On Hurting the Ones We Love

sisters“You always said you had two brothers.”

“I did,” I admitted. “Oh my God, I did.”

It was late; everyone else had gone to bed, and my sister and I were sitting up in my dad’s kitchen having our very first heart to heart.

I was hearing for the first time why we’d never really talked before.

“You didn’t claim us,” she said.

And she was right, I realized.

I do not have two brothers.

I have three half brothers and one half sister. I’ve had twelve step siblings – I say have had because the lines get confusing when the ties that bind you divorce and move away.

But the ties between my sister and three brothers are permanent. They’re blood. They’re undeniably family. And yet I have denied half of them over and over again for decades.

I didn’t do it to be mean.

“It’s because we grew up together,” I justified, because the brothers with whom I share a mother lived in the same house as me when I was a kid.

“I was always taught that didn’t matter,” she said.

“So was I,” I told her. So was I.

I know what it feels like to not be claimed, to not be chosen, to not feel special or loved enough or as important as. I carry those exact scars on my heart and have aired them out in therapy and lengthy prose.

And all the while I was inflicting the same wound on someone else – two someone elses – and was completely oblivious.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. And I was; I am.

I’m also so, so grateful that she had the courage to tell me. I would have never figured it out on my own.

Because what I learned in this conversation is that we can hurt people without ever knowing. We walk around as the narrators and heroes of our own stories, and we are so often blind to the roles we play in others’ histories. We rarely imagine ourselves as the villain.

This is important to remember.

It’s important to tell people when they hurt us, because most of the time it is unintentional.

And it’s important to believe people when they tell us we have hurt them, because our intentions don’t matter half as much as the consequences.

And it is important to never forget that our story – our perspective – is only one of the many in which we have a part.

A Short Story About Spending Time Together

I keep forgetting about the importance of time spent together.

I put caveats on time. It has to be quality time. We should be doing something, something that matters, something sustaining or fulfilling or super, duper important. We should be connecting – eye contact, empathetic listening, deep and meaningful dialogue.

Otherwise I’ll just go read my book over here, and you can watch TV over there.

In my house we sometimes fall into this rut of doing our own thing. I’m naturally a pretty autonomous person, and so is my son. My husband and my daughter make do, or they watch slapstick comedy together on the couch.

I think it’s no big deal, or I don’t think of it at all. I don’t make the connection to the little annoyances that start to pop up, or the resentment that seems to settle in the spaces between us.

But then the choice to spend time together or not is taken away, and suddenly I’m ravenous for it.

Jared has been working a lot of late nights and weekends lately. Last month my own schedule was packed with after-hour events and meetings. I was acutely aware that the four of us were rarely having dinner together.

So, when Jared walked in the door last Thursday at an unusually reasonable hour, I couldn’t help but jump up and down like a school girl whose first date has just arrived.

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Yes, he’s still on the phone – and I’m STILL excited he’s home!

I plopped myself down on the couch where I knew he’d be doing paperwork and we didn’t talk about anything important. Somewhere in that insignificant conversation, something was said that prompted me to pull up “Let It Go” on my phone, and that lead to listening to “Defying Gravity”, and that lead to pulling up YouTube on the big TV and having a show tunes marathon.

We didn’t even have to ask the kids to join us. I guess the draw of my dramatic lip syncing was overwhelming.

Or maybe they’d been craving that unstructured family time, too.

It was a great night. One of those that results in no pictures or remarkable stories, but that cements our family story. We are a family who sits around watching videos from our favorite musicals, and some of us sing and dance along.

The great night rolled into a great weekend. Again Jared and I were both not working, which meant we both got to watch our teenager compete in a biathlon. And we both got to watch our 9 year old stagger to the car after a sleepover, shoeless and still wearing the previous day’s clothes. And we both participated in the tree decorating and light hanging (OK, some of us are most decidedly not involved in the light hanging), and we both got to sing Happy Birthday when our oldest turned 15 – 15! – and celebrate with a rousing game of dominoes.

Because we are a family who plays games together, too.

This time together filled me up, and I didn’t even know I’d been empty.

Looking back I can see it. I can see the tight shoulders and the can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-why stress. I can see the low-level depression and the getting by. I can see it now, but in the fog I’d forgotten all over again: we are a family who needs to spend time together.

How to Deal with Negative People

How to Deal with Negative People

There is no getting around the fact that we are, each of us, in charge of choosing our happiness. In fact, I dedicated the first section of my book, An Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness, to personal responsibility.

There’s also no getting around the fact that we live and work with other people – and sometimes those people aren’t so happy.

Those unhappy people – and our inability to avoid them all together – are the inspiration for today’s Q&A video.

Carly asks:

What’s your philosophy on how to handle it when you have to be around people that seem devoted to misery? It makes me sad, so it’d be nice to have a coping strategy.

My philosophy on how to deal with negative people can be boiled down to three parts.

How to Deal with Negative People

  1. Limit your interaction – yep, it still comes down to taking ownership for how much time you spend around crabby people.
  2. Don’t engage – if you don’t validate negative people they will look for a new outlet.
  3. Let miserable people be miserable – it’s not your place to foist happiness onto someone else.

Ultimately, the key to dealing with negative people is to accept and respect other people’s right to be where they are.

Remember: you don’t have the market cornered on what it means to be happy and positive. (Click to tweet.)

What about you? How have you dealt with negative people in your life? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

Happiness Interview with Break-Up Coach Akirah Robinson

Yep, Akirah Robinson is a break-up coach.

She’s also an author, licensed social worker, and abuse survivor.

What I love about Akirah is that she believes in women, as a rule. She will look at you and assume that you are courageous – even if you don’t know it yet. I also like that she has one of those mega-watt smiles; you know, the kind that lights up a city block when she busts it out.

Akirah is married to a restaurant owner and is currently raising one chew-happy dog. This is what happiness looks like through her eyes.

Happiness Interview with Akirah Robinson

How do you define happiness?

Happiness is what happens when you combine intention and gratitude. When you intentionally choose to not to be miserable (regardless of the miserable situations that may arise in life) and intentionally savor each thing you are grateful for, happiness is often the result.

How do you fit what makes you happy into your day-to-day life?

This was actually becoming an issue for me, so I’ve recently adopted a self-care routine that works really well in my life. (I created a video describing my routine here.)

Essentially, I’ve drafted a list of activities that bring me happiness and have committed to engaging in at least one of these activities each day, even if for only fifteen minutes at a time. I’m a homebody, so it doesn’t take much to please me–I love reading, journaling, walking my dog, or running around the neighborhood. My biggest challenge is taking the time out I need to actually do those things. So now I do. And the results have been astounding.

What “shoulds” have you let go of in order to pursue your happiness?

I’ve basically let go of my ideas of what happiness needs to look like in my life. I used to cling to those ideas, and all that did was stifle and pressure me.

Sure, I have things I’d like to accomplish one day, but I no longer connect my happiness or self-worth to whether or not those things happen. I’ve found that being receptive to different versions of happiness allows the Universe to bless me in ways I could have never imagined.

Surrendering my life agenda has opened me up to opportunities beyond my wildest dreams.

akirah robinson quote

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about happiness?

Life is too short to not choose happiness today. (No, it’s not always the easy choice, but the things that are really worth it in life rarely are.)

How do you define a happy relationship?

Happiness looks different to each person, but I would define a happy relationship as one where I’m laughing a ton, learning a bunch, consistently growing, feeling encouraged, serving alongside my partner, and listening, supporting, and respecting him too.

A happy relationship, for me, is one where together we kick fear to the curb and love abounds.

Want more Akirah? Check out her new book, Respected: How One Word Can Change More Than Just Your Love Life.

What do you do if you hate feelings?

hate feelings snapshot

I give talks on happiness and lead workshops on gratitude. I’m into feelings. Big time.

But some people – lots of people – are not.

That doesn’t mean they don’t want to be happy; we’re all hardwired for that from the word go. It does, however, mean that many of the tools touted for achieving happiness can feel grossly out of reach to them.

I’ve run into this dichotomy in my own home: neither my daughter nor my husband are big fans of feelings. They don’t like to talk about them, wallow in them, or really even think about them much. Both of them would prefer doing to feeling any day.

That’s why I wasn’t at all surprised when a woman at workshop I was leading raised her hand and asked, “But what if you hate feelings?”

Her fellow attendees chuckled and were clearly confused, but I had heard those same words from my child just a few weeks earlier.

What do you do if you hate feelings?

There’s no avoiding feelings- and any attempts to do so will end with unpleasant, messy, unpredictable results.

You have to feel the feelings.

But you don’t have to:

  • Manage them.
  • Overcome them.
  • Resolve them.
  • Feel them all at once.

Check out the video for three practical ways to feel those pesky emotions a little bit at a time, and then get on with your life!

(Odds are if you’re reading this blog you are pretty comfortable with feelings. Consider sharing this post with someone you know who thinks that’s crazy.)

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