Self-Love-Based-Improvement: Another Side of Body-Positivity

The third season of Queer Eye is out, and there’s one particular thing that I really appreciate about this season—they balance the concept of self-love with self-improvement. The fab five are always showering whoever is the focus of the episode with love and encouraging that person to learn to love themselves, but they also challenge that person to grow in the areas they are most struggling.

Sometimes, that’s in challenging one to practice social skills or find people to connect with. Sometimes that’s in buying somebody a gym membership and teaching them how to work out so that they can lose weight.

The idea that self-love and self-acceptance aren’t mutually exclusive from self-improvement goals is a concept I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Quite a bit of the body positivity that I’ve encountered has been combatting this unhealthy approach to physical health—the inner critic that tells you that being thin is equal to being beautiful or that you’re a lazy slob if you eat a piece of cake. It’s a fucked up approach to dealing with diet, exercise, and appearance because it relies on bullying oneself and working towards goals based on arbitrary standards of beauty and acceptableness.

But at the same time, there are times when it is appropriate and healthy to want to exercise more or lose weight or change one’s consumption habits—just as it is healthy for one to want to grow in being able to reach out for emotional support or get a different job or improve one’s mind.

Queer Eye reminded me that it’s possible to have physical goals while coming from a place of love and acceptance.

Externally, the approach might look similar—watching what you eat, getting to the gym, etc. But internally the process is very different.

Instead of “I hate myself; I can’t love myself until I am like _____ (insert appearance-based goal)” or “I hate myself; I’m such a pig. I shouldn’t eat ____” or “I hate myself; I’m too lazy to get the the gym” the dialogue is “I love myself; therefore I want to see my body at a healthier weight” or “I love myself; therefore I want to be stronger” or “I love myself; therefore I choose to eat foods that will nourish my body.”

The universe is bringing this reminder to me at the right time.

For the last several years, I’ve been struggling with on and off injuries that I couldn’t seem to overcome. It limited my ability to be active, with the frustrating side effect of gaining weight. I watched myself lose the ability to fit into some of my favorite clothes, lose the stamina I had worked so hard to build in being able to run, hike, even do a yoga class, and lose my confidence in my sense of self.

At that time, I needed the reminder that my body isn’t only worthwhile when it looks a certain way or is a certain size. I needed reminders that it’s okay to be where I am, that I’m not lazy or unhealthy or worthless or ugly or any of the other messages that got instilled by media and advertising growing up as a girl in our society over the years.

But more recently I have begun treatment with a physical therapist for EDS—a condition that results in hypermobility (e.g. being able to partially dislocate my arm simply by raising it above my head). The physical therapy is focused on strengthening my body so that injuries don’t happen as often…and I’m starting to see results. I’m able to be more active as a regular rule rather than spurts of activity followed by a long healing process for whatever latest injury I have.

And I’m starting to get hope. I’ve begun monitoring my diet more, trying to encourage myself to adopt healthier habits like not snacking after 9pm, making sure I eat in accordance with how physically active I am so that my caloric burn is higher than my caloric intake, and choosing foods that are more sustainable and less empty calories.

It’s slow, but I’m beginning to notice results. I’m liking the changes I’m seeing in my body, starting to get hope that maybe I can wear some things I haven’t had the heart to get rid of but that haven’t really fit for a while. I’m also starting to be able to do things I love again that I haven’t been able to do for a long time–things that make exercise fun for me.

At first, I felt ashamed of the fact that I had these goals for my body, wondering if that was a sign that I wasn’t really able to love and accept myself.

But Queer Eye was able to remind me that it’s possible to want to change my body’s way of being in the world without it being about self-loathing. Loving myself doesn’t mean being perfectly content with where I am and never wanting to grow or change. It means respecting my limitations, seeing the value in myself as I am, and finding respectful ways to work towards my goals.

Most importantly, it means my goals are rooted in my love for myself rather than trying to make myself loveable.

 

The Benefits and Limits of Mari Kondo’s Method

Like many people this year, I found myself swept up in the fever of Mari Kondo’s “Tidying Up” on Netflix. I loved it and quickly found myself sorting my clothes while watching episodes of others sorting theirs. And then I expanded that to other areas of my life, asking myself, “Does this spark joy?” for both material and non-material objects.

I quickly found that there were some ways in which Mari Kondo’s method was incredibly helpful! I can honestly say my dresser drawers have never looked better, and I got rid of so many cds, knickknacks, books, and craft supplies that I began to realize were never really going to be used because I didn’t like them (it’s amazing how much you can horde out of guilt that you “should” use it someday but don’t actually have a desire to).

I even deleted over 500 files from my computer after realizing that I had no intention of returning to that short story again and didn’t need to keep that paper from high school anymore.

Probably the most important shift was finally having the courage to deactivate my Facebook account. It wasn’t a hard answer when I asked if it sparked joy. The answer for months had been a resounding “NO!” It was a source of stress more than anything, but because of how important Facebook had been in helping me build community and find support when I first came out as bisexual and when I began my recovery journey from the cult, I had a hard time letting go. Kondo’s advice to offer gratitude as you released something was the missing piece I needed to be able to finally say, “I no longer need this in my life.”

There’s a certain amount of truth that in releasing the things that don’t really spark joy, I have more energy for things that do. I’m more likely to grab a cd and pop it into my car knowing that the ones on my cd tower are the ones that I actually enjoy. I also have returned to some old hobbies and creative projects now that Facebook no longer clutters my mind, and I’m finding ways to increase the meaningfulness of my connections with others through letter writing, text, and phone calls.

But I also found there were limitations to her method.

For me, it’s not enough to touch a book as a way of “awakening” it before deciding to keep it or not. I have to read it because, until I know what it contains, I don’t know whether it has joy or value to me. Reading through my books and choosing to release the ones I don’t like has been a project I’ve been working on for over a year now. It’s a slow process that doesn’t offer that immediate satisfaction of releasing like Kondo’s method, but ultimately I think it’s a more thorough gauge.

There’s also a limit in how much one can do solo when you co-habit with others. My partner is decidedly not on the konmari trend, and so much of our possessions have become intermingled that I can’t really decide on my own whether something should be removed. And unless I took a whole week off work to sort, I can’t really afford to pile things into the middle of the room by category. Perhaps that’s my own limitation more so than the limitation of her method, but I’ve become resigned to the fact that it’s just not going to happen.

However, probably the biggest limitation is in applying the joy question to the things from my past, the “sentimental” things, as Konda would call them.

She recommends saving those until last, but it was inevitable that as I sorted through desk drawers I would come across pictures, diaries, notes, and various other things from my past. After having my PTSD triggered sky high by uncovering some pictures and sermon notes from summer indoctrination camp shoved in the back of a drawer, it hit me that the question of “Does it spark joy?” was horribly inadequate given my history, even if I save it until the end.

“Joy” is not a word I would apply to my childhood. Even the best of memories are laced with the pain of trauma and loss. There’s a part of me that would like to just burn anything that reminds me of abuse, to eradicate any evidence of the unusual life I led, and to bury anything that reminds me of all I lost in trying to break free.

But I also know that if I did that, I would be left with nothing from my past, and I’m not prepared to erase who I was entirely. Some of those memories are important, even if they are painful.

Keeping it all probably doesn’t make sense, but figuring out what to release and what to save is going to require more than the joy question.

It’s going to require processing the painful memories, discharging the triggers, and integrating those parts of myself. And that’s a time-consuming, slow process that will only happen in increments. Only then will I be ready to say whether something is meaningful—and I say meaningful because I doubt that I will find it “sparking joy” even then.

I think what I’ve found in the last few months of playing with her approach is that I like her “spark joy” standard as a beginning place. From there, if it’s not sparking joy, I think I have to find another set of questions to ask myself.

I’ve become comfortable with this method with books. Not all of the books I keep are books I like. Sometimes they’re books I think are important to keep on hand for utility purposes or because they are important for reference.

The same goes for anything else. Expecting nothing but joy from the things in my life might be naïve, but I can at least expect that the discomfort they create will be purposeful. If it’s not sparking joy and the stress, pain, or discomfort isn’t serving some important purpose, it needs to go.

Dear Santa…Dismantling The Taboo of Desire

Spoiler alert: I am going to briefly talk about character information from The Haunting of Hill House Netflix show and The Winter of the Witch, both of which are fantastic and highly recommended for viewing/reading. I’m not giving away endings, but if you don’t want to know some of the middle material, wait to read this.

I’m getting ready to write my annual letter to Santa, and in the process I’m thinking about what it means to want. I typically include several requests for the world and others who are on my mind as well as general requests for help with intangible goals.

I also generally include a smaller list of requests for material things, but in years past, I’ve felt strangely guilty for asking for material wants.

That guilt is one often reinforced in our culture in its strangely consumeristic yet anti-materialistic attitude toward Christmas. Few people abstain from actually giving gifts, especially to children. And the myth of Santa is built around this concept of a jolly old man who enjoys gift giving.

Yet when children behave like Nell in the Haunting of Hill House, writing to request gifts for other loved ones but not for themselves, they’re praised and held up as virtuous—LOOK HOW SELFLESS AND ALTRUISTIC!!!

I didn’t think to question that mindset until I was reading the advanced reader’s copy of The Winter of the Witch* by Katherine Arden. At one point in the book, Vasya is negotiating with some men about whether she will gather the chyerti (Russian folk creatures) to help them. In the process, Morozko (I can’t sufficiently explain who he is unless you’ve read the series, so read the series!) is expressing concern about whether her own desire for recognition, fame, power, and victory is clouding her, making her susceptible to being manipulated by a specific chyerti who enjoys twisting people to his nefarious ends.

She bares with Morozko’s questioning for a time, but finally snaps, “I’m allowed to want things.”

It wasn’t one of those passages that stood out right away, but it came back to my mind when I started to think about my letter to Santa. I suddenly realized that at some point I had adopted the subtle cultural message that wanting—asking—at Christmas was secretly a sign of deficient character. If I were genuinely a Good PersonTM, I would only want the types of things sung about in “My Grown Up Christmas List.”

It’s not that I don’t want to want those things. I do want them.

But at some point our culture made it seem like they were the only worthy things to want.

But the truth is, like Vasya, I’m allowed to want. Wanting is natural. Wanting something special for myself doesn’t decrease my ability to want good things for others.

I also learned from Vasya that wanting is most likely to cloud my judgment and unconsciously manipulate when I’m unaware of the presence and influence of my own desires. There is a point at which one can pursue one’s own desires to the detriment of others, but that isn’t at the point of simply wanting. Rather it’s when a want is so strong that we’re blinded or willing to hurt others to get it.

Being able to name wants, put them out there, recognize that they’re present—that actually increases the ability to see the role they play and pick the best approach to dealing with their influence and presence.

In The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer talks about the important difference between asking and demanding. For her, asking requires the ability to accept a “no.” When “no” isn’t an acceptable response, it’s a demand, no matter how it’s phrased.

I think that difference is key in being able to destigmatize the concept of requesting our desires, whether in a romantic relationship or in an interaction with a stranger. We’ve all experienced the discomfort of a request that is actually a demand (think Dudley on his birthday, pissed off because he only got 17 presents this year). Demands are distasteful when we’re on the receiving end of them because we feel them clawing at our autonomy.

But I also believe that the inability to accept disappointment is most often what drives someone to turn their requests into demands, whether at Christmas or not.

I know that many struggle with the feeling of obligation at Christmas—spending money, giving gifts because it’s expected–so it makes sense why utter selflessness would come to be viewed as a virtue. It’s almost like a permission to hate the obligation we’re feeling towards others. But I’m afraid that in the process it’s teaching people that to want is a sin. It’s not actually teaching people to handle their desires or disappointments better, just teaching them to be ashamed of having them.

How many of us have found ourselves saying, “Oh I don’t want anything” when asked what we want for Christmas…even though we don’t really mean that answer? How many of us have worked hard to stifle disappointment that someone didn’t pick up on the clues we were dropping because we were afraid of seeming too forward if we specifically said, “I would really like to get something like this as a gift.”?

And to what extent does doing that actually help free us from a burden of obligation around gift-giving?

This year, I really want to reframe my mindset. I want to feel in my bones that it’s okay to want. Not only that, it’s okay to ask for what I want, as long as I recognize that I might not get what I ask for. I can want at the same time as being grateful for what I have. I can think about others while also thinking about myself. I can enjoy giving something special to someone else while also enjoying receiving what others give to me. I can balance pursuing my own desires with trying to make the world a better place. I can balance expressing love through a gift without making my attachment completely about material things. None of these are mutually exclusive.

They’re the very heart of the Christmas spirit.

*Please note: The final book hasn’t been officially published yet, so I’m referencing the ARC version. Most ARCs include a note expressing that quoted or referenced material needs to be checked against the final product since editing can still happen before publication. So please read the published version when it comes out. I will be rereading it myself. 

 

Gaslighting: What It Is and What It Isn’t

When I was still living with my parents, just before I got married and made my escape from the cult, I almost had a nervous breakdown. I was under tremendous stress, and that on its own was probably enough to drive me a bit batty. But I had more than a little bit of help in reaching a point of actively questioning whether I was going insane.

It started subtly at first, with my parents denying things that had happened years ago—long enough ago that it made sense that we might remember those situations very differently. But then it increased to more and more recent events with my parents painting very different pictures of what had happened than what I remembered. At first, I didn’t think anything malicious was involved, even as I increasingly began to question my ability to remember something accurately even a few hours after it happened.

Then one night, the veil was lifted, and I saw clearly the terrifying reality that my parents were trying to destabilize my sense of reality. The night before, I’d heard the sounds of Pete’s Dragon wafting from the living room to my bedroom. I barely took note of it as I went about doing whatever I was doing. But then the next night, as I walked through the living room, I noticed they were watching it again.

I paused and asked, “Didn’t you just watch this?”

I didn’t need them to tell me that they had. I knew they did. It was more a question of why—why watch the same movie twice in a row?

But they looked at me and feigned confusion, so I clarified, “You watched this last night. I heard you watching it last night. Now you’re watching it again tonight.”

Without missing a beat, they told me, “No, we didn’t watch this last night.” Their faces were calm and direct.

I felt the familiar stirrings of the paranoia I had increasingly been experiencing rising up in me, but I was confident enough in my hearing, if not other aspects of my memory, that I reasserted I had heard the movie playing last night.

They denied it again…and again…and again. I lost count of how many times they told me they hadn’t seen the movie the night before. I knew it was impossible that they wouldn’t remember watching the movie twice in a row, but I never dreamed they would lie to me. The only other explanation was that my mind had officially broken.

I was on the verge of a panic attack and actively wondering if this was the moment I would go insane when their façade broke and they began to giggle, admitting that they had indeed watched the movie the night before. “We’re just playing with you!”

It was that moment that I realized they were actively enjoying my distress. I didn’t know what to call it at the time. It would be years later that I would discover the concept of gaslighting. But I could tell that it was intentional in that moment and that it was designed to unsettle me.

It wasn’t the first time I’d had the “but this happened”/”no it didn’t” argument with them. It wasn’t even the most serious incident because, honestly, them watching a movie twice in two nights had no bearing on my life. But it was the first time they had slipped up enough to lose the mask, their mirth leaking through.

I went back to my room, sick with the knowledge that for sport and control my parents were willing to actively fuck with my sense of sanity, that they were willing to lie to my face about my own experiences…and that they were damned good at it.

They never admitted to doing it again, but I recognized the signs from then on. I could not shake the paranoia they had instilled. Each time it happened again, I felt like my brain was going to snap. I resorted to transcribing conversations in my journal or on my computer immediately after they happened so that I had a record of what was said–and that it had even happened. Eventually I began refusing to have conversations with them without another person to witness, usually my fiancé phoning in over the phone, because I couldn’t trust them and had lost my trust in myself.

To this day, I get sick thinking about how close they came to causing a psychotic break in me. There are no words to describe the horror of feeling like your mind is someone else’s play thing.

Today, I see so many social justice activists tossing around the word “gaslighting” for anything and everything, and it concerns me to see how watered down the word has become.

Gaslighting is a terrifying and extreme experience. It’s a very serious form of abuse. But it isn’t what many people are using the word for.

Samantha Field has also spoken out on this issue, and I want to acknowledge that she has some great things to say but I want to expand on what gaslighting is and is not because I think it’s vital that social justice and the left stop using this word as a catch-all.

Gaslighting is not disagreeing with someone. It’s not disagreeing with their worldview, holding a different perspective from them on sensitive issues, or actively disagreeing with their interpretation of politics and society.

If someone thinks something is a result of sexism, it’s not gaslighting for another person to disagree with that and think that they’re misinterpreting what they experienced. That might feel silencing, demeaning, infantilizing, minimizing, and a whole lot of other things, but it’s not gaslighting.

It isn’t gaslighting someone to disagree with their interpretation of yours or someone else’s thoughts, feelings, or intentions. None of us are mind-readers and none of us can know the internal experience of someone else. There is room to disagree when someone else is purporting to know what a person who isn’t themselves is thinking, feeling, or intending.

It isn’t even gaslighting to remember the same situation in different ways. People’s memories are made of what their brains perceived as salient at the time; therefore, it isn’t uncommon for two people to have been in the same situation and have different memories of that situation.

In a similar vein, gaslighting isn’t forgetting details of a conversation, encounter, or event that another person seems to remember well. (This is where it took me some time to recognize it happening to me because there was a genuine chance that my parents didn’t remember something from five years ago the way I did. There’s also a chance I could have encoded my interpretation as opposed to the actual words that were said).

It’s not gaslighting trying to persuade or influence someone to agree with you using emotionally persuasive or manipulative tactics. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation, but not all manipulation is gaslighting.

I’ll even go so far as to say that denial and lying aren’t inherently gaslighting because gaslighting is a far more sinister technique that goes beyond merely trying to escape accountability.

Gaslighting is a campaign to undermine a person’s sense of sanity by making them actively question their ability to trust their memories and sensory perceptions (e.g. what they hear, see, smell, etc.). And it requires a relationship where the gaslighting person is in a position of trust and uses that trust to break down a person’s own ability to reality check themselves.

The term comes from a movie in which a husband actively drives his wife to the brink of insanity by insidious toying with her environment such as removing things from his wife’s purse and pretending she removed the thing and doesn’t remember doing so or causing noises and sputtering lights but then pretending that his wife isn’t seeing what she saw or hearing what she heard.

It’s part of what makes Shutter Island so terrifying, wondering if DiCaprio’s character has just been insane the whole time or if it’s all an elaborate plot to convince him he is because he knows too much. Once they can convince him he’s insane, they can control him.

This is not a tool in the average person’s tool box. It’s calculated and deliberately orchestrated. It’s not something a stranger can implement. It requires time…first to build up the victim’s trust in the perpetrator and then to erode the trust of the victim in themselves. I believe that’s important for people to understand.

As Samantha points out, misusing the term “gaslighting” whenever a discussion becomes uncomfortable and triggering waters down the meaning, but I’d also say that it discredits the word as well. People will remember being accused of “gaslighting” unjustly or seeing someone else unjustly accused of it, and it will influence how seriously they’ll take the concept.

Abuse survivors have a hard enough time as it is being believed when they disclose that they’ve been abused in various ways. False accusations, though comprising a small percentage of accusations, manage to undermine the credibility of all accusations.

In other words, those who cry wolf don’t just damage their own credibility, they damage the credibility of everyone who is watching out for wolves.

Which means we have to be careful about how we use terms that connote abuse like “gaslighting” (or “violence,” which could be a whole post on its own). We cannot allow these terms to come to mean merely that someone has made us uncomfortable by disagreeing, has stimulated difficult emotions, or has inadvertently triggered past trauma.

Those of us who know what it is have a responsibility to speak out when we see it being misused or misapplied. Otherwise, we assist the wolves. People will get so used to hearing “wolf!” that they’ll stop paying attention. They won’t see that someone is being psychologically eaten.

EDIT: my partner pointed out a caveat in which trust may not be present but extreme dependency is. I think it’s fair to say that in instances in which someone has power over defining someone else’s environment, as in the case of captivity, that gaslighting can happen in the absence of trust. The captive may not trust the captor but may not have another source of reality testing and validation available. For most people, that is not a circumstance they will encounter.

Reclaiming Negative Emotions: Dancing with Regret

Where there is risk, there is the possibility of regret, but there is no great reward without risk.

I used to brag that I had no regrets and actively worked to live my life without regret.

I also didn’t take many risks.

I was a cautious person, afraid to make a choice for fear that it would be a mistake. I would often hold back from making large decisions until I was desperate and absolutely certain that the only viable option was not staying with my status quo.

My biggest risks were in some ways leaps of faith—things like choosing to leave the cult. I had no way to predict how they would turn out. But the risk was mitigated by my understanding that it was, in some ways, the cost of keeping my soul alive.

Spontaneity and impulsivity were foreign to me for many years.

I can no longer say that I have no regrets though. It was inevitable, really. In order to be authentic and alive, I had to eventually make mistakes.

Initially my regrets began as things that I hadn’t had the courage to pursue, and the pain of realizing I had squandered an opportunity that I could never, ever get back.

That followed by a period of what I thought was “grabbing life by the horns,” enacting the grief of lost opportunities on other (in hindsight, less appealing) opportunities. And let me tell you, I got gored by those horns! I’m still crawling out of the hole of shame, self-doubt, and pain that my impetuous never-want-to-feel-grief-again blindness brought on.

Yet both regrets have taught me something invaluable—there is pain in being too scared to take a worthwhile risk, and there is also pain in being too eager to take mediocre or bad risks. I had to learn the former before I could learn the latter.

Nowadays, I’m trying to find my passionate self again—or should I say I’m trying to develop my passionate self because I’m not entirely certain I ever had her.

My cautious self—that wounded part that is scared to repeat the mistakes of risk-taking—is painfully inhibiting. Whereas before she only had the threat of regret to hold me back, she now has the experience of regret to draw on. “Look what happened last time you were impulsive,” she pleads.

At one time, I might have thought the answer was to squelch her, but I understand that she is there to protect me. Her holding me back isn’t out of spite; it’s out of concern for everything I hold dear. She doesn’t want me to get hurt.

So I have to respect that cautious self, but I also don’t want to return to living in such a cautious way that I am reined by my fear–which means that I have to work with both caution and desire as I develop my passionate self.

I’m learning that caution and desire are not necessarily antithetical to each other. Caution adds important gifts that make passion truly sustainable–foresight, self-control, and wisdom. Without those, it’s just mania. Caution is the fire screen that contains the fire of passion.

I’ve been taking some scary risks lately, coaxing myself to try things that I’m curious about but would have probably held back from five years ago.

They’re not life-changing things, by any means, singing karaoke, trying out ecstatic dance, getting a bold new haircut. But they are things that challenge me, push me out of my comfort zone. Each felt terrifying in its own way as I approached the juncture of decision. And they give me an opportunity to practice evaluating whether a risk is worth taking.

What I’m learning is that all of me has to be present in making a decision to take a risk. The regrets have to be ones I can live with if they come true. And there needs to be a promised reward even in failure—the reward of greater freedom and pride in myself for having tried something hard.

I no longer necessarily want to live without regrets—because I realize now that would mean not truly living.

I want to learn how to dance with regret so that I can also dance with passion.

But I do want to live in a way that if I have regrets, they are chosen with my eyes wide open because the reward was promising enough to make the regret worth it.

As I build faith in myself with these smaller decisions, my cautious self will learn to trust that I will hear and honor her in larger decisions.

BRAVING TRUST Tarot Spread

Trust—we seem to all struggle with it to an extent. And we all experience a breaking of trust at some point in a relationship. Which is why it’s so important to talk about trust, relational wounds, repairs, and taking informed risks (because let’s face it, there’s no such thing as a risk-free relationship).

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot out there that talks explicitly about how to build and deepen relationships and develop trust. For the most part, we’re left to trial and error, with some of us consistently over-trusting and others struggling to trust at all. Or some who do a combination of both (hello to fellow disorganized attachment people!).

Periodically, when I’m desperately struggling with a relationship and whether it feels safe, I’ll look for a Tarot spread to help me clarify. Unfortunately, I also frequently find that Tarot spreads don’t focus on the issues I’m struggling with either. Usually it’s not about whether the person reciprocates my liking, but whether they’re safe to invest my emotions and time in.

So with all the preamble of “this particular form of self-help doesn’t exist!” of course I’m going to present a solution that I found.

Behold Brene Brown.

In a talk she did for Oprah’s Super Soul Sessions (ugh, I’m sorry, but it’s not as fluffy as it sounds, I promise), Brene breaks down how she has come to view trust and intimacy based on her research and personal experience. She even comes up with a kitschy acronym that hearkens back to her TED Talk to evaluate the health of a budding relationship: BRAVING.

As much as I want to hate the acronym—because acronyms?—I actually find it super useful. So much so that I initially painted a poster of it to hang near my desk so that I could reference it when I needed to.

And then I decided that it needed to be a Tarot spread too!

This is a spread that could be used solo to get clarity on the relationship. I also foresee it being something that two people could do together as a way to prompt discussion about the relationship. The layout is pretty simple, using each letter of BRAVING as a single position in the layout.

So here is the BRAVING TRUST spread.

  1.            3.          5.         7.
    2.           4.          6.          8. (optional)

 

  1. The quality of the boundaries in this relationship.
  2. The nature of the reliability that you can expect as things are.
  3. The accountability that has been present up to now.
  4. The extent to which they guard and respect confidences and privacy.
  5. The values and integrity of the relationship and the people involved.
  6. The quality of non-judgmental mutuality within the relationship dynamic.
  7. The ability for generous assumptions to be present when someone makes a mistake.
  8. Optional: Outcome summary if the relationship continues as it currently is.

Also pay attention to the ways the cards relate to each other. For instance, boundaries aren’t just highlighted in the first position. They’ll often be reflected in other areas as well, especially in positions 4 and 5 as they relate to things that tend to influence boundaries.

More than likely, unless this person is a shit friend, there will be strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others. This spread doesn’t tell you what to do with the relationship. What it does do is show you where you may want to work towards improvement or whether you may want to tailor the role that person plays in your life. Of course, some things might be deal-breakers, and this should highlight those areas.

This is not a feel-good spread. Most of the time, we don’t think to evaluate a relationship until we’re feeling tension and confusion around an area of difficulty, so this spread tends to highlight the discomfort within the relationship. However, it’s also important to remember that until the discomfort is revealed, nothing can be done to either distance oneself from the relationship or improve it. Thus, I hope that people will find this a constructive discomfort worth leaning into.

 

Mother’s Day with Archetypes

I’d say Mother’s Day is my least favorite holiday, but even that implies that there is some sort of favor. So more accurately, it’s my most loathed holiday.

For years Mother’s Day came with an endless supply of pain with a special heaping helping of guilt and obligation. I warred with myself as I strove to remain true to my own wounds while dutifully participating in the ritual of thanking my mom…for all the things she didn’t actually do for me very well.

Anyone who has experience with a neglectful, abusive, or difficult mother probably recognizes the impasse inherent in that war, and I often found the best solution to be drunk texting my mother a vague message that I would only vaguely remember sending later.

Well, I’ve managed to do away with the guilt and obligation. Going no contact with my family makes it a lot easier to abstain from the collective lies…but I still feel the pangs of grief that accompany this holiday every year.

The grief over what I did experience, and the grief over what I never had.

And perhaps to an extent, I will always feel that…but I’ve also learned to begin building a relationship with MOTHER-as-archetype in the various forms that it appears to me. Yes, my mom may have sucked at nurturing me, but I still know what “mothering” feels like. I still have a concept of what I long for when I long for a mom (though never my mom).

And it’s that Mother that I seek to connect with increasingly on this day. So this weekend, I compiled a list of my favorite mothers. I would love to hear about yours in the comments.

Lorelei Gilmore
I love Lorelei for the simple reason that she is a great mom who didn’t have a great mom. She’s not a perfect mom by any stretch of the imagination, but she has a strong relationship with Rory and genuinely strives to be the best mom she can be. She knows how to be gentle and when to give a push. When she pushes too far, she knows how to make amends. She embodies mother-as-friend, mother-as-cheerleader, mother-as-comfort, and mother-as-confidant. She also, in my opinion, is a beautiful example of the good-enough-mother.

Molly Weasley
Can there be a more fierce example of mother-love beyond Mrs. Weasley? She is protectress through and through. A little overbearing at times, but a woman whose children never have to doubt that she cares for them with her life. She and her family have struggles (financial and political) and one can see that life isn’t easy, but she never puts her own burdens on her children. She strives to protect them without filling them with a fantasy that the world is safer than it is or encouraging them to ignore the injustices so long as injustice doesn’t touch them. She embodies mother-as-activist and mother-as-protectress.

Queen of Cups
Okay, moving away from movies, the Queen of Cups is probably the only Tarot card that I think of as truly mothering, even though all the queens can be seen as a mother of their particular suit. The Queen of Cups, though, is all about nurturance and emotions. She’s the kind of mother that knows that she can’t save you from the depth of your feelings and won’t stand in the way of you going deep into your pain. In fact, she’ll often encourage you to dive deeply into it…but not alone. She’ll go with you and provide her empathy and love to sustain you on your journey. She is the kind of mother who knows that nurturing and comfort, like spirituality, were never meant to help you bypass the difficult things in life but to give you the strength you need to be able to face them. She embodies mother-as-guide and mother-as-wisdom.

Mother Nature
I don’t think I can talk about archetypal mothers without touching on nature and her myriad of examples of nurturing. She is the great life-sustainer herself but she is also filled with images and symbols of mothering. Whenever I need to feel re-energized and sustained, my surest bet is to connect with nature in some way. Last year, around this time, I witnessed a mama duck trying to cross a raging river with her little ducklings. Even though she could have gotten to the other side quickly on her own, she kept circling back to help her struggling young ones at the rough patches, finally getting to the other shore far down the river from where she probably intended to end up, but having managed to keep every single one of her ducklings safe during the process. For whatever role I need to see, in nature there is an example somewhere. Nature embodies the Great Mother in all her forms.

This is also the time of year when I get to feel my own mothering energy flowing most strongly as I plant my garden and begin tending my green babies towards bloom and fruit. That’s an important connection with the MOTHER-as-archetype because it reminds me that mothering is not just something I seek outside of myself. All of my external symbols ultimately serve to remind me to look within for the mothering energy that I myself possess.

Like Lorelei, I might not have had the best example to draw from, but I have the capacity to re-mother myself, offering to my own inner child that which my biological mother was unable to offer at the time. So as usual, I grieve this Mother’s Day for the mother I didn’t have and the mother I no longer have, but I temper that grief with the comfort, nurturance, protectiveness, and companionship of the MOTHER.