Unlearning life lessons

Recently, when playing the game we’re not really strangers, this question popped up: “What lesson took you the longest to unlearn?

One of my most immediate thoughts was about allowing myself to experience my own emotions when I feel impacted by other’s actions, while understanding that others may not have intended to cause me harm.

I had learned throughout my early years that, if someone didn’t mean to hurt me, then being upset in any shape or form would be being selfish and only thinking of me. Not only this made me block the full cycle of experiencing many of those emotions, it often also brought me an extra dose of guilt for not being able to not feel.

Because I wanted to be “a good girl”, I often overcompensated on understanding the other one and not taking care of myself. For me, this meant drowning myself in sadness and shame for not being more empathic, while allowing others to keep acting in ways that were not respecting my needs or boundaries.

Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering”

Don Miguel Ruiz

If I had read this quote from Don Miguel Ruiz at the time, I would probably beat myself even more for not being able to not take things personally! I’m a big fan of the four agreements and at the same time, I’ve seen these words being used as a fighting sword.

Many truths can co-exist

I must thank my dear friend and Biodanza teacher Mafalda Vergueiro for having given me the first experience of expressing my anger, and holding the space for it, while knowing that she had not meant to upset me by how the class had gone, and that it was obviously not about me!

What I learned later in life is that many perspectives can co-exist I can understand other people’s reasons or intentions, while at the same time honouring my emotional response and expressing it. This doesn’t mean that others need to change their minds or actions, but it does mean that each one of us is responsible for taking care of what we want to welcome into our life. And having a strong emotional reaction is usually a clear sign that our boundaries are being crossed or our needs are not being met, so there’s no reason to ignore it just because someone didn’t mean to harm us.

Avoiding the blaming game

When this happens in a relationship, emotional validation becomes a strong part of moving forward. These are often difficult conversations, where, if not cared for, people easily feel attacked and tend to escalate.

“Don’t take anything personally” goes for all the parties involved, during these conversations. Learning to listen and distinguish the emotional reaction from the object being discussed is fundamental. It’s not about being right, or telling the other how they did you wrong. It’s about expressing and being heard without wanting to control how the other ones feel!

Next time you’re in such a conversation, pay attention to the cues your body provide to you. Notice how hearing some words may trigger some new body sensations, You may express it for example with such a structure:

“When I hear you saying that, I notice that

  • my heart closes;
  • a smile appears on my lips;
  • I don’t feel my body anymore;
  • …”.

An example from my life: I have a hard time dealing with last minute cancellations. It triggers a sense of not being important enough. Because life likes to give me chances to learn, I often get surrounded by people who cancel our plans all the time. When I repeatedly receive messages saying “I’m sorry, I have to cancel because [add a reasonable reason here], one the worse follow-ups is: “please understand and don’t be angry at me.” The assumption that I can only either understand or be angry, and that if I would really understand, there would not be a reason to be angry, is invading my space of what emotions I’m “allowed” to feel or not.

Instead of bringing people together, these kind of interactions often feel unsafe and lead to disconnection.

How Authentic Movement has been supporting me

Last year I was let go from my job. That was a sudden decision for which I had not prepared. My first reactions were towards anger, disappointment, and a feeling of being abandoned. Luckily, at the time I was attending an online Authentic Movement (AM) course, which took place the next day. So, after 2 days of feeling angry and sorry for myself, during the AM session I was able to connect with a part of me that wasn’t feeling hurt. I experienced space opening up for an array of new possibilities, despite the fear of uncertainty. I experienced connection with my own confidence and calm, but also with the people who made the decision.

On the next day, I was able to stay in that place of connection and made the conscious decision of honouring the time we had been co-creating our work, and all the moments of joy, support and growth from the previous 2 years. I was aware of the reasons that led to the decision of letting me go, and this process allowed me to go from blaming into compassion. I’m grateful that on the other side there was also compassion and validation for the emotions that were present in me.

In Authentic Movement, there’s a moment of verbal sharing between the mover and the witness, after the movement takes place. This sharing obeys to some rules that allow us to practice the expression of what sensations, thoughts or emotions each one experienced related to one same movement, without forcing our experience on the other one. This practice replicates what we can do in our daily life. Something happens, each person has their own experience of it and we listen and honour what the other one shares.

This was my unlearning (and relearning). What was yours?