reviews


We rely upon mirrors to see ourselves. Without them we cannot even see our face. Neither do we see our inner selves without a nurturing mirror.

I stumbled onto some old notes from a post that is no longer available so I don’t even know the author. I also don’t know how these notes got neglected as they mirror my personal struggles so minutely. The subject is about people that battle with a “fixing” addiction, so if you can relate to it please read on.
— —

Before I share the notes below I want to say I have a history to being overly responsible in my interactions. This hyper-vigilant sense of duty is the product of years of social conditioning. I call it the nice-guy default mode. Others instinctively sense this drive to feel needed and take advantage of it.

Important notes worth considering:

1. Individuals that develop this form of codependency run the risk of becoming caretakers with no one to give them healthy emotional support. They tend to get stuck into a “fixer” role permanently, never being able to enjoy healthy give-and-receive relationships with anyone.

2. Since they are the ones that do all the work in a relationship, once they stop the work, the relationship usually dies.

3. The saddest part is that they so successfully divert their attention, they rarely affect changes upon themselves and thus become emotionally stunted in their personal growth. This decreases their self-esteem as they forever lose themselves.

If anyone can identify the title and author of these thoughts please let me know so I can give him or her credit.

~ vincenzo ©

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Saying yes to the unexpected

Patricia Madson is the author of a little book containing big ideas. “Improv Wisdom” involves approaching life with a willingness to pay attention to whatever life presents, and to say yes to the unexpected, learning to overcome the harsh inner critic and making new connections. She says,

“Yes can be a really good answer more of the time than you might imagine. It can open up a possibility. It’s easy to say no. No doesn’t require us to act. Saying yes can get us into trouble, but it’s just as likely to bring us great adventures.”

Madson finds when we throw out many of the self-inhibiting regulations we thought we must live by, we’ll find our lives more authentic, more effective, and a lot more fun. We have adopted a malfunctional way called blocking we hardly question, so we not only block others, but ourselves in the process.

Here are some excerpts of Madson’s Yes Principles:

“Cultivate all the ways you can imagine to express affirmation.”

“Yes and” …we can say yes than we normally do.

“Once you become aware you can, you will see how often we use the technique of blocking in personal relationships simply out of habit.”

“Support someone else’s dreams. Pick a person and for a week, agree with all of his or her ideas. Find something right about everything he or she does or says. Look for every opportunity to find support.”

“As we practice the affirmative response to life, positive things happen.”

“Exercising the yes muscle builds optimism. If you can’t get out of it, get into it.”

“Improv means advancing the struggle for more inclusive frameworks of understanding.”

~ vincenzo ©

Reference: Madson, Patricia Ryan Improv Wisdom, Bell Tower Publishing, New York 2005

“At the cost of eliminating egotism, we have trampled over self worth. If human beings merit respect that is an intrinsic right of all mankind, then this right needs to be extended to the self.” — W. Riso

I’m reading Walter Riso, an Argentian counselor and university professor. The book is titled, “Learning Self Worth.” Riso argues how easy it is for the inner life to get sucked into the vortex of hurry sickness, discord, competition, individualism and obsession with appearances. Even though it’s hard to admit it. A friend translated this message in Biblical terms saying life is like being a Mary in a world where the Marthas rule.

A wise man once said our search for approval can be so wide and so deep it can convert itself in a serpentine insecurity. What develops over the years is an anxiety to please, instead of a healthy philosophy of questioning and exercising our own criteria. We become socially conditioned to yield our power of decision as if we were second class citizens, convinced we have to conform.

Walter Riso claims civilization indoctrinates us toward respect, sacrifice, altruism, love, kindness and communication as something devoted only toward others and never to be applied to self. He states:

“Unfortunately, our mentality has been focused upon what others think as being more important than what we think and so we become victims of such ill fate. Our culture has taught us to carry an invisible stick that is ready to inflict harm upon ourselves each time we commit errors or don’t quite measure up to our own standards or personal goals. We’ve learned to blame ourselves for everything that goes wrong and never take credit for that which is successful. If we fail, we take the blame. If we are successful, it was pure luck. Self-criticism is good and productive if we administer it with care.”

Lack of self worth is demonstrated in our view of spare time. Riso raises the some points worth considering:

“If work dignifies man, so does rest and recreation. We plan so rigorously our working day with schedules, budgets, visits here and there, even an oil change for the car and dentist appointments. However, when it comes to free time, we view it as something altogether residual… something left over and many times we have no idea what to do with it. Work is considered sacred while free time is not. Society pushes us at a rate of 100 miles per hour where there’s no time to contemplate the scenery. If anyone stops, everyone one else will run this person over in the dust.”

It’s good to learn to feel comfortable in your own skin and to feel it’s ever too late to learn.

~ vincenzo
*originally written 2008

As a child I identified with a rather odd hero. While other boys were captivated by Batman or Super Man I eagerly watched the ¨Littlest Hobo¨. The TV series focused on a not-so- stray German Shepherd dog that wandered from town to town helping people in need. It was similar to Lassie, except the Little Hobo held to a strict code of honor: 1) He never had an owner; 2) though many people sought to adopt him, he preferred to be on his own; 3) each episode involved some kind of new rescue mission and 4) the faces of the actors always changed so the only constant was the dog.

For me, nothing matched the ecstasy like rescuing combined with humility. It did not matter he was only an imaginary character. What weighed in his favor was how the Littlest Hobo not only saved lives, but also how he never took credit for any of his random acts of kindness.

Several years ago, I watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding just to appease a friend. I didn’t expect to enjoy it, since I considered most North American comedies annoying. To my surprise, it resonated with me. Nia Vardalos starred as Toula, a Greek woman questioning her cultural conventions — the tale of an ongoing conflict between her collective family values versus her individuality.

The Portokalos family constantly poked into the most personal details of Toula’s life. She was excessively shy and plain. Her family believed Greek women should only marry their own kind and other such-like sundry old-world ideas. Toula, however, dreamed much more than her family had planned for her.

The movie helped me to reflect upon the disparity between first generation immigrants and their children’s divergent ways. It allowed me to contemplate the contradictions of my own Italian heritage. As the movie illustrated, certain cultures are composed of people who are typically loud, extroverted, hard-hitting, intrusive, paternalistic and not very reflective. My family was no exception, yet in the midst of this domain, I was born: introverted, soft spoken, private and reflective.

The Southern Italian culture I grew up in was composed largely of people who were loud, hard-hitting, intrusive and paternalistic. My relatives were no exception. In the midst of this dominant personality trait, I was born: someone internally intense, yet quiet, inconspicuous, and reflective. This worried my relatives to no end and I was stigmatized for being different.

When someone celebrated a birthday, baptism, first communion or graduation, everyone was expected to visit in large numbers to show their support and warmth. Food, music and dance were the center of all our family events. Such ideas as conversation and connection were considered by my relatives not only strange, but threatening. It was as if by some strange power you might brainwash someone without them knowing.

Reviewing my Italian roots proved challenging because I lacked the language to define or reframe my life experiences. My path to enlightment began when reading, “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.” by Elaine N. Aron. Thanks to this author I began to see the strengths of heightened sensitivity. It never occurred to me it wasn’t my personality trait that was the problem but rather the cultural bias against the more quiet temperament. Aron says,

“The signs of prejudice against sensitivity are easy enough to spot once you read between the lines, to catch those descriptions of sensitivity as a ‘syndrome’ or that such people are ‘out of balance’ or ‘frequently lose control’ or are over-reacting or ‘unable to perceive accurately’ due to bodies with ‘excessive’ this or ‘abnormal’ that. Remember these are usually medical judgments from a warrior-king’s perspective of what is out, lost, over accurate, excessive and abnormal. Do remember, however, that there may be times when you truly do feel you have lost your balance, are out of control, and are overreacting.

Highly sensitive persons in a highly stimulating world are bound to, especially those who’ve had a very stressful childhood or personal history… remember it is not your trait that is to blame, but the world into which you and it were born, and are constantly being challenged to adapt or change.”

Often friends will comment about their sensitivity as if it’s a fault when what they are doing is reflecting the cultural bias that looks upon sensitivity as something less mentally sound. Aron explains that even doctors shun introversion as if it were a disease:

“Furthermore, for some doctors especially, sensitivity is a dreaded weakness they had to repress in order to survive medical school. So they project that part of themselves (and the weakness they associate with it) onto patients with any sign of it at all.”

Those of us with this trait can be introverted or extroverted. We are the resident artists, musicians, composers, writers, counselors and pastors. Having a more sensitive constitution we can be more easily bruised and misunderstood in a society where bravery, cool-headedness, mental and physical toughness and determination are highly esteemed. Of course these are excellent characteristics and this blog is not about diminishing certain personality traits against another.

Those who are socially extroverted individuals sometimes find it hard to acknowledge their sensitivity traits. King David seems to be one of those rare individuals in the Bible who was a highly skilled warrior yet at the same time was artistically sensitive writing the most amazing psalms ever written through the ages.

In relationships, those with heightened sensitivity are usually attentive and thoughtful partners with acute listening skills and compassionate hearts. Most are not only intellectually gifted but highly intuitive. They enjoy a more simple self-aware lifestyle focusing on staying fit and eating right.

Take a look at the list below and see whether any of these descriptions apply to you. Notice, however, that this list also includes many strengths:

“Do you get overwhelmed by stimuli such as lights, noises, and smells?
Do other people’s moods and emotions deeply affect you?
Are you easily startled?
Do you become uneasy when someone is watching you complete a task?
Do you become tired easily after a “normal” day of activity?
Are you aware of other things in your environment that most other people are not aware of?
Do you become agitated or anxious when you have a lot of tasks to do and not enough time to complete all of them?
Do you avoid disturbing or violent movies, books, or T.V. shows?
Do you feel the need to escape and retreat when there is too much going on around you?Are you deeply interested in the arts or music?
Do you dislike changes in your life?
Do you enjoy delicate tastes, scents, sounds, soft fabrics, or beautiful works of art?
Have you always been labeled as shy or sensitive by other people?
Are you overly conscientious?
Do you seem to be more sensitive to pain than other people?
Are you sensitive to certain foods such as foods containing caffeine, sugar or alcohol?
Do you become unpleasant when you are hungry?
Do you easily sense the energies of places or situations?
Are you easily touched by others’ experience, stories of kindness, and courage?
Are you attracted to the deeper things such as spirituality, self-development and philosophy?
Do you need time alone?
Are your feelings easily bruised?
Do you have a vivid imagination?”
— by Elaine N. Aron

“Our carapace is necessary because it keeps out a lot of pain; it ensures we’re not overwhelmed by what is wounding in the world. But it can also make us feel fake. It can make us feel numb and strangely out of touch with ourselves. As a result, there are few things that feel headier than being able to cast it off. There are few things that feel better than being able to reconnect with aspects of our being that have been forcefully suppressed. There is, in short, something enormously vitalizing about being able to trust that someone will not recoil when we disclose the face beneath the mask.”

“Those who manage to sustain passion over time know how to arrest the steady advance of triteness. They know how to insert ideals into the composition of their lives.”

— both quotes above — by Mari Ruti

Today I set my computer aside and opened my notebook to the early morning sunlight. Like the sage and philosopher, I needed this quiet interval in order to recover from the intruding thoughts of daily interactions.

I observed today how my pet poodle is able to draw near the neighbor’s dog without arousing its defenses. My dog puts on an inoffensive air. His movements are light and puppy like. However, whenever I attempt to get near the aforementioned creature, it bares its menacing teeth and growls at me with antagonistic eyes.

I wish I could interact with others without having those defenses aroused. Being around people taxes my energy. All warmth and charm disipate from my body. With great effort I control my emotions, but they run deep on the inside. Indeed, those of us who suffer from a more sensitive temperament have an especially difficult time finding serenity and lowering our guard.

In such times I wonder what it would be like to be disconnected from the Amygdala Gland –that tiny apparatus in the brain that is responsible for all my anxiety and irritability. What would it be like to be able to face each day with the composure of the warrior — to learn the art of emotional judo?

*

I recall the soothing delight of retreating to the nurturing and mysterious world of the TV series, “Kung Fu”. I could not tell you the names of the main characters, yet its impact I could not deny to this day.

As I watched David Carradine play the role of a noble young monk, it kindled in me a burning passion towards the acquisition of a similar spiritual quest. Movie makers know how empowering it is to inject in the human heart the sense of self-mastery. It doesn’t matter how much adversity, threats or danger, composure defies all the sensible instincts of self-preservation.

Perhaps we may never demonstrate the heroic achievement of an ancient oriental warrior, yet, we can all experience the quiet transcendence of the unsung hero. In the obscure realm of human experience, there are still many giants to be slain.

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