Welcome to Following the Whispers blog

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit. Hope you enjoy your stay. I blog here whenever I feel the need. This blog was created at the time my memoir came out, in February, 2009. Its motto was: creating a life of inner peace and self-acceptance from the depths of despair. Now, my focus is sharing this journey we call life.

“Only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth, and that is not speaking it.” Naomi Wolf

“We are called human beings, not human doings.” Wes Nisker, Buddhist teacher

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs…(And) if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” Theodore Roosevelt

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Telling the Truth Tuesday: Self-Respect

A friend told me that if I allow a person into my life who hasn’t treated me well, I am dis-respecting myself. It made me think about self-respect and when I tried to define it, I couldn’t. I truly do not know what self-respect looks, feels, or sounds like.

How many times are we supposed to give someone the benefit of the doubt? How many times are we supposed to look away when someone says or does something that chips away at our self-esteem? Or if we do try to stand up for ourselves and we get slammed each time, how many times are we to pick ourselves up and try again? How many chances do we give the people in our lives?

I have spent a lifetime overcoming the affects of early childhood sexual and emotional abuse. My spirit was shattered at a very young age and continued to be battered and bruised in one abusive relationship after another. It is only now, at 60 years old, that I feel whole and complete. But it is a fragile state of being for me. Even the other night, when I attended a lecture and asked a question at the end, I doubted myself. The speaker said she hated my question and I felt humiliated and ashamed and embarrassed. I was quite tired and went home with a bad taste in my mouth, but when I woke up the next morning, I realized her response was a poor reflection on her; there was nothing inappropriate or wrong about my question. It was a question that appears on their “common questions” fact sheet.

A recent experience with a teacher is still plaguing me, and it frustrates me no end that I can't seem to let go. I ended the relationship, both the teaching one and the friendship that had evolved. But I still have her voice inside my head at various times. Her comments made me feel flawed and any confidence I'd built up in the area of the teaching is kinda damaged. I’ve since hired another teacher and am hearing quite different comments from her. But I realized tonight that the reason I can't let the relationship go is because I seem to have internalized the negative comments.

That is my unfinished business. I'd thought it was a need to get together, to find a way to bring closure in a good way, without the negativity and nastiness we ended up with. But tonight
at the session with my new teacher, I ended up in tears because I kept hearing the negative stuff in my head that had been drummed into me over the last three years.

So now I need to ask myself, what is self-respect and how will I best be respecting myself in this situation? Self respect means:
Setting appropriate personal boundaries and pushing back when someone oversteps them
Speaking up for myself when someone mis-treats me
Living according to my own values and upholding those values, even if it means upsetting someone else
Acting according to my beliefs and feelings in a way that does no harm to anyone or anything else
It is not being a doormat. Saying or doing anything to please the other person or to get them to like or love me. Here is where I’m guilty in this teacher relationship. I wanted her approval. I wanted her love. I wanted her to see that I am a loving, talented person. So I gave and did and gave and did and got moments of what I wanted. It’s called the people-pleasing disease. And what it’s taught me to reflect upon is to question my intentions and motives when I offer myself or my services or my help to someone. Am I looking for something in return? Am I doing it out of the kindness of my heart or expecting a certain result? If it isn’t a pure act of giving, then I probably shouldn’t be doing it.

As human beings, I don’t think we want to think badly of others. We want to believe the best about them. I struggled with this issue vis-à-vis my own parents. Who wants to think their parents don’t really love them or that our parents don't really want the best for us? But sometimes parents are flawed. I came to believe and understand that my parents did, indeed, love me. They just didn't know how to show it.

We’re all flawed to some degree. And if someone is flawed, but doesn’t see that they are flawed, they will always think they are right and that it is okay to treat you however they’ve been treating you. And that is a person with whom it doesn’t make sense to try to reconcile, because they will not admit or take responsibility for their part in the flawed relationship. I am the other side of that coin. It is way too easy for me to take blame for things that are not my fault. I've gotten better over the years, with that, though.

So, looking at my points re what constitutes self-respect, as they apply to my relationship with my former teacher, what I can see is:

I didn’t uphold personal boundaries. I didn’t speak up when I felt belittled or put down. The few times that I tried, we ended up in a huge disagreement and I invariably apologized or made nice in order to maintain the relationship.

My belief is that you don’t stay in a relationship in which you don’t feel good about yourself. If you start to doubt yourself and your abilities, something is not right. Then you must determine whether that something can be changed. If you are with someone who is able to look at themselves and their behavior and is willing to work on change, you are in luck. You don’t have to leave the relationship. But if not, you have a decision to make.

I chose to stay in this relationship because for a long time, the benefits outweighed the negatives. Once that shifted the other way, I needed to get out and did. But I’m realizing that the damage done to my psyche by staying may not have been worth the benefits I received. Now I need to find a way to release the messages I've internalized.

I welcome any thoughts from my wonderful blogger friends about self-respect, giving people chances, forgiveness, and being kind to yourself. What I need to do in order to respect myself is honor my decision to leave this relationship. Trust that it came from my higher self. Pay attention when I hear her negative messages inside my head and push that voice out of my spirit. Honor the good that was received from her and let go of the rest. But to invite her presence back into my life may not make any sense, even though there was no reconciliation between the two of us. Perhaps I need to let this serve as my reconciliation with myself to be more respectful of my spirit and my emotions and my being in the future.




Tabitha Bird said...

Oh Karen what a wonderful and timely post. A very special friend walked out on me during my lowest point last year. I asked her to talk with about what went wrong and she refused. I ended the relationship because I could see no way to continue it with a person who wouldn't talk. Now she has emailed me out of the blue and wants to restart some sort of friendship. She doesn't say if she is willing to talk about things.... gosh...what to do? I love you insight about self-respect. i struggle to define that too. I come from a past of abuse as well (and wrote a memoir about my journey to healing too) but still really struggle with all the things you mentioned in this post. I will have to give them all some thought. Thank you Karen :) And I can't wait for your interview on Helen's blog. I wish I had thought to ask you first :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Excellent post on a difficult subject, Karen. I think defining self respect is hard. You made absolutely the right decision to remove yourself from a situation that was becoming painful for you.

I think self-respect is just treating myself with the same respect, admiration, and love that I would a good friend.

Primginger said...

I enjoyed reading this post that I just happend to come across by accident. I have struggled with this the past two years with a family member. Those around me don't understand why the relationship is so strained and why I have taken the stand to remove myself from the relationship. I chose to live my life without the negativity and despair that this person brought with them, I feel so much better in doing that yet those around me will never understand. Thank you for this post.

Alexis Grant said...

Hey Karen,

It's always hard to let someone go (for me anyways), even if they've hurt me in small ways over the years. I still wonder, am I really better without them??

But I'm starting now to realize that I really AM better off without some people, that I'm a happier, brighter person without certain individuals pulling me down. I think it takes life experience and wisdom to realize that -- and you have more of that than me. So thanks for sharing. I take your thoughts to heart.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I don't struggle with this one as much as I used to. Maybe that's an advantage of getting older.

The way I look at it today: There are millions of wonderful, kind, generous people in this world. Why waste your time and sacrifice your peace of mind to mean, narrow-minded, foul-mouthed bullies? There's plenty of joy to be found elsewhere.

Marvin D Wilson said...

Excellent muse. And I think when a relationship becomes abusive and it becomes difficult to maintain self respect it is time to honor yourself enough to move on. Life is too short.

The Old Silly

Helen Ginger said...

By taking that abusive person out of your life, you have made a step forward. And I believe it a similar situation happens again, you will see it sooner and do what's best for your health. Stop and look at how much you've grown. And now how much you're helping others.

Straight From Hel

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Good teachers never make their students feel flawed - the whole purpose of teaching is to build self-confidence while learning something new, not tear it down.

And that speaker, sounds like one I'd never go back to hear. That response is simply unprofessional and rude.

JStantonChandler said...

Hello, Karen!

I stopped by thanks to Alexis' blog party. It's very nice to meet you.

Thank you for this post. It's very beautifully written. I have always struggled with people pleasing. Even though I know a decision is right for me, I hesitate because I don't want to let others down. I also know what it's like to have to turn away from a friendship because it's not uplifting. It's hard to realize that sometimes the best thing for both parties is to say goodbye, even though it's hard and uncomfortable.

Happy Tuesday,

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Wow, I should've had you contribute to my "Overcoming Obstacles with SPUNK!" book!

Self-respect is accepting our value as placed within us by God.

L. Diane Wolfe “Spunk On A Stick”

Jack W. Regan said...

Karen, I like your raw, honest writing style. Good insight and something I think most of us can work on. At least, I know I can. Often, it's just easier to let people walk over us. But is that really best? Thanks for the post.

N A Sharpe said...

It never ceases to amaze me how intune and insiteful you are. Often it is easier to recognize behaviors in others than in oneself but you seem to recognize and understand your triggers and things that can often drag one back into the pitflls of low self-esteem. Kudos my friend! I have so much admiration and respect for and am really glad to think of you as a friend.

Nancy, from Realms of Thought…

Stephanie Faris said...

I have an abusive stepdad in my past and it's been tough at times. I tend to allow people into my life that I need to take care of, like someone suffering from depression, that sort of thing. I think those are the aftereffects of what I lived with as a child. I can't seem to exist without drama!