Monday, June 25, 2007

Lifelessons: A Whack Upside the Head

"Teachers" and "learning" take many different shapes. We're quite used to school settings and universities; some of us also see learning on a more personal level-- we attend workshops, read self-help books, and "study ourselves" in an effort to find meaning in our lives.

As adults-- especially when we embark on a journey that's fairly spiritual in nature-- we like to think of learning as "pleasant" and "insightful." Similarly, we like to think of our teachers as "kind" and "supportive." And yet...

... often the most meaningful lessons come in the form of our coming face-to-face with something we'd really rather not know about ourselves, or something we've been "pretending doesn't exist."

HSPs, for example, are often very attached to the idea of being "nice people." I believe many of us are, and there's nothing wrong with being nice, as long as it comes from an authentic and compassionate place. However, "cultivating" niceness, and subsequently burying authentic expression in its service tends to do more harm than good. In many years of observing myself, as well as other HSPs, there seems to be no place with more pitfalls than our often "dubious" relationship with anger.

Anger is a legitimate emotion, and often a very productive one, if understood and espressed in a healthy manner. Anger (usually) tells us that a boundary (whether we're actively aware of it, or not) has been broken... and serves as a "warning system" that something isn't how we want it to be. And yet-- for many of us-- the warning bells are ignored, because we want to remain "a nice person, and nice people don't get angry."

It took me a great many years to first recognize, and subsequently heal, my "relationship" with anger. I used to (with some pride, I might add!) declare that I didn't get angry. And to the casual observer, it probably looked like I was speaking the truth. But fellow empaths could always sense "the poison within," and would call me on it. Which-- ironically-- was one of the very few things that would make me feel anger... someone telling me I felt anger, when I was deeply attached to non-anger.

Dealing with my anger-avoidance took years of personal work. Central to "breaking through" was the understanding that my anger-avoidance stemmed from growing up with a rage-aholic father... and (mis)interpreting his random rages, thrown objects, screaming, cursing and resultant inability to make and keep friendships as a "global" definition of "what anger looks like." I categorically rejected his model... but had no model for "alternative" expression.

Coming face-to-face with many years of repressed anger was definitely NOT something I wanted to experience. It was an unwanted whack upside the head. And the therapist who "got through" to me, was a Teacher who told me something I didn't want to hear.

Another "Swampy" area for many HSPs on the learning path is selfishness and manipulation. Rarely do more hackles go up than when someone suggests an HSP is "selfish and manipulative." Again, this tends to play directly to our attachment to being "nice people," and "nice people" are NOT selfish and manipulative.

Unlike anger (which tends to be openly visible), this area is often fuzzy and ill-defined. But because we tend to be deeply empathic and "feel" the energy and emotions of others, it is often just a short step to "using" this information to get what we want. And it tends to be a sub- or unconscious process. We think we are being "selfless" and "helpful" to someone, and yet we end up raining on their parade through subtly insisting on the "how" and "when" of being helpful to others. Because-- by gum-- "we know better" than they do. Similarly, we often subtly manipulate groups through a process of publically attaching "non-importance" to our needs. A reluctant "I can go in spite of my sensitivities" is really an indirect invitation to others to put our needs before theirs. Not a popular view, of course. But when someone gently points out to us that we're "using" sensitivity to manipulate situations... a good "whack upside the head."

Which brings me full circle on the whole idea of Teachers, learning, and being an HSP. As HSPs we often have certain learning challenges that feel like they are compounded by lifetimes of feeling "unseen" and "unheard." Because of this "invisibility" we sometimes get trapped in patterns where we expect our teachers to "validate" us more than is really reasonable. When that happens, we're not really learning, we're asking someone to validate our dysfunctions, when we ask for support.

True support isn't having "emotional yes-men/women" around us... it is having someone who supports our efforts at growth, while remaining willing to share what they see.

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