Certain neurological conditions aside, we each of us have an instinct for social survival that helps us plenty in at least worrying about those relationships immediately on our radar.
We worry about being too much of one thing and not enough of another. We worry about what other people are thinking because mind-reading isn’t actually a thing. Even if you master the current research on body language/micro-expressions/psycholinguistic markers, still not a thing, just super-impressive guesswork.
This worrying keeps us in constant communication with one another, communication that happens outside of ourselves.
Meanwhile, we also have instincts for our physical and (pro)creative survival, instincts that keep us in constant communication with ourselves. This communication happens inside of ourselves and has a terrible reputation thanks to our vilifying things like fear or hesitance or negative thoughts.
And we typically vilify these things because we’re told to. We’re told we shouldn’t hang out with people who “bring down the positive vibes” which has the implication that people will stop hanging out with us if we bring down the vibes too much. So then we worry about how negative we ourselves are being around those we care about, rather than focusing on how being vulnerable with one another can deepen those relationships.
Yes, there is a time and place for vulnerability, and sometimes its place is “not now.” But that doesn’t mean we should be avoiding ourselves and our hurt to make others’ lives easier and more positive. Because that would actually make the people whose vibes we don’t want to bring down, into people whose vibes bring us down.
And yet we don’t stop spending time with people whose positive vibes and growth-centered healing feel like things we should only ever be tiptoeing around while our wounds are kept forever out of sight, even from ourselves.
Thing is, just because you don’t see someone bleeding, that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. And just because you don’t see yourself bleeding (or let anyone else see), that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
Think of all those movies where someone is wounded and they hide it so everyone can keep fighting. Yes, in the moment, it was necessary to make it to the moment when the wound is revealed. But you still need to get to the reveal.
You need to see the wound and take care of it. If it involves other people, they need to see the wound so that you can work together on healing your relationship.
You need to take care of yourself, first and always, and these are two tactics to get you started.
1 / Internal Communication / Make a Date With Yourself
Have a time once a week (or once a day if you’re going through something big, but at least once a week) where you just sit with yourself and check in with each of your survival instinct sets:
How does your body feel? What does your body need? Where in your body do you feel strong?
How do each (chosen for this week’s reflection) of your relationships feel? What does each relationship need? Where do you feel strong in each relationship?
How do you feel about what are putting into the world? What do you need to encourage or change the trajectory of you’re putting out there? Where do you feel strong in this work?
Make the check in its own reward and or have a reward that comes after, whichever you find more motivating. But always be checking in with yourself. And if you’re ever in a situation where it doesn’t feel appropriate to be vulnerable right then and there, pull out your preferred method of scheduling and schedule a date with yourself to check in about whatever inspired you to need a check in.
If you are just starting out with this practice of making dates with yourself, do not trust that you will “just remember” to do it. That isn’t how you get your to-do list done. That isn’t how you make sure family trips happen.
Right it down. Set a date and time. Show up for yourself.
2 / External Communication / Know Who’s Got Your Back
We are social creatures, us mammals. We each of us need to interact with human beings on a regular basis, to feel connected, to feel belonging.
We can’t always cut people out of our lives just for being negative, but we can reduce how much time we spend with them or work to increase the quality of time we spend with them. The opposite is also true. Some people aren’t cutting us out of their lives, their just making space to take care of themselves and or working to improve the quality of time spent with us.
If someone isn’t spending time with you, feel free to check in that they’re okay while focusing on allowing them their space. And in terms of self-care:
- Your dates are how you make space for yourself regardless of how things are going, so that space is there for you right when you need it; and,
- Have a list of people you feel comfortable turning to when you’re feeling vulnerable.
Having a list is important so that you have names you’re rotating through so that you’re not overwhelming any one person with the weight of your world. We tell people things to ease the burden of carrying it ourselves, telling a handful of trusted people (who might need to know anyway in case you need a timeout from any plans you previously made) helps ease that burden a little more.
This is also where I have found therapy to be particularly beneficial. Because the more we talk the more we feel the burden of our story being lifted, the more we need a safe place to just completely unload. And, if you aren’t well-versed in internal communication a mental health professional can
- Help you to improve your self check-in skills, and
- Help you avoid inadvertently volunteering one or more of your friends to playing the role of “mental health person”.
Think of those “friends” you avoid because they’re drains on your time and energy but can’t stop spending time with because of work or fellow friends or shared commitments. Think of your close friends who you may have let down recently because you weren’t being open about your own struggles which distracted you from really being there for them.
A lot of people find it easier to commit to helping themselves when they think about it in terms of recovering from some “friends” and being better able to help others.
Is that helping you?
Also published on Medium.