Honesty like any other arena in recovery is not a black and white issue. There are a multitude of levels to honesty, of perspectives in which to view the concept of honesty. Emotional honesty is the one we are focusing on in this article, but intellectual honesty with ourselves is necessary in order to start becoming emotionally honest.
It is necessary to start seeing ourselves with more clarity in order to recognize the attitudes, beliefs, and definitions that are dictating our emotional reactions. Once we start achieving more honesty in our perspectives of ourselves, then we can get more clarity in our emotional process.
For instance, until I started to recognize how I had been programmed to have a dysfunctional relationship with my own emotions because I am male, I could not start giving myself permission to get in touch with feelings which I had been programmed to believe were unacceptable for a man in this society.
There are numerous levels, relationships, that I had to start seeing with more clarity – getting more intellectually honest with myself about – before I could start changing my relationship in those arenas.
“Attitudes, definitions, and beliefs determine perspective and expectation – which in turn dictates our relationships. Our relationships to our self, to life, to other people, to The God-Force / Goddess Energy / Great Spirit. Our relationships to our own emotions, bodies, gender, etc., are dictated by the attitudes, definitions, and beliefs that we are holding mentally / intellectually. And we acquired those mental constructs / ideas / concepts in early childhood from the emotional experiences, intellectual teachings, and role modeling of the beings around us.” – The True Nature of Love-part 4, Energetic Clarity
The key in this regard for me, was expectations. I had to start realizing how my expectations were dictating my emotional reactions in order to start changing my relationships with my own emotions.
“By having expectations I was giving power away. In order to become empowered I had to own that I had choices about how I viewed life, about my expectations. I realized that no one can make me feel hurt or angry – that it is my expectations that cause me to generate feelings of hurt or anger. In other words, the reason I feel hurt or anger is because other people, life, or God are not doing what I want them, expect them, to do.
I had to learn to be honest with myself about my expectations – so I could let go of the ones that were insane (like, everyone is going to drive the way I want them to), and own my choices – so I could take responsibility for how I was setting myself up to be a victim in order to change my patterns.” – Serenity and Expectations
The process of recovery is a journey of continual growth to larger perspectives, higher contexts in which to view everything. Consciousness raising / enLightenment is a process of peeling away layers of denial to get to a Higher Consciousness / expanded perspective / deeper level of honesty. The focus of this article is discernment in relationship to emotional honesty and I just realized that I need to say a few words about why it is so important – about why emotions are important.
Emotions = energy in motion
Feelings, emotions, are energy.
“Emotions are energy: E-motion = energy in motion. It is supposed to be in motion, it was meant to flow.
Emotions have a purpose, a very good reason to be – even those emotions that feel uncomfortable. Fear is a warning, anger is for protection, tears are for cleansing and releasing. These are not negative emotional responses! We were taught to react negatively to them. It is our reaction that is dysfunctional and negative, not the emotion.” – quotes in this color are from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls
Emotions have two vitally important purposes for human beings. Emotions are a form of communication. Our feelings are one of the means by which we define ourselves. The interaction of our intellect and our emotions determines how we relate to ourselves.
Our emotional energy is also the fuel that propels us down the pathways of our life journey. E-motions are the orchestra that provide the music for our individual dances – that dictate the rhythmic flow and movement of our human dance. Our feelings help us to define ourselves and then provide the combustible fuel that dictates the speed and direction of our motion – rather we are flowing with it or damming it up within ourselves.
“Emotional energy is not only supposed to be in motion, to flow, it is also the energy that gets us in motion. It is what drives us, what propels us forward through life. When emotional flow is blocked and suppressed it does not go away. Energy cannot simply disappear. It can transform but it cannot disappear. That is a law of physics.
Emotional energy that is suppressed still drives us. It is what causes obsessive-compulsive behavior, it is what drives addictions. Repressed emotional energy builds up pressure that has to be released. . . . . .
Human beings are not damned with an n. We are emotionally dammed. Dammed up, blocked up – which is what causes us to feel damned with an n.”
“The emotional energy generated by the circumstances of our childhood and early life does not go away just because we were forced to deny it. It is still trapped in our body – in a pressurized, explosive state, as a result of being suppressed. . . . . As long as we have pockets of pressurized emotional energy that we have to avoid dealing with – those emotional wounds will run our lives.” – Feeling the Feelings
The reason that it is so important to clear up our relationship with our own emotions, to learn to be emotionally honest with ourselves is because emotions are such a powerful part of our being, such a vital and controlling influence in how we live our lives. The key to learning how to clear up that relationship and start to get some emotional clarity is learning how to have internal boundaries.
“Then we can start setting internal boundaries within the mental, between the mental and emotional, and within the emotional levels of our being. . . . . . .Within the mental we can start discerning and separating the shaming messages that are coming from the disease / critical parent voice from our own wisdom, knowledge and intelligence. . . . . .By learning to set a boundary between emotional and mental, we can stop reacting to life based on the false belief that what we feel is who we are – that what we feel defines our reality. . . . . . Once we start having boundaries within the mental, and between the mental and emotional, then we can also start having boundaries within the emotional level of our being. . . . . . .start discerning between the emotional truth that is coming from our old wounds and the emotional energy that is Truth.” – Inner child healing – the process of processing
It is necessary to learn to have a boundary within the emotional component of our being because there are two primary transformers from which emotional energy is generated. Our ego self and our Spiritual Self. Our ego was traumatized in childhood and programmed very dysfunctionally. The ego is the seat of the disease of codependence.
“The key to healing our wounded souls is to get clear and honest in our emotional process. Until we can get clear and honest with our human emotional responses – until we change the twisted, distorted, negative perspectives and reactions to our human emotions that are a result of having been born into, and grown up in, a dysfunctional, emotionally repressive, Spiritually hostile environment – we cannot get clearly in touch with the level of emotional energy that is Truth. We cannot get clearly in touch with and reconnected to our Spiritual Self.”
Our Spiritual Self is the True Self, the Higher Self that is an extension downward vibrationally from the ONENESS of the Source Energy. Recovery is a process of reprogramming the ego defenses so that we can bring the ego self into alignment with Spiritual Self. Spiritual Self is our guide through the Spiritual evolutionary process. Our Spiritual Self communicates with us through our intuition. Our intuition is emotional energy – an emotional energy communication from our Spirit.
“Truth, in my understanding, is not an intellectual concept. I believe that Truth is an emotional-energy, vibrational communication to my consciousness, to my soul/spirit – my being, from my Soul. Truth is an emotion, something that I feel within. . . . . It’s that gut feeling, the feeling in my heart. It is the feeling of something resonating within me.”
It is very important to start developing internal boundaries so that we can start discerning between the emotional messages that are being generated by the disease, by our wounded self, and the messages that are coming from our Higher Self.
“What we feel is our “emotional truth” and it does not necessarily have anything to do with either facts or the emotional energy that is Truth with a capital “T” – especially when we are reacting out of an age of our inner child.”
Healthy Guilt and Unhealthy Guilt
A good example of this discernment process is guilt. Guilt is a feeling – an emotional energy whose purpose is to communicate with our consciousness about our behavior. It is important to make a distinction between healthy guilt and unhealthy guilt in relationship to discernment and emotional honesty.
In my definition shame is a term that relates to being (feeling that something is wrong with who we are, that our being is defective) – while guilt refers to behavior.
“We do not need fixing. We are not broken. Our sense of self, our self perception, was shattered and fractured and broken into pieces, not our True Self. . . .
We are not broken. That is what toxic shame is – thinking that we are broken, believing that we are somehow inherently defective.
Guilt is “I made a mistake, I did something wrong.”
Shame is “I’m a mistake, something is wrong with me.””
Guilt is something we feel to help us be aware of our behavior.
Healthy guilt is what we feel when we violate our own value system. It is an important intuitive component in maintaining a healthy, honest relationship with ourselves. Guilt helps us to be aware of areas that needs some more healing – behavior that is a reaction to old wounds and old tapes. It is generated by our Spirit when we have acted in ways which we need to make amends for, when our humanness has caused us to act in a way that does not respect and honor that we are ONE with everyone and everything.
Unhealthy guilt is when we feel guilty for violating someone else’s value system. We were programmed to react to life based on value systems that were dysfunctional, codependent, and unhealthy. We had imposed upon us, and programmed into our intellectual perspective and emotional reactions, value systems we learned from the emotional experiences, intellectual teachings, and role modeling of the beings around us in childhood. In order to survive, we adapted the value systems imposed upon us – even though they often did not make sense to us even then.
The critical parent voice developed in order to try to control our behavior and feelings using the same tools that were used on us – guilt, shame, and fear. As a result of that programming, it is normal for us to feel guilty about violating those value system. Thus in recovery when we start setting boundaries, saying no, speaking our truth, being emotionally honest, etc., feelings of guilt and shame are generated.
In recovery as we awaken to our power to make choices about our beliefs, we can start sorting out which values that we are holding resonate with Truth as we feel it intuitively – and which ones are a result of the old programming. We can start practicing discernment in picking out the nuggets of Truth in the values we learned in childhood, from the twisted, dysfunctional, shame based beliefs. Some of the values our parents held will also be our intuitive values. Many will not because they were programmed in their childhoods. Often we were taught values in theory that are Truth – but which in practice were not followed. This was part of the crazy making inconsistency that caused us to think something was wrong with us.
“The teachings of all the Master Teachers, of all the world’s religions, contain some Truth along with a lot of distortions and lies. Discerning Truth is often like recovering treasure from shipwrecks that have been sitting on the ocean floor for hundreds of years – the grains of Truth, the nuggets of gold, have become encrusted with garbage over the years.”
As we heal and awaken we get clearer on what our True values, the intuitive messages from our Spiritual Self, are – and can discern more often when we are experiencing unhealthy guilt so that we do not give it power. As with any part of the process, our intuition is our guide. Our minds have a great tendency to slip back into the polarized ruts of trying to figure out what is right and what is wrong – whereas our gut feelings will most often be coming from our intuition.
The more we are able to develop our observer self, the witness who is viewing our life and internal process from a recovery perspective, the easier it becomes for us to discern between guilt feelings that are healthy – and an important tool in helping us maintain some emotional balance and responsibility – and the unhealthy guilt of our old programming that we can let go of.
In her wonderful daily meditation book, Melody Beattie calls the unhealthy guilt and shame generated when we start to change to new healthier behavior “afterburn,” and talks about just letting it burn off without giving it power. This is what I refer to as having a boundary between emotional and mental. We can feel the guilt and recognize it as unhealthy so that we do not give the critical parent voice the power to get us into a frenzy of mental activity worrying if we have done something “wrong.” We can talk to the child within us that is feeling guilty for setting a boundary and tell that child that it is good to set boundaries – that it is the Loving thing to do for ourselves. (Melody Beattie’s The Language of Letting Go is an absolutely phenomenal book that I think everyone in recovery should have. The Loving Spiritual belief system that is the foundation for her practical recovery advice is one that aligns with what I believe better than anything else I have ever read.)
Worry is negative fantasy
When I catch myself worrying about right and wrong, it is a sure sign that my disease is up and running – that I have slipped back into that rut. When I become aware that my mind has gone into a right and wrong type feeding frenzy, it is usually because I have some feelings going on that are making me uncomfortable. Very often, I am afraid of what the consequences of my choice will be – the outcome of the actions I have set in motion. Sometimes, I am sad that I had to set a boundary. Whatever I am feeling, it is better for me to get in touch with the feeling than to be in my head in a frenzy of worry.
Worry is negative fantasizing. It is a fantasy that is being created in reaction to feeling fear. It is not real – it is something that is being created because my mind has slipped into the old familiar rut of right and wrong thinking. Worry is not a feeling – it is a reaction, an negative emotional state, that is created by the perspectives of a belief system that empowers illusions like failure. The sooner that we can pull ourselves out of that rut and start seeing the situation as part of a learning process – shift back into a recovery perspective – the less negative emotional response we will generate in relationship to the situation.
Emotions do not have value in and of themselves – they just are. What gives emotions value is how we react to them. We were programmed to react negatively to emotions and adapted defenses to try to keep from feeling emotional energy. Being in our head worrying about the past or the future, is a defense against being in our own skin and feeling our feelings. But it is dysfunctional – it does not work. Reacting negatively to our feelings generates more feelings. The more we worry, the more fear we generate. We create negative feeling emotional states because we are empowering negative perspectives of life.
“We are talking about balance between the emotional and mental here again. Blame has to do with attitudes, with buying into the false beliefs – it does not really have anything to do with the process of releasing the emotional energy.”
Worry, like blame (and such things as resentment, despair, and self pity), is a negative emotional state that is created by the intellectual paradigm that we are filtering our life experience through, that we are allowing to interpret and translate life for us. The more we try to avoid the discomfort of feeling fear or sadness or anger, the more emotional energy we generate in relationship to whatever situation we are reacting to. It is a really dysfunctional, viscous cycle if our goal is to be happy and at peace. For the disease it is a functional cycle because it creates justification for rescuing ourselves by going unconscious using some self abusive behavior – which then creates more shame, which creates more judgment, which creates more fear, which creates more worry, etc., etc.
“As long as we are judging and shaming ourselves we are giving power to the disease. We are feeding the monster that is devouring us.”
When I catch myself worrying then I know that I am not being emotionally honest with myself. Worry is a symptom that tells me I am avoiding some feelings.
The key is to be aware of when we slip back into those ruts of right and wrong thinking so that we can use our recovery tools to pull us out of the rut and get back into balance. We need to let go of the perspectives or expectation that are causing us more fear. We need to own the feelings instead of trying to avoid them – because trying to avoid them just generates more of them.
When I catch myself worrying it is very important not to judge myself for it. What I need to do is be patient and kind and compassionate towards myself. I can catch myself, take a couple of deep breaths and say something to myself like:
Oh here I am worrying. I must be afraid. I am feeling fear about of the outcome of this situation. I have bought into the belief that if this does not come out the way I want it to, I am not going to be OK. It is time to stop and remember that I have a Loving Higher Power who is in charge of outcomes. That everything will work out in the way which is best for my growth process. I need to remember to be willing to surrender to the Divine Plan of my Loving Higher Power. I need to let go of those old beliefs in lack and scarcity. I need to remind myself that I don’t have the power to screw up the Goddess’s plan. That whatever happens will be an opportunity for growth – not a mistake.
Then I may need to specifically deal with some inner child wounds – “How old am I feeling right now.” – letting the detective / observer part of me track down why this situation in particular is carrying a lot of charge for me. There may be some grief work to do. I may also need to own that I am angry at my Higher Power because I am in a situation again that causes fear – or sadness, or hurt. A situation that resonates with the energy of one of my core issues – abandonment, betrayal, deprivation, abuse, isolation, etc.
Any time I am worrying, I am back into right and wrong thinking. That tells me that I am not being emotionally honest with myself and that I have gotten out of balance, that my vision is being clouded by reactions from the past. Balance is the key. We are striving for a balance between mental and emotional, between intuitive and rational. It is feeling clear that will show us our path, not deciding what is right or wrong.
“And once again here, I want to make the point that clarity with our self is not an absolute destination. This healing is a gradual process of finding a sense of balance – a sense of what clarity feels like, so that we can look for and recognize when we have it and when we do not. In order to do that it is vital to learn how to be emotionally honest with ourselves so that we can be discerning in our relationship with our own mental and emotional process. Through that honesty we will achieve some energetic clarity as well.
Through that energetic clarity we will be able to access Love from the Source – and we will learn to Love and trust our Self to guide our self through this boarding school that is life as a human.” – The True Nature of Love-part 4, Energetic Clarity
Honesty with others
We need to strive for emotional honesty with our self and for our self – because being honest with ourselves is what works best to help us see our self and life most clearly. It is the most Loving thing to do for ourselves.
It is also important for us to learn to practice discernment in relationship to how honest we are with other people. It is almost always the best policy, the strategy that works best in the long run, to be direct and honest with others. That does not necessarily mean emotionally honest. And it does not necessarily mean we need to tell them the whole truth, be honest on all levels.
While I was writing this article I took a break to go for a walk by the ocean. On that walk, my Higher Power presented me with a perfect example of the point I am making here.
I ran into someone I know from AA and had not seen for a couple of months. This is a person that I like and I am happy to see when I run into her. She has around thirty years of sobriety. But she is not involved in the emotional healing, in codependence recovery. She knows I have a book out, and asks me about it when we see each other – but I would never expect her to read it.
The AA community in the small town that I live in has a very high percentage of people with long term sobriety. Many of them are people who retired here from Los Angeles or Fresno and other places. They are old time AA people who are so black and white in their thinking that they get upset if someone mentions drugs in an Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Needless to say, they do not think that codependence has any place in their lives or their meetings. I can share in these meetings using AA language and people will tell me how much they get from my sharing – but if I use the C word (codependence) I can almost hear the snap of the minds closing around the room.
As a result I do not go to a lot of AA meetings here. Inevitably, I walk away from a meeting here feeling sad about the level of emotional dishonesty I observe – or sometimes angry about rigid, judgmental statements or behavior. My main meeting here in town – besides a CoDA meeting that I started and am secretary for – is a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in which it is OK to talk about anything and the people laugh a lot.
So, I ran into this woman from AA on my walk, and she said to me, “I haven’t seen you around for awhile.” This is AA language for “Why haven’t I seen you at any meetings?” And coming from many people in Alcoholics Anonymous carries more than a hint of accusation in it.
I told her that I was doing a lot of phone counseling and the appointments were often in the evenings. I mentioned that the NA meeting was the one I made it to most often. I said that I had been meaning to make it to the Friday night meeting – and I have, and will, one of these days.
I answered her honestly without telling the whole truth or being emotionally honest. There was no reason to share my feelings about the meetings that she attends – because she had not asked for my opinion. People in AA have the same uncanny ability that my family members and many other people out there in the world have – they have a way of avoiding asking direct questions whose answers might make them uncomfortable. I have learned that part of having good boundaries for me includes not offering opinions to, or being emotionally honest with, people who do not want to hear it.
That AA person falls into the category of what I call a “friendly acquaintance.” Someone who I am glad to see, feel some affection for, feel a bond to as a fellow recovering alcoholic – but someone who will probably never be a real friend. If she were ever to come to me and ask for my advice or opinion – I would happily share with her. The chances are that will never happen.
I have found it important to have boundaries in terms of how I view other people. If I have one or two people in my life that I feel that I can truly communicate with and be emotionally honest with on all levels, that is an incredible abundance. For much of my recovery I have not had anyone who fell into that category. That is sad, but it is a reality that I have needed to accept. As I have said elsewhere, an important part of empowerment is seeing reality as it is and making the best of it – rather than putting energy into wishing it was different. If I get caught up in wishing it were different, in the “what if”s and “if only”s, then I am empowering a victim perspective which can lead to self pity. (Grieving, owning the sadness, is very different from self pity which – as I mention above -is an emotional state based upon limiting victim beliefs.)
It has been very helpful to me, to accept that people are where they are at – and that it is OK. I have learned to let go of my old pattern of sacrificing myself in the now for the potential of the future. Often I can see who a person really is, and understand their potential – which on my deepest level of honesty usually means their potential to be an asset in my life – but need to accept that they are perfectly where they are supposed to be in their process. I need to accept that, in order not to buy into the illusion that they are doing something to me – that I am the victim of the pace of their process, of their inability to be who I want them to be now.
This was especially important in terms of letting go of expecting my family of origin to change. They are not who I want them to be, they don’t understand me and can’t see me. It isn’t personal – they are just dancing with their wounds and following their path. It is not for me to judge someone else’s path. Letting go – especially in terms of doing the inner child grieving about letting go of the myth of family – and accepting, was a necessary component in being able to have a friendly, superficial relationship with my family today. Superficial is what they are capable of – I needed to accept that and make the best of the situation.
In terms of friends, there are going to be people in my life, who I can share certain things with – but not other things. Some people that I can relate to on certain levels, or about certain issues. To expect that I can be emotionally honest with everyone in my life in a way that works (is safe, is heard, is understood) is an insane expectation in such a dysfunctional society with relatively so few people actually doing the healing work.
(I want to make a point here also, that when I say “safe” in terms of being emotionally honest, I am talking about what will work best. In earlier recovery, when I was still giving a lot of power to the old wounds and old tapes, it could feel devastating to me to have someone judge and shame me. Then safe referred to danger, to people who would judge and shame me. It also meant people who would try to fix me. Trying to fix someone else is not support, it is codependence. When someone starts trying to rescue me it imparts a judgment on where I am at – it means they are not comfortable so they are going to try to change me to make themselves comfortable. This is tied into the what I was speaking of above about offering advice or opinions to someone who hasn’t asked. It can be a form of abuse.
As I have gotten healthier in recovery, with more capacity to be balanced and see life with some clarity – other people and life events have less power to effect me. The more I am grounded in the Spiritual belief system I have integrated into my internal process, and have done my inner child healing – the less power any of my old buttons hold. The better I have become at letting go, the shorter the periods of time have become that I am giving others the power to rock my emotional boat. The term safe for me transformed into meaning something more like: safe from wasting time and energy trying to communicate with someone who can not hear. To get into an argument, a power struggle over right and wrong, with someone who doesn’t speak my language is dysfunctional – is actually, pretty silly.
The primary purpose and most important reason for me to share my feelings with anyone is because I need to do it for me – to take care of me. In order to be emotionally healthy I need to express and release my feelings – but that does not mean that I have to necessarily express those feelings to the person involved. The farther along I get in recovery, the more I have the tools and resources I need to do my healing internally where it really matters, the less need I have to share my feelings with people who can’t hear me.
The secondary purpose of being emotionally honest with another person is to develop emotional intimacy with that person. If the other person is not capable of emotional honesty, then I am setting myself up – empowering expectations that are not realistic.
Of course, when we first meet someone we do not have any data to base a discerning decision upon. We gather data by paying attention. The more we heal, the more ability we have to be in the moment and pay attention. People give us signs and signals about themselves right from our first contact with them. The most Loving thing we can do for ourselves, the most functional behavior, is to be present and pay attention.
So, we observe. We pay attention not just to what they are saying, but also to their body language, their eye contact, the feelings we get in our gut while interacting with them.
As I state in the quote above, we are never going to meet someone who doesn’t have some red flags. Everyone we meet is going to be someone who is a teacher of some kind. By paying attention, it is possible to choose rather we want to explore our connection to them further or rather this is a opportunity to set a boundary with ourselves about where to expend our time and energy.
If we discern that we do not feel comfortable with seeing this person again, we can be direct and honest with them – without necessarily being emotionally honest.
We do not have to say, for example: You scare me because it appears that you are not really hearing what I am saying to you, that you are unable to be conscious and present. (This would almost certainly engender a defensive reaction from the other person and lead to more time and energy expended)
We do not have to lie to them either: I am so busy this week. Maybe later in the month. (This sets us up to keep putting them off.)
We can say something like: Sorry, but I am very busy these days and just do not have time to hang out.
So, we tell a little fib by saying we are sorry when we probably aren’t – and we do not tell the whole truth which is: I choose not to hang out with someone unless I see the possibility of a healthy relationship with them, or sense a strong connection that I feel a need to explore.
And then we do not have to explain. We do not have to explain ourselves to anyone unless we choose to. We have a right to make choices without having to justify them or defend ourselves.
This is, of course, one of those places where it is important to be able to recognize that any guilt feelings that might arise, and cause us to feel we have to explain, are most likely unhealthy guilt – codependent reactions to being programmed to feel responsible for other people’s feelings.
There are many people out there whose codependent defense system falls into what I describe in my book as bulldozers. The will push and push and push. They will demand explanations.
You do not owe them an explanation. With bulldozers it is often necessary to get down right rude with them before they will hear us. Anyone who pushes against a boundary we set is obviously someone that we may want to choose not to be around. If someone gets pushy, then we can say something like: “I don’t want to see you again because you don’t respect the boundary that I just set.”
Many of us, of course, have a real terror of conflict – either because we have inner children who are terrified of someone else’s anger, and/or because we are programmed to feel responsible for other people’s feelings and have great fear of hurting others.
What is important is to start being honest with ourselves. To say you didn’t want to tell the other person the truth because it would hurt their feelings is codependent. The truth is we didn’t want to tell them because we wanted to protect ourselves from feeling codependently responsible for hurting their feelings. It is not about them – it is about us.
To avoid setting boundaries because we are afraid of the other persons anger, is a set up to be a doormat and a victim. It is deadly to our own self respect. It usually means we are reacting out of an inner child wound. As children we had to learn to not have boundaries in order to survive. As adults, it is our responsibility to our self and to our inner children to start setting boundaries in order to become empowered in our life.
As I stated in my article on setting personal boundaries, we not only need to set them, we need to be willing to defend them. Defending our right to set boundaries means knowing we do not have to justify or explain. The chances are the other person will react defensively, take our boundary personally, and push for an explanation. We do not owe them an explanation. One of the reasons we learned to fear confrontations, was because of how unpleasant power struggles over who is right and who is wrong can be. Defending our right to set boundaries, means learning (a gradual, stumbling process) to stand up for ourselves and say: “No! I do not have to explain myself to you.” (This of course, also applies to our feelings. We do not have to justify how we feel to anyone.)
People come into our lives to help us learn about ourselves. The people who will feel hurt when we say no to them, are people who are helping us get in touch with dysfunctional beliefs about being responsible for other people’s feelings. They are helping us get in touch with some inner child wounds, and practice letting go of unhealthy guilt.
People who are bulldozers, whose anger we are afraid of, are teachers that force us to learn to stand up for ourselves. Without them we would never have to learn how to set and defend boundaries.
These types of confrontations are opportunities for growth. The more we grow the more we have a choice to avoid these confrontations by being honest with ourselves so that we can employ the strategy that works best. What works best – to help us keep from expending our time and energy on people that we choose not to invest our self in – is to set a boundary and be direct up front.
It takes a great deal of courage in recovery to start standing up for ourselves. To start saying no straight out instead of making excuses and vague promises that we do not intend to keep. Learning to be more honest in our interactions is a process that we evolve through – not something to judge ourselves about.
Sometimes we go through stages where we need to come from a pretty black and white extreme. As I said, we go through stages in the growth process.
I had very powerful patterns of avoiding conflict. Those arose out of the traumatic effect my fathers raging had on me, and the emotional incest from my mother that caused me to feel responsible for the feelings of others.
I had a great ability to intellectually rationalize away the need to stand up for myself. There were always multiple reasons I could come up with to rationalize why the other person was acting that way – or why it wouldn’t do any good to stand up for myself. The first instance was masked as unhealthy codependent “compassion” – which wasn’t really about them at all, but was about protecting me. And the second was about manipulation – about what strategy would best protect me, get me what I wanted.
There was a stage in my process where I had to let go of trying to figure it out intellectually, let go of strategy, let go of trying to be discerning – and just make the first priority stopping the emotional and verbal abuse. I needed to make protecting myself the first priority. That meant that I shared my feelings anytime someone said something to me that felt abusive. That meant that I reacted out of unresolved grief and anger from the past in my reactions to people. That often meant I had to go back and make amends later.
It was an important phase in my process. I went from having no honest boundaries – to throwing up boundaries and spewing my feelings everywhere with everyone – and then was able to move through that stage to a point where I had more choices.
It may be dysfunctional to share your feelings with your boss or a parent – but it might be a necessary part of owning yourself to do just that. The more we heal the more discernment we can practice in where, when, and to whom we are emotionally honest.
As I have stated elsewhere, we need to own our feelings and set boundaries as a way of Loving ourselves, being a friend to our self – not to obtain a certain outcome. When we set boundaries, we let go of the outcome.
Which doesn’t mean that we do not want the outcome – it means that we choose to take care of ourselves and take a risk that the outcome will not be what we want. It is very important to take risks in recovery. The purpose of getting emotionally honest with ourselves and owning our responsibilities is so that we can make better choices about the risks we choose to take.
Discerning strategy and letting go
As I said in part 1 of this discussion, we are learning how to live in balance, in the gray area of life. We are learning that there are numbers 2 through 9 instead of just 1 and 10.
We need to learn to be emotionally honest with ourselves – and direct and honest with others – in a way that works for us. Having a healthy relationship with our self involves living according to value system that we resonate with – living with integrity.
We want to own our feelings and release them in a healthy way that works to help us have some balance in our life. We are learning how to stop giving power to the old wounds so that we do not behave in a manner which is harmful to us – the “I’ll show you, I’ll get me!” patterns of codependence.
That involves seeing ourselves and our lives as clearly and honestly as possible – and responding to other people and life events by making the best choices possible.
To be angry at your boss and be emotionally honest about that anger – could be dysfunctional to your well being. Could get you fired.
It is important to own that anger and release it in a healthy way – through talking a friend or in a twelve step meeting, through doing anger release work, etc. We also need to look at how we are setting ourselves up to generate that anger – take responsibility for our part in the situation. We do that by getting in touch with any victim perspective we are empowering (the “I have to go to work” victimization we are taught in our society – Empowerment and Victimization – the power of choice) and observing any childhood wounds that are involved so that we can focus on the real cause instead of just the presenting symptom.
We also want to own all of our choices, rather than just the 1 or 10 of being the poor self righteous victim or exploding in profanity and quitting. We can look at our choices 2 through 9, and decide upon the strategy that will work best for us. If we decide that we need to quit the job, we can choose to have another one lined up when we quit – choose the time that works best for self instead of reacting in a way that hurts our self.
We can learn to respond to situations with discernment that allows us to make choices about what is in our best interests. We can choose a strategy that is most likely to have an outcome that will work for us.
We need to let go of thinking we can control the outcome. We need to not allow our fear of the outcome to cause us to be emotionally dishonest with ourselves. But letting go of the outcome does not mean abrogating our responsibility as co-creators of our life. We have responsibility for the actions we choose to put in motion – and we want to be discerning and choose the best strategy possible to get us what we want – but ultimately we need to have faith that taking care of ourselves will lead us to someplace better. We need to surrender to whatever outcome the Universal Plan has next for us in our lesson plan of Spiritual growth and emotional healing.
Recovery keeps getting different
While we are in the process of learning how to be emotionally honest and emotionally responsible we will go through different stages of growth. And we will be in process for the rest of our lives – on progressively more advanced and usually subtler levels. This process is why we are here, it is not something we do and then get on with our lives. Growing, learning, healing, awakening to our True Spiritual nature so that we can integrate that Truth into our relationship with our selves and life – is what this adventure in body is all about.
When I first got into recovery I was told that “it keeps getting better.” That has not been my emotional experience of recovery. As I talk about in my article about Loving and Nurturing self, the process of life involves falling apart, losing it, etc. – as we reach new levels of growth and have to surrender some of our old ego definitions. So, from a higher perspective, a Spiritual growth perspective – yes, it does keep progressing and getting better once we start making the shift of seeing life as a growth process. It sure doesn’t feel that way however.
A couple of other things that I was told in early recovery have more closely matched my experience of the process. “More Will Be Revealed” and “it will keep getting different” are two expressions that have always been true for me. Every time a new layer of the onion gets peeled, a new octave gets reached – more is revealed on a deeper emotional level with a higher degree of honesty. That higher level changes my perspective of my self, of life, of the past, of other people -which changes my relationship to my issues. Surrendering my old ideas and old tapes does not just mean letting go of the programming from childhood – sometimes it means letting go of what I thought was truth 2 weeks ago.
We are a work in progress. There is no destination. We have different chapters to our story, different stages of our journey – but our relationships with everything keep evolving and changing.
That includes our relationship to our own emotions. In early recovery, when I was trying to get in touch with and own my feelings, I would often say “That makes me angry,” or “That hurts,” – not because I was actually feeling the feelings, but rather because I knew that it was appropriate to feel a feeling in that situation.
Later, as I got in touch with the emotional energy that was in my body, it would often explode out of me. So that I would say, “I feel angry” when I was really feeling, and expressing, rage.
It was progress for me to express that I was angry and actually feel the anger at the same time. Because of that, I often expressed that anger in ways that were out of balance and inappropriate. That was a stage of my growth process.
Getting in touch with the feelings eventually caused me to get in touch with my grief and rage. It was impossible for me to start owning my feelings without eventually owning the repressed feelings from my past. So there were times when my expression of feelings would be very out of proportion to the stimulus that was triggering those emotional releases. That is an inevitable part of the path.
One of my ways of trying to control the feelings was to be in my head trying to figure out what was happening and how to express it in a healthy way. In the process of pushing myself beyond the mental defenses of rationalizing, intellectualizing, analyzing, etc., it was impossible to be in balance and healthy in all of my expressions of emotion.
The more I did my grief and rage work, and changed the dysfunctional perspectives that were setting me up for emotional responses, the more emotionally balanced and responsible I could become. But it is a process that evolves over time.
It was progress in early recovery for me to start vocalizing feelings even though I wasn’t actually feeling them. To say, “I am angry,” to own my right to be angry – was a breakthrough.
It was progress to vocalize the feelings at the same time I was owning and feeling them – even though that caused me to overreact and explode at times. To say, “I am angry” while sounding angry and really feeling angry was a breakthrough.
It was progress to take responsibility for my feelings so that I could use the tools I had learned to feel and release the feelings in my own way, at my own time – so that at times, I wouldn’t have to actually be angry when I was expressing those feelings to someone else. To say, “That caused me to feel angry” without actually being angry while I said it – was a breakthrough.
See how things spiral around? Vocalizing a feeling without feeling it – was in early recovery a symptom of my level of emotional dishonesty. While as my recovery advanced, vocalizing a feeling without feeling it at that moment – could be a symptom of emotional balance.
The energy of those two examples, was however, very different. Prior to having owned my rage, saying I was angry without feeling it did not carry much power. After having done grief and rage work, and having owned the power that comes from owning my feelings, when I told someone that some behavior of theirs had made me angry, they heard me much more clearly. By owning my feelings, I was owning and respecting myself. The more I own and respect myself, the more clearly I can communicate. Now when I set a boundary, I can usually do it firmly from a place of power and strength that lets the other person know that I will defend that boundary. I can communicate strength without ever sounding angry.
Once we start to become grounded in the powerful energy of our True Self, once we start respecting ourselves and Knowing that we have rights, then we start to be capable of communicating from a place of power that does not require raising our voice to be heard. The more we are centered and balanced in Truth, the more we are able to perceive the gray area where we can own our side of the street and hold other people responsible for theirs, the more we can communicate in a manner which maximizes the possibility of being seen and heard. (Of course, we are powerless over others and need to be willing to let go of the outcome, so there is no guarantee about how the other will react/respond. Accept the things we cannot change – change the things we can, take responsibility for ourselves and our side of the street.)
Progress not Perfection
It is important to look at our process from the perspective of the progress we have made rather than trying to do it perfectly. In making progress we have to breakthrough to new ways of doing things. We need to explore new territory and give ourselves permission to take care of ourselves in whatever way is necessary. That sometimes involves swinging to the other extreme so that we end up having to make amends for how we expressed ourselves. It is important to celebrate our progress and not shame and judge ourselves for any mess that the way we breakthrough may entail.
An example of the point I am trying to make here, is the story of a client I worked with some years ago. This person was a social worker who was very good at doing her job. In the role she was playing at work she could be fierce and have strong boundaries. In her personal life however, she had no permission to have any boundaries at all because of her childhood wounds. My homework assignment for her was to tell someone to F___ off. I chose something so harsh because it was so out of character for her. She was appalled and horrified at the thought of saying something like that to someone. It was not even conceivable to her because it was so contrary to the self definition she had adapted in childhood.
One of the reasons that I give people assignments is to expand their consciousness, to give them permission to act in ways they would never consider. It took her about 3 months before she completed the assignment – and when she did, she said it to the biggest cop in town at a professional gathering. She was horrified that she had done it. I was very excited for her and heaped congratulations on her. The point was, she had stood up for herself spontaneously. I told her that she could go back and make amends for how she expressed herself – but that it was a wonderful breakthrough that she had defended herself.
That particular expression may be one that she will never in her life use again – and it certainly is not an example of the way in which we are learning to communicate. The breakthrough was that she had started to respect herself enough to be willing to go to any length to defend herself. She spontaneously set a boundary and communicated that another persons behavior was not acceptable to her.
The more we heal our core relationship with ourselves, the more we start to respect and Love ourselves, the more we start automatically and spontaneously owning our right to speak up and set boundaries. Often when we are breaking out of the old patterns, jumping out of the old ruts, we will swing to the other extreme. That doesn’t mean we are going to stay there. It means we are doing a paradigm shift in our relationship with self and others. It means we have broken through to a different way of doing things.
In recovery, our experience of life keeps getting different.
“When I talk about ways that we use to go unconscious – like workaholism, or exercise, or food, or whatever – I am not saying that you should be ashamed if you are doing some of these things.
We cannot go from unconscious to conscious overnight! This healing is a long gradual process. We all still need to go unconscious sometimes. Recovery is a dance that celebrates progress, not one that achieves perfection.
A significant breakthrough in my personal process came when I was able to recognize, and give myself credit for, the progress that I had made – when I realized that a pint of Haagen-daz was lasting me three days instead of being gone within twenty minutes of when I bought it.
That was a very big breakthrough for me, to be able to give myself credit for the progress instead of judging and shaming myself for not being perfect, for still feeling like I needed the nurturing of ice cream.
We had to learn to go unconscious in order to survive! Thank God for alcohol or television or romance novels. Thank God for ice cream!
We need to stop judging ourselves – that means allowing ourselves to do whatever it takes, whatever works. There are times when we need to go unconscious. There are times when we need to stuff our feelings in the moment. There are times when it is not safe to be vulnerable and emotionally honest.
This Recovery process is a gradual transition from using our old tool box to using the new tools. The old tools – the ways we used to go unconscious so we could survive – are not “bad” or “wrong.” They were life savers – without them we would be either dead or mass murderers, or dead mass murderers.
We adopted the old tools because they were the best choices that were available to us at the time. We adopted them in response to intuitive impulses that were right on. Those impulses were “protect myself, nurture myself.” It is the nature of the defense system that is Codependence that the ways we learned to protect and nurture ourselves are self-abusive in the long run.
So we need to stop shaming ourselves for the behaviors that we adopted to protect and nurture ourselves, at the same time that we are transitioning to behaviors that are less self-abusive.
Notice that I say less self-abusive. We are talking progress, not perfection here.
If you have an image of what completely healthy behavior is, and you will not allow yourself to accept and Love yourself until you get there, then you are setting conditions under which you decide when you will become Lovable. You are still buying into a concept of conditional love and by extension, the concept of a Higher Power that is conditionally loving. You are still trying to earn, and become worthy of not only self-Love, but also God’s Love. That small child inside of you is still trying to earn your parents’ Love and validation.
That is a natural, normal thing for humans beings on this Codependent planet. Try not to judge and beat yourself up for it. Try to observe it and say, “Oh, isn’t it sad that I am still doing that? I think I will try to learn some ways that I can change it.”” – Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility part 5 Discernment in relationship to emotional honesty and responsibility 2
This is the fifth in a series of articles on Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility that I wrote in 2001 – 15 years ago, Wow. The first was Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility The next three I have already published on this Blog: Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility Part 2 – Uncover, Discover, Recover by learning boundaries, Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility Part 3 ~ Setting Personal Boundaries -protecting self, and Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility part 4 Discernment in relationship to emotional honesty and responsibility 1.
The key to codependency recovery is the inner child healing work I describe on my site. A key element of that work includes learning to set internal boundaries. The formula that I pioneered for inner healing – which includes learning to set the internal boundaries – is something that I teach people through telephone counseling (It is now possible to get phone cards for very cheap rates from many places in the world – and also to use Skype for free from anywhere.) I talk about how the phone counseling can work to really change a persons life for the better in a short period of time on this page which includes some special combination offers.
Reading my book Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls (links to all of my books in both hard copy, ebook, and audiobook format are on that page) really help people take their understanding to a whole new level. Understanding codependency is vital in helping us to forgive our self for the dysfunctional ways we have lived our lives – it is not our fault we are codependent.
In the last few years I have also published two more books that can be very helpful. Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in The Light Book 1 Empowerment, Freedom, and Inner Peace through Inner Child Healing and Romantic Relationships ~ The Greatest Arena for Spiritual & Emotional Growth. I have special offers for either or both of these books (or for all three of my books) on this page.
I also offer periodic day long workshops to teach people how to apply my inner child healing formula. (There is now a downloadable MP3 recording available of my Life Changing workshop – and I have a page with special offers for both the workshop recording and an MP3 download of Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls. )
Codependency causes us to feel like the victim of our own thoughts and feelings, and like our own worst enemy – recovery helps us to start learning how to be our own best friend. Getting into codependency recovery is an act of love for self.