a motivator. It isn’t a motivator; it’s actually the opposite! Guilt can be a great motivator for change; shame; however, not so much. Guilt = “I did a bad thing.” Shame = “I am bad.”

Shame murders motivation and crushes creativity. So what to do when you notice you’re shaming yourself for a real or perceived failure…? Flip the script!

Instead of –> Try thinking:

“I give up!” –> “I’ll try something different and/or ask for help.”

“I failed!” –> “Mistakes help me learn.”

“I’ll never be smart.” –> “I grow my brain by learning new things.”

“I’m no good at this.” –> “What am I missing?”

“This is too hard.” –> “This may take me some time.”

“I can’t do this!” –> “With practice I will be great!”

“I can’t believe I’m in this mess!” –> “I can do something small everyday to improve my situation.”

Flip the script so you can move from being crushed by perfectionism to crushing perfectionism! You won’t always get it right; that’s completely normal and natural. Practice makes progress and progress is what we’re going for, not perfection. You’ve got this!

Courage vs. Confidence

Copyright Erin Elizabeth Jones 2020

I feel like a turtle.

I built a protective shell around myself by pretending to be what people wanted me to be. It was safer that way. Over the years, my shell became comfortable and familiar. Inside this shell, I’m safely hidden away. No one can mock, judge, or ridicule the “me” they can’t see.

If I do step out of my comfort zone, I feel like a turtle out of its shell running through a briar patch. It’s painful. I don’t like it. I have a lot of scars that serve as reminders to stay within the safety of my shell.

The problem with a shell is that, even though it offers protection, it’s heavy and confining.

The shell limits what I can see and do and accomplish. If I want to do all of the things I wish I could, I’m going to have to venture out of my shell.

People often say that one should act with confidence. The trouble is, I don’t feel at all confident. I am, however, finding my courage. I see a huge difference between confidence and courage. Confidence says, “I’ve got this.” Courage says, “I’m not so sure I’ve got this, but even though I’m shaking and scared, I’m going to do it anyway because it’s important to me.”

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Just like a turtle, I am easily startled. And just like a turtle, I tend to dart for the safety of my shell when I’m scared. My therapist and I refer to this tendency of mine as “turtle-ing.” It’s not unusual for her to say something like, “Erin, I see you’re turtle-ing. Do you know what caused that?” The goal is for me to notice for myself when I’m doing this and to reflect and try to figure out why and how I can fix it. It’s not always easy, but it is always worth the effort.

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

A couple of weeks ago, I started a new job. I’ll be completely honest: I was absolutely terrified. This was a massive leap of faith for me. As I get to know my new team, even though I can’t honestly say I completely trust them yet, I am feeling my anxiety subside. They’re incredibly compassionate and supportive; so much so that I actually feel relatively safe with them already (that’s not normal for me at all!!). On day one of training, I had an opportunity to speak my truth (come out of my shell) or stay silent (turtle-ing). I hesitated for a moment, but ultimately decided, even though I was scared and shaking, to go for it and speak my truth.

“Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” – Maggie Kuhn

Their immediate response was compassion and empathy. I’m not used to that. I’ve very rarely experienced anything other than rudeness and misconceptions when telling my story because of the social stigma attached to trauma; so I’m always surprised when anyone responds instead with compassion, understanding, and empathy.

To be on a team that actually has my back (it’s the company culture, not just so many words) is making me feel like I can do anything. I know I won’t always feel totally safe and comfortable with leaving my shell. Some days I’ll want to curl up in it and shut the world out, even with the most supportive team on my side.

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” – Mary Anne Radmacher

And that’s okay. As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” There are no quick fixes when it comes to working through trauma. It’s a process. Even through the setbacks: Don’t give up hope; it does get better.

What are your goals? What would you do if fear didn’t hold you back? What is more important to you than fear? Go for it! Take small steps if you need to. Know that failure is perfectly normal and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. It’s a learning opportunity, not the end of the world. The most important thing is: Don’t give up. Take a break when you need to. Rest. Recharge. Regroup. Then get back out there and try again.

#breakthesilence #endthestigma #bethelight

Copyright Erin Elizabeth Jones 2020

Shame

I’ve been trying to come up with a good analogy for working through complex PTSD and I think I’ve found a pretty good one. I’m not at all a fan of horror movies and not a big fan of most crime dramas, but I’ve seen enough to know a few standard plot points.

You know that darkened room with the closed door in a horror movie/murder mystery? The one the audience knows the murderous ghost/poltergeist/human is hiding in? The doomed character hears a noise, heads to that room, and stands in front of the closed door with their hand on the door knob, hesitating. We, the audience, sit watching, waiting, and willing the character not to open that door; and yet, it’s also the door we know the frightened character has to open and walk through. They have to investigate and face whatever is on the other side. It’s inevitable. So they open the door and either flip the light switch or shine a flashlight into the room and meet their enemy. Maybe they’ll be the victor, or maybe they’ll be the victim. We wait, perhaps holding our breath, to see who will survive the encounter.

In my head, I have a darkened room full of repressed trauma memories, and the door to that room has been shut tight for a long time. The corridor leading to it had a few complete and some fragmented memories, and behind that door is everything else. Periodically, the noise coming from that room would catch my attention, but I’d do what I could to drown it out and ignore it, hoping it would magically go away. (Sidenote: ignoring it makes it worse in the long run, not better.)

Facing repressed memories feels a lot like being the doomed character on the safe side of the door, hesitating with my hand on the door knob. I know it’s inevitable I ended up here, and I also know that I do not want to go in there. My mind and body are screaming at me not to open that door. I know whatever’s waiting on the other side is awful and I’m terrified of it. I know facing it will hurt and could destroy me. I wish I could walk away and continue ignoring it. And yet, I know I can’t. Ignorance isn’t always bliss. Whatever is waiting behind that door, it’s time to throw the door open, flip on the lights, and face it.

And that’s what I’ve done: I’ve thrown the door wide open and flipped on the lights.

I was bombarded by memories. It was overwhelming at first, but I’ve worked my way through many of them and gotten to the center of the room. As I made my way there, I realized a terrible, but super important truth. At the center, was something that was feeding on the trauma memories: toxic shame. As I sat in my counselor’s office and spoke that truth out loud for the first time, I felt relieved. Even though it’s a terrible truth, I felt like I had finally discovered and named my biggest enemy and could now formulate a far better battle plan.

Toxic shame is a tyrant. In my case, it’s parents are emotional abuse and sexual assault. It took that abuse and continued whispering the lies until they became my core beliefs about myself:

“I am unlovable.”

“I am worthless.”

“I am stupid.”

“I am a failure.”

“I don’t matter.”

“I’m defective.”

“I’m ugly.”

“I shouldn’t have been born.”

“I am not enough.”

“I am unwanted.”

“I am invisible.”

“I am a mistake.”

Etc.

I can tell you what I know I should believe about myself, but deep down I struggle to believe it. That’s another terrible truth: if we hear something often enough, even if it’s a lie and at first we know it’s a lie, we eventually begin to believe it. This is especially true when we’re children and the one speaking is a trusted adult.

Every one of us has felt shame at some point in our lives. Mostly, we feel it, we process it, and we move on. If, however, we don’t process it, then it continues to fester and haunt us and negatively influences our core beliefs about ourselves.

Think back to a time in your life when you felt shame. Did it change how you see yourself? How did it change your beliefs about yourself? Was that change temporary or did it permanently alter how you view yourself? Did it negatively affect your core beliefs? Do you have other negative core beliefs?

This is my current, main project: identifying my core beliefs and their source(s) as specifically as possible (i.e. a specific incident, conversation, etc), working to hear and believe the truth rather than the lies, and turn my negative core beliefs into positives. I encourage you to do the same. Do you have core beliefs that are holding you back? Identify them, confront the sources, find the truth, and turn them into positives. It’s time to overthrow the tyrant. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but it’s worth the effort. You are worth the effort. ❤️

My History

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do.” – Brené Brown

“History is written at the hands of those who win

The battle must be over for the writing to being

Take a piece of paper, open up a vein

The feather and the fingers pulls against the grain…”

I started talking about my with PTSD and the traumas that caused it because I was desperate for support. I had stayed silent for far too long. It started slowly: I shared publicly for the first time that I have PTSD and talked a bit about my specific struggles with it. Then I began talking more openly and honestly about what I was dealing with. Then, I did what I thought I’d never do: for the first time ever, I shared the story of the sexual assault I experienced in high school. And now, it’s time to share more of my story.

I’ve spent the last few months wrestling with how much to say and how honest to be when telling my story. I knew where I wanted to go with the blog, but I still feel a need to protect certain people to a certain extent and will not post names; however, I am learning that I can tell my story and it’s okay to want to. I ask that you respect my decision to not share names by NOT asking me, my parents, my sister, or other family members for those details. If you want to know more, I’m very willing to answer most questions. Please please be respectful if I tell you I don’t want to talk about it right at that moment or if I refuse to answer your question. Don’t push me for answers I’m not willing to give. You could do so much harm if you push me on this. Please please don’t.

I’ve stayed silent for years, protecting the reputations of those who abused me. There have been many times when I have downplayed the severity or outright lied to protect them. I thought love meant always defending and speaking-well of everyone, even if they were abusive.

I’ve also been holding back out of shame and fear, and also concern for those I love. Hearing my assault story was very hard on people I love, and I’ve been very concerned how telling this next piece of my story would affect them. Know that as you read this, I do not place blame on any one but the abuser. It’s no one else’s fault. Period. Do not beat yourself up for not knowing or not doing something about it. It’s their fault, not yours. Reread those last few sentences as many times as you need for it to sink in.

As I began to share my story, I found that, just as I feared, not everyone has been supportive. People have doubted me. I’ve been told this shouldn’t still bother me, after all it’s in the past (more on why that’s an incredibly insensitive and ridiculous thing to say in a future blog article). I’ve been told I need to “just get over it and move on.” People have even questioned my sister if I was actually diagnosed with PTSD (FYI: I was diagnosed during my junior year of college, although, in truth, my therapist thinks I’ve probably had it most of my life).

The damage that was done is not something one simply “gets over.” The wounds from trauma and abuse suffered during childhood run deep and it’s impossible to fully express that pain. There are no words for that kind of betrayal.

What I’ve come to realize is this: there will always be people who doubt me. There will always be people who think I’m exaggerating or completely making it up. There will always be people who think I’m overly sensitive and emotional.

I’ve pondered often why that is. I think it’s at least partly because 1. no one wants to believe that this stuff really happens, and 2. they don’t want to believe it could happen to me. Maybe that second one is because they’ve known me all my life and had no idea what I was keeping secret. On the outside, I looked like a pretty normal, albeit very shy, little girl. I didn’t fit their idea of what an abused kid looked like. I had loving, attentive parents. Although our relationship with our brother was quite unique because of his health challenges, my siblings and I enjoyed a close relationship. We were very active in our church, school, Girl Scouts, etc. I simply didn’t fit the prevailing stereotype.

But that’s the thing…when it comes to abuse: throw the stereotypes you know straight out the window.

The truth is abuse is an epidemic. Call it what you will: bullying, harassment, assault, etc. It’s far more common than most people think and it can happen to literally anybody.

I have about 520 Facebook friends. Of those 520, let’s say roughly 1/3 are men and 2/3 are women. According to current statistics, about 29 of the men and 115 of the women have experienced some form of sexual assault or harassment. (nsvrc.org)

And emotional abuse is even harder to quantify. Although studies have been done, it’s hard to estimate just how prevalent this form of abuse is. Of the studies I found, the estimates were very high, putting the number at roughly 60% of American adults having experienced some form of emotional abuse as children or teens, from an adult they were close to or, as adults, from their partners.

“No one else will know what I could see…”

I didn’t know what I was experiencing from a trusted adult in my life was emotional abuse. It was my normal. I didn’t know that not everyone was treated like I was by that person. There have been times over the years, especially as I slowly got out of the situation, that I began to realize it wasn’t normal, but it’s taken me many years to understand that what I experienced was, in fact, abuse, to be able to call it that, and to come to terms with that knowledge.

What’s made it even more confusing was that this person could change so fast; they could appear to be loving and kind one moment but turn incredibly heartless and cruel the next. I never knew which version of them I would get or what would trigger the sudden change. If I dared to disagree with them, I was told I was being disrespectful and ungrateful. I learned not to disagree. I fully believed that I always somehow earned their cruelty. If only I could be good enough, then they’d be kind. If only I could be exactly what they told me I should be, then they’d love me. If only I was prettier…If only I was smarter…If only I was more athletic…If only I was interested in and good at the right things…If only I wasn’t me…

“Love was all we wanted and only truth remains…”

They made me believe I had no value “as is” and I needed to change into their ideal in order to be worthy of love. They taught me love has to be earned. So I tried…I tried to become what they told me I should be…. I became ashamed of the real me. I put up walls, locked the real me away, and did my best to project the image they wanted to see. But it was never enough…I was never enough. No matter how hard I tried, I always fell short and could never earn their love.

“I am not the child who turned the other cheek…”

But I am no longer a child required to stay silent. I’m taking back my story.

“All my story now belongs to me…”

I know that I’ll likely still face skeptics, critics, and harsh judgments; however, adult me is truly beginning to believe what little girl me didn’t: I have value. I matter too.

“I am my survivor and you will be my history…”

Until about two years ago, I really didn’t know who I was. I knew what I “should” be, what I was “supposed” to be, but had no real idea of who I actually was.

“I will start to build a better life for me…”

So I set out on an adventure to figure out who I was created to be. And it’s been quite the adventure! There have been mountains to climb, rivers to cross, and boulders in my path; but I’m determined to keep going. I’ve come to understand that figuring out who we are is a lifelong journey rather than a destination. We continuously grow and change throughout our lives, learning countless lessons along the way.

“You will be the lesson I wish I never learned

Love will be the reason you’re reign was overturned…”

I’m determined to take the lessons I’ve learned from what was intended for harm, and use them for good. I don’t know exactly what exactly that will look like just yet, but the blog is certainly a small part of it and I’m ready now to relaunch it.

My History

By Jessica Willis Fisher

“History is written

At the hands of those who win

The battle must be over

For the writing to begin

Take a piece of paper

Open up a vein

The feather and the fingers

Pulls against the grain.

All my story now belongs to me

I will try to build a better life for me

No one else will know what I could see

I am my survivor and you will be my history

Memory is fading

Even as I speak

I am not the child

Who turned the other cheek

Power to the people

Throwing off the chains

Love was all we wanted

And only truth remains

All my story now belongs to me

I will try to build a better life for me

No one else will know what I could see

I am my survivor and you will be my history

You will be the lesson

I wish I’d never learned

Love will be the reason

Your reign was overturned

All my story now belongs to me

I will try to build a better life for me

No one else will know what I could see

I am my survivor and you will be my history

I am my survivor and you will be my history

I am my survivor

And you are just my history.”

https://youtu.be/JXOPhlthDzI