It has been driving me nuts to not know. To not know how to move forward. To make progress. To make things better. To “fix”…
Amidst much reflection and working on an appreciative inquiry kind of approach (look to what worked previously to find the way forward), I’m realizing something: whenever I’ve faced really tough situations or crises, I’ve felt my way out. I moved by instinct, not really knowing what to do, but simply doing the next thing that FELT right.
Often, what felt right was the exact opposite of what people were telling me to do. Sometimes, what felt right was the exact opposite of what the voices in my own head and “logic” told me I should do!
Life was scary and overwhelming and I just couldn’t figure out what to do. And somehow, in that state of neural shutdown, I finally had no choice but to follow my gut and/or heart!
Why did I have to get to such a crisis state in order to trust my feelings? I learned young not to feel. A legacy my mother passed along from World War II were survival skills centered around hiding and denying my feelings. The ripples of war move beyond the people and places involved and extend through generations. Layer on top of that all the society and media messages about being happy and such. I suppose it makes sense.
Regardless of why, I have struggled to allow myself to feel – and particularly to trust those feelings and instincts.
In high school, I loved science. I had a great physics teacher who taught me Physics 12 one-on-one (because no one else wanted to take physics 12 at my tiny high school, and back then, such a situation was allowed despite the cost!). I also loved music (I played piano) and acting and writing. But I chose science as my route in post secondary – studying engineering at UBC. I’m an analyst and an introvert who loves quiet time in order to collate and curate all that I’ve learned and observed – so that I can make sense of it within the larger context of my life. I love when everything makes sense…
But when it came down to it and life fell apart, or my kids needed me – I stumbled around in the dark, disorganized and discombobulated. Only in hindsight did I realize the wisdom of the paths I chose.
As a parent, even when the teachers and school counsellor said I “had to” do anything necessary to force my son to come to school, then let them take it from there – my instinct made me say “No! I won’t be doing that…” They thought they knew best, how to help my son overcome panic attacks and anxiety about attending school. They had research studies and expert advice from trained psychologists and university professors. But my gut told me that I couldn’t physically and emotionally violate the trust I had been working so hard to build with him – which I would have had to do, in order to “force” him to go to school. My instinct told me that secure attachment was more important that attending school.
No matter what evidence and data and experts were brought out to convince me that I was harming my child, I knew deep down, somewhere, what mattered to me and what I wanted for my child. I knew what was most important to me, even though I couldn’t articulate it. And regardless of the self doubt and fear that arose at the thought of messing up this oh so important parenting job, I truly felt I had no choice but to follow my gut.
Overwhelmed, I simply put one foot in front of the other each day and did the things I didn’t know how NOT to do. I loved my kids. I worked on my own issues, so that I could teach them better ways of being. I figured out how NOT to react in the moment of conflict, not to tone police, not to shout. Instead, I learned how to listen beyond their words, to figure out their needs. I am still learning how to know when to push/coach/mentor and when to simply hold them or sit beside them. I am learning how to trust their voices, their ability to know what’s best for themselves, and the appropriate/healthy boundaries around decision making (which are theirs to make vs. my responsibility to keep them safe).
An even stronger example was the end of my marriage. The fighting steadily increased. The counselling we went to for almost two years wasn’t making it better. And my gut told me that the dysfunctional patterns and our daily interactions were hurting our kids. I knew they were hurting me and him too, but it was the responsibility to my kids that spurred me to action. And yet, I hesitated. I let my head rule too often – I tried to figure out what I had to do, what I could do, to make things better, to convince him to change, to change myself. But it just got worse.
In quiet moments, I knew in my gut, with absolute certainty, that I had to leave. Perhaps we could still figure things out once we each had a break and some space from each other, but first we needed to get out of the daily “fire.” And yet, in the moment of trying to talk it through and work out the details, I lost that certainty and I let the voices in my head take over. And letting that hellish time drag on is probably one of my more profound regrets. If I had acted more decisively and quickly, based on my gut level knowing, my kids would have suffered less, been traumatized less. Instead, I doubted myself.
What that all means to me now is a reminder: I have never regretted my gut/heart driven decisions. They have been right, even when they have been brutally hard.
And now, as I face more churning and mental “tail chasing”, feeling unable to figure out what to do or how to do it, I’m reminded that I need to find enough silence in order to hear my heart…