It is right and not wrong for me to have, to possess; an autonomous, differentiated, individual sense of self.
It is in fact, essential.
I need an “I” to relate to a “thou” (whether this is a Higher Power and/or another human being) to become a part of a securely and healthy functioning “we”.
It is also true, that I need a “we” that is supportive, “I”- affirming, flexible, and stable or secure, to develop an integrated and whole sense of an “I” in all its richness and complexity. In other words, I need the “we” to be a safe enough place where I won’t worry about losing or jeopardizing our “us” when the formation of my “I” overtly or covertly differentiates from the “you”, in our “we”. And if I (or you) do worry, it can be openly talked about and worked through in the “I” space and the “we” space. It doesn’t become the proverbial elephant in the room that eventually eats the rug it’s being impossibly swept under due to deprivation.
When I experience being me, and you experience being you, and we can honor and affirm one another without denial or diminishment of one another’s differences, this is beautiful intimacy that generously supports You, Me, and We.
This “we” can include a couple, a friendship, a workplace relationship, a family, a neighborhood, a community, and a world of all these worlds of we’s.
When there is a breakdown in the You, the Me, and therefore our We; instead of interdependency, codependency is found in all its cunning and baffling forms.
To mind our “You, and Me, and We” business is essential, courageous, breathtaking, and rewarding work. I believe we are inherently wired to flourish and thrive in this work, together. After all, it is a lot of work.
But let’s also leave room for humor and work, along the path of humanlightenment.
I was recently asked if I was a “glass is half-empty” or “glass is half-full” kinda gal, to which I said “Both. I’m a ‘glass is half-empty and half-full’ kinda gal, because both are simultaneously true when it’s true.”
In certain cases, positivity is more of a vice than a virtue when it’s fueled by emotional dishonesty in my relationships. It’s not virtuous to deceive myself or others, regarding how I think or feel, just to appear or sound “positive”. I believe this kind of emotional deception can actually lead to disconnection and depression, are those “positive”?
It takes a level of courage to practice vulnerability and allow yourself to be fully seen by others. This is vital for intimate connection, which starts with being honest and clearest with myself. Sure, I can admit that I don’t like how I feel or think because they make me feel uncomfortable or unpleasant. But to omit them from conscious awareness and prevent me from attending to these parts of me isn’t a positive attribute in my opinion. It’s being out of touch with myself and, all while deceiving myself into believing this is really a “positive” thing to practice!
This kind of positivity is a type of emotional vanity and shallowness. It bolsters shallow and insecure connections, and is rampant in many religious/faith/spiritual circles, where I would hope to find these spaces to be where I can truly show up and take off the masks.
Owning what is true for me, is a more virtuous pursuit than “staying positive” if that means bullshitting about how I really am. That said, I also understand the sad reality that many people cannot contain the full weight of my truth, so I choose whom I share my vulnerability with, discriminately. As long as I know the truth of where I’m at, and am practicing being clear and honest with myself, and can be seen in this light in at least one other relationship, I think that is a positive thing.
Long entangled strings from old baggage seem to follow, like a shadow.
The longer you’ve traveled this earth, the more you collect. In it can be treasures or and, rotten waste.
Open up your baggage! Its damn flowing train is getting too long! It’s now a tripping hazard for you and for me!
I wish it were as easy as the Baggage Claim at the airport. Travelers recognize their own or can check the name tag. But this baggage isn’t so easily claimed! It’s mistakenly claimed as mine when it’s really yours!
Back and forth the disclaimed and misclaimed baggage gets passionately tossed between us. Like a hot potato. Scorched are the hands who hold on too long.
Not all of this will burn. There are unclaimed treasures inside too. There’s been a spill from the unfinished business of your past. It has contaminated everything.
When you indiscriminately throw away your past, it comes back. Boomerang. Give and it will be given back? Karmic energy?
Reclaim the abandoned energy within and between you. This will be a joint success, a joint failure, or a joint holding pattern; awaiting clearance. You cannot abandon this energy force, without consequence.
The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
So… Whose shit is this? It’s ours.
Your past, my past Your beliefs, my beliefs Your experiences, my experiences Your pain, my pain Your dreams, my dreams Your grief, my grief Your fears, my fears Your victories, my victories Your strengths, my strengths Your weaknesses, my weaknesses
It all goes into one bag. Like different threads, weaved into a tapestry.
Joint ownership. Joint consequences. Joint time limit.
One bag One tapestry Many threads Our threads
We work to carry it together and move on, Or we toss it back and forth together And, remain firmly stuck in a holding pattern; awaiting clearance… someday. Who knows when?
Meanwhile, time passes by. Time – non-renewable resource. Time. No returns, refunds, or exchanges.
Whose shit is this? Ours. Whose treasure is this? Ours.
I like who I am. I genuinely do. Yes, there are parts of me I feel more comfortable with than others, but they all make up who I am. They all belong to me. The sum of all my parts make up who I am; deep, passionate, caring, and completely lovable. Not everyone will see me in this way, at least not all the time. I don’t either, and I’m OK with that.
Others have parts of themselves they’re uncomfortable with too, and when certain parts or emotions are expressed in me, it may provoke a reaction from others which illuminates how they feel or interact with their own similar parts. It’s very rarely personal, but almost always revealing of how one holds certain parts of themselves, usually unconsciously. That’s exactly why it isn’t personal, yet to the degree an individual can make space for all their parts it will impact the degree of intimacy or intimate-capacity they have for another.
In conflict, pivotal opportunity arises. The opportunity to strengthen a connection by showing up with openness. When the struggle (and it’s often a struggle, hence the conflict) to do this is self-acknowledged, compassionate curiosity can soften the edges.
As a type 6 on the Enneagram, I can detect extremely subtle emotional energy, for better or for worse. You see, emotions tell on us. They reveal what we tell ourselves about ourselves, and what we tell ourselves about others, all at lightning speed. Curiosity engages with this process and slows it down, because it all happens so rapidly. Slowing the speed down serves to prevent defensively disengaging and shutting down the process, or reacting to it by going on the offense against whatever or whomever we feel defensive towards. What often happens when we don’t consciously slow down to reflect, is a missed opportunity at best, and a self-sabotaging repeat of things we’ve later come to regret.
When an individual shows up with a non-defensive presence and can attune, or meet me where I’m at with sincere, non-judgmental engagement i.e. empathy – it is extremely subtle but profound. This is how intimacy is built, and it is also where it is lost if someone cannot engage with this process. The capacity to be intimate and emotionally available with themselves, and therefore with others is what’s illuminated in these moments. And with that, the opportunity to grow. And, there is always room to grow individually and relationally.
When the opportunity is seized, it’s truly a gift. A gift that’s birthed in imperfection. It’s a privilege to witness this. What I’m witnessing is another sacred human’s strength and profound trust in themselves, and the impact of being trusted by them as well. There’s risk involved. I want to show up as honestly and authentically as I can, there’s little room for perfectionism in this process.
The natural slower rhythms of synchronicity within this level of intimacy spring from doing enough of this on an individual level first. When two individuals mutually cultivate this kind of space between each other there’s a shared protectiveness and enjoyment, and it’s quite nice and quite rare! So, treasure it.
And while enduring the experiences where there’s a lack of synchronicity, I’m learning to not take the misattunements personally. It’s more than likely a ripple effect of the rapid past-time insecurities, anxieties, and defenses at play. The key word is: rapid. It cannot be overemphasized how important slowing down is, in order to engage in this process productively.
In certain cases you may find yourself in isolation when it comes to having the intention to evolve, and strengthen your own self and the relationship. When another individual (of which you have no control over) is more invested in their ego boosting their self-esteem, they will defend and resist with great effort. It’s hard to believe because it feels so personal, and it is, but it’s not about YOUR personhood, it’s about theirs. Their very own sense of self-esteem is dependent on a false self (ego) to feel secure, and there is rigidity, not flexibility, in the ego. It’s ego-preservation vs. self-preservation.
When the True self is the one fueling self-esteem, there’s an openness that emerges because the True Self, knows itself and all of its parts (the good the bad and the ugly) can belong so clearly to itself regardless of how anyone may react. It’s an integrated Self that is self-accepting.
So when you experience resistance, understand this is where you can also grow. And to be clear, resistance and defensive reactions can range anywhere from avoidance to fleeing to going on the offense by becoming either passive-aggressive or blatantly aggressive. This is indicative of ego-preservation, that results from having a fragile source of self-esteem (the ego).
When (not if, but when) this happens, you’ll have an opportunity with yourself to get very clarifying information around your own ego-preservation activities, which we all have to different degrees, and of different levels of awareness and intensity depending on how your personality operates (read up on Enneagram). The cracks in your own armor around this may likely get exposed. Ouch. And welcome to the human race, once again. How you respond has impact. Invite yourself to become empowered.
Some of us are more easily duped by our egos than others. To those who have very sophisticated egos when it comes to self-awareness and where we are on our growth maps, you may want to ask yourself some discerning questions:
Do you value or dismiss what’s triggering you?
Do you engage in vulnerable and compassionate self-reflection, sharing this with at least one individual who will challenge and vet your narrative?
If not, you’ll stay stuck and your evolution will pass this opportunity by, and will return again and again until you’ve worked this through to completion. And, may then visit your descendents for the opportunity to evolve in the next generation.
Little by little, (which is the pace that organic life grows) you’ll stretch your window of tolerating discomfort as you receive these Divinely inspired opportunities to say yes to building a sense of genuine self-confidence that stems from grace and truth.
This is how ultimately how I see adult development works, whether I like parts of it or not.
Relationships are like soul-gardens. What’s lurking beneath the surface within the soil of the relationship will in time, be revealed in both people, in different ways and will impact and manifest in both individuals according to the uniqueness of each individual soul.
Depending on how conscious both people are about which seeds are planted in their garden, you’ll either harvest something very close to your desires or, far from them. But, you will harvest whatever seeds have been planted and nurtured consistently.
What do you want to harvest from your soul-garden?
Think of this carefully…for the seeds you sow into your soul-garden (relationship) will also be what you reap within your own individual souls to varying degrees. We are impacted by our relationships, and our relationships are impacted by how we perceive ourselves which in turn impacts how we show up in our relationships and treat one another. These perceptions seem small and insignificant (like seeds) but produce significant things. Think of an acorn.
Seeds have invisible power, naked to the physical eye. They hold immense energy though. Seeds are mini power-houses. What kinds of seeds are you planting into your soul-garden? Let me say it again: Every seed will produce something, depending on the type of seed you sow.
These are some of the seeds we can plant in our soul-gardens (aka – relationships):
These are weeds we can also plant into our soul-gardens, which all start out in seed form:
What are you planting in your soul garden? Get conscious about this, because your significant/intimate relationship is a soul garden. We are shaped by our relationships, and we can also shape our relationships by the seeds we plant. Seeds are powerful, and the more conscious you are of the seeds you plant, the more empowered you will feel as a co-soul-gardner.
Within your most intimate relationships – you have powerwhich impacts how you experience your soul. We live in a soul-making universe, and it is my belief that the gardens of souls are intimate relationships.
I’m holding myself accountable for, loving myself well. And to love myself well, is to know myself well, not just the parts I’m comfortable with.
This Self-Love Accountability Act will set you free, but more importantly – set me free.
With freedom, comes responsibility. With responsibility, comes freedom.
To the degree of freedom I seek, is the degree of responsibility I take. Outrageous and abnormal freedom requires outrageous and abnormal responsibility.
When it comes to our important relationships (romantic, parenting, relatives, workplace, friendships, etc.) I crave different levels of intimacy, but abhor all levels of vulnerability.
In my observations of being a human and walking with other humans thus far, I’ve noticed that we demand our personal freedoms, yet demand personal indemnity from our choices coming from our personal freedoms. This is not a political statement, but a personal one. We can be very shrewd and sophisticated in our ability to fight for our right to be unaccountable for ourselves within our most important (and vulnerable-laden) relationships. We hold others on the hook, while holding ourselves in tandem. It’s the double-bind of personal power within relationships. There’s this subconscious and tacit rule that can lead to so much avoidable stress within relationships when we energetically or emotionally communicate: “I want YOU to do what I don’t do, but better!'”
Personally, I’m becoming ‘woke’ to the ego-offending truth that I’ve lived for far too long relying on this double-bind to actually work for me, and those I care about. All while mostly holding them accountable while I defend my right to be free. This expansion is empowering me towards working WITH this paradox of personal power, which has both abundant freedom AND responsibility, in tandem.
For example, I’ve often expected others to generously and enthusiastically give me, what I’ve unwittingly been stingy and discriminately willing to give to myself – unconditional acceptance in the areas I feel the most vulnerable in. My vulnerabilities are parts or particulars deep down within, which I judge as least worthy of being seen in their unadulterated and unfiltered lens with dignity, let alone – love. Some call this shame.
The way to release the shame, is to look into my most shamed aspects of myself closely and in the light of conscious awakeness and see these sorely misunderstood and judged parts in the ways I want others to see me – with deep and sincere compassion, yet a no bullshit kind of honesty. These are not mutually exclusive. It’s living in the holding space of the human experience somewhere between “right” and “wrong”. Coming from a budding place of conscious acceptance vs self-ignorance.
It is MY job to know myself better, and love all parts. It is not other people’s job to do this for me. It is MY job to cultivate happiness, meaning, and growth in whatever circumstances I’m in, not others. And oddly, the more I do this for myself, the more I’ll find that this is being mirrored back by others who do this as well, almost effortlessly, but vice versa. Mirrors don’t judge, they just reflect.
This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t ever reach out for support, or receive support that’s available if I should choose to reach for it. Withholding that kind of support for myself isn’t very responsible or self-loving, and just frankly doesn’t get me very far, very fast. If it does for you, then keep at it!
I will receive support to nurture myself, especially when this is something new and outside of my comfort zone. Just as someone who is learning a foreign language would be wise to put themselves in environments where this new language is well spoken. Where they can practice the language while receiving helpful feedback and encouragement, while on their path to learning something new.
Set yourself free by holding yourself accountable to giving and receiving with yourself, the kind of love you want to receive, generously and abundantly. By doing this, you’ll also be setting those around you free to freely love and accept you, without the burden of the subconscious quid pro quo of “give-and-take” when it comes to taking turns babysitting each other’s egos. You cannot give love, in order to feel entitled for having resentment for not receiving love that you do not give and receive consciously with yourself first. Correction: You CAN do that! Just ask yourself honestly – how’s that been working for you? Do you and the other both come out ahead? This is a direct message coming from one who has done this in spades, and comes from a place of self-love and belief in your power to do this, imperfectly but progressively.
I’ve lived long enough in my life to learn this lesson, that getting caught up in the trap of “giving-to-get” gets old and never seems “fair” or “equitable” for long. The tallies just don’t seem to ever add up on each other’s scoresheet.
How am I giving and receiving within myself, what I want to receive from others in my most important relationships? Before I ask myself if others are measuring up (albeit is a valid and necessary question) – I will ask myself if I am first? Practicing outrageous accountability in this, will lead me to outrageous freedom I’m so ready to receive, and thank myself for and attracting this kind of empowering love into my life.
So, another intimate relationship has fallen through the cracks for me. I’m coming to accept this through grief and self-reflection. On this path, I find myself asking, “why?”
I believe all intimate relationships that cannot overcome its obstacles boil down to this: at least one person is not committed to dealing with their own shit.
This closed door between them and their past shit, comes in between their intimate relationships unless the other party is willing to settle for dysfunction or disconnect, and be at ease with dis-ease.
Everyone has their own shit. Shit from either childhood or adulthood, and usually a mix of both. Humans are biologically wired for relationships. There’s a ton of scientific evidence to support that, go Google it. This is neither good, nor bad. It just IS. When in an intimate relationship, you will find opportunity to either deal with your shit, or have the relationship suffer. Nobody can make this choice for anyone else. It’s a free-will decision that impacts others, but is only controlled by the one making it.
You need to own your shit, or your shit will own you. It’s simple, but not easy.
People who shrink back from going into their shit, will create more shit.
There are a million different ways to shrink back from your shit, which in turn produces more shit, which in turn produces more shrinking back…you see where this leads? To a lot of shit.
A few common ways people shrink back from dealing with their shit, which produces more shit is:
All sorts of addictions. Some are more destructive than others and some are more socially acceptable than others but they’re all an escape from your shit.
What keeps you trapped in this downward spiral is the practice of consistently shifting blame onto others for your present day behaviors. This is an effective way of ultimately betraying yourself. When you refuse to take responsibility for yourself, you don’t have to sit with what can actually save you, guilt and self-reflection. This may work for you temporarily, but ultimately comes with a huge cost. Because temporarily is only temporary.
Guilt will lead you back to yourself, but you’ve got to be comfortable enough in your own skin – all of it, to be in it. It’s the language of your own internal moral compass, which is always on your side. But people can spend years, decades, even most of their lifetime, at war with their own moral compass. This is an exhausting battle.
Guilt is meant to jar you, because if you avoid it for long, you’ll eventually experience a break down. Accumulative guilt will weigh a person down with such a heavy toll that they have to self-destruct to find momentary relief, with suffering at the tail-end. Unless you have a serious mental illness where you cannot feel any guilt or shame, in which you are a very dangerous person, especially to those who are closest to you but even to the general public. In that case, you’d be a sociopath.
What do you do when you’re in an intimate relationship with someone who WILL NOT GO THERE…to where their shit is? Clinicians call it trauma. Some people call it baggage, their shadow, or their inner demons. Whatever you call it, if you’re with someone who is unwilling to go there themselves, let alone with you – you are faced with the reality of your powerlessness over someone else you care about.
I’m learning love does this in that painful place – let go.
The most loving thing I can do for the other, and for myself – is to truly let go.
This is where I enter into addressing my own shit.
Doing loads and loads of grieving.
But if I do not enter into this work, I will return to it with more shit. I’ve been here before. I now know, what I didn’t know before. When an intimate relationship ends, there is a need to let go, and grieve with other safe people, and most importantly, with myself.
This is where I will find my own healing. For some people, what doesn’t kill them will break them down, and for some, what doesn’t kill them will make them stronger. I will to be the latter, and need support from others to do so because self-reliance is a sham. It actually makes me weaker. When I self-deceive myself into the delusion of self-reliance, I’ll will create more shit.
I don’t have to shut-down or close the door to my heart, even especially when I’m hurting. I will open myself up to what IS available, instead of fight what isn’t, even if it hurts at first.
I’m ready to meet life, on life’s terms and grieve the losses I’ve experienced and am experiencing. I will remain open, to what is, even though I close myself to what isn’t. This takes strength. The kind of strength I didn’t believe I had, until I was faced with the choice to either shut-down which would hurt my children the most, or to live, and let live.
There is serenity in acceptance, but the path weaves through grief, and will turn out better for me in the end. But now, it’s hard as hell.
I’m coming out of the closet with being so fed up with the teeny tiny toxic man box, as a woman. I have HAD it with the ass backwards relationships between a man and his power, which is socially reinforced like it’s on steroids.
By the way, if you don’t know what I’m referring to when I say “man box” watch this:
Mr’s. please hear me. We have brave men who specifically support and speak into empowering women to heal and rise above the toxic social messages that imply or convey that they are second class citizens, and to instead know their worth and resist these sexist messages that society or their past tells them. I appreciate those men’s voices in support of women rising above a culture that tries to stifle them. It may be a long shot, but for whatever it’s worth, I offer my voice speaking into men’s lives wherever it may be received.
It’s challenging for a woman to speak to men about gender issues because an insidious part of gender issues, specifically related to gender violence against women, comes from living inside the man box, where women are considered inferior – easily dismissed or slammed for speaking out. I wonder if this means most men are receptive only to men when it comes to having a conversation about what it means to be a real man even though most men who live with women or girls want to be validated by them as being real men too, even if they don’t show it. I’ll take my chances that some men are receptive to voices that aren’t exclusively from men when it comes to this topic. I believe a part of the problem is that most men are unaware of being inside that same man box, even if they never become violent towards a woman themselves, and this is what perhaps contributes to keeping them silent and complicit – adhering to the invisible man code of omission in the face of commission when it comes to violence against women. I am witness to this, and I will not stay silent, though I am not a man.
I’m a woman who has unfortunately experienced domestic violence, has reached out to men in my life asking them to confront this issue and the man with me, and nobody answers that call. Instead I get a litany of excuses for their disengagement, even if that means a woman they care about is at risk for being seriously hurt or worse. Where are the men? They are hiding in that man box, which is preventing them from being the men they could be, because that means being vulnerable, taking initiative, and therefore putting their egos in the backseat so they’re free to take risks with other men. That is why I’m personally fed up with this man box. The only thing that fits neatly inside is a very fragile male ego.
As a woman, I don’t have that man box to contend with in order to feel validated in my gender. I am not stifled by the socialization of my gender that is highly controlling and restrictive when it comes to having emotions. When I do encounter this from other women, I believe it’s second hand to women who have been indoctrinated by men AND women who believe the man box is all there is when it comes to being “strong”. It can restrict everyone to a certain degree, but less for women than men in my experience.
I know I’m a woman, I don’t feel the need to prove this by acting out in certain ways with men or women that violate or ignore the right to consciously have my own values. That is a gender-based prison our culture throws boys and men into, that creates barriers from ever being challenged from the inside out, by other men, or by women who are obviously not men, and therefore according to the man box, don’t really matter.
Sirs – please. Break out of that man box.
The reality is you DO have power which is unique to being a man. You can choose how, when, and where to wield that power but since it is power, there are big stakes involved. I am speaking as a woman who has been through the clutches of domestic violence, which in most cases though not all (some women do have significant physical and financial advantages over their male partners) involve a man using his advantages to evade his own inner emotional work, at the expense of his own family and exploits a woman’s vulnerabilities by going to great lengths to avoid his own. Although believing (albeit unconsciously) that entering into vulnerability or emotional work is optional at best, or God-forbidden – “women’s work” at worst. That the relinquishment of the only kind of power he knows – power OVER others, including parts of himself that he’s terrified or ashamed of (like his emotional needs) and cannot fully access. It’s as if his penis might shrink or fall off if he gets in touch with his emotional life.
Undoubtedly, you’ve been taught by a culture that you cannot afford to give up this man box. That the only thing to fear is, fear or vulnerability. But your shield of invulnerability is what keeps you caged inside the toxic tiny man box, and locks away your true sense of power – the power to consciously and courageously navigate through your own internal world and integrate that world with your external world. Your internal world of vulnerability exists whether you openly acknowledge it or not. Integrate this in a way that makes you feel undeniably and unpretentiously self-respecting and can entitle you to feel like the kind of man you will be proud of while in the vulnerable unmasked presence of those you’re closest to and know you best, your own family.
I cannot tell you how to do that work, as a man. I’ve never had to break out of the man box, but I’ve lived with men who are extremely attached to it, and it’s hurt. Profoundly. That kind of work IS man’s work. We women have our own work when it comes to getting out of our own unhealthy gendered socialization. It’d be presumptuous and arrogant of me to tell you how to breakout of the man box just like it would be if a man were to tell me how to heal my wounds from sexism or misogyny. The kind of traveling companion you need is a brother of sorts, a man who knows what it’s like to live in that box, and work his way out.
I can tell you that this refusal to STEP UP and LEAD your family, or your community, your department, your tribe of whatever proportions – with courage, humility, and self-respect is squashed when you live in that toxic man box.
The way UP is OUT.
The way to move UP from boyhood and into manhood with bravery, integrity, and strength that doesn’t dominate others out of a fear of vulnerability is to get OUT of this toxic man box, and get around other men who are doing the same. They do exist. Just as women who are healing from our own gender-based wounds, you cannot do this alone, which herein lies a challenge if you’re stuck in that box. You need others, and they need you, because you’re doing what your sperm has to do in order to create a new life – swim upstream. Graphic, but don’t miss the rich symbolism in how men contribute to the creation of a new human life. Swimming upstream!
One of my favorite quotes comes from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:
“If you want to know what a man’s like take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
This is the kind of strength and leadership women want from their men in intimate relationships. It’s hot. It’s sexy. It’s admirable and will make most women take pause. But in order to get to that point, you have to stop burying what the man box says you need to bury – your feelings. The vulnerable ones, not just your feelings related to being pissed off or horny, you’ll need the rest of them too – they’re there.
Our culture does you a disservice when they sell you short with the man box, and you cannot escape being exposed to it – it’s widespread in our American culture.
Depending on how much or how little you’ve been exposed to life outside of the man box, you may need either a shovel to dig out your emotions, or an excavator. But who do you need permission from in order to begin doing this work? – YOURSELF.
Doesn’t waiting on other men or mainstream culture to grant you permission to be fully alive and consciously awake to ALL of your emotions render you vulnerable and dependent, which is a violation of that man box you adhere to anyway?
Our culture does no favors to you, women, or children by keeping you in that man box. Dig yourself out, don’t wait for someone else to rescue you or grant you that permission. If you don’t have it from other men in your life right now, that’s OK. Revolt. Find men who get it. If you give in to the man box, you may slowly die by burying core parts of yourself alive inside a box that cannot handle a man that’s fully alive – thinking and feeling independent of that man box. Dig like the quality of your life depended on it, because I’m willing to bet a lot of it does if you have any women or girls in your life that you hold dear. And do it wholeheartedly because, you are worth more than half-assing it.
This is a hot topic right now because it’s so relevant, yet it seems so ambiguous. It’s been all around us lately – in the news with celebrities, politicians, many high-ups in their professions, and religious leaders being accused and held accountable for NOT getting CONSENT in the realm of sexual activity, creating a tidal wave of #metoo.
I am a woman. I am a mother — of 3 daughters. This is a big deal to me.
Consent. What is it? What does it look like? Or more importantly, what does it FEEL like?
I’d like to approach these questions as if they were coming from my daughters — from girls or women. While of course consent isn’t only given by girls or women, I am writing from the vantage point of the female being in the position discerning whether or not she consents to engage in any sexual activity.
Consent is a fundamental human rights issue, regardless of your gender, race, religious creed, or sexual orientation. Yet, I believe our culture sets up females in a very harmful confusing place. Let her get clear about her “Yes”, “Wait”, or “No” relating to any sexual behavior with her. So let me be clear here — my main intent is to empower her, from the inside out.
I’ve found myself asking these questions when it comes to consent:
What does consent feel like? How do I even KNOW if I consent to something, or am ambivalently going along to appease and not “make a big fuss”. And what about these more grey areas, outside of intercourse? What about the “I don’t know” areas? Slow things down so she can focus on her heart in this very important area.
These questions reflect the many blurred lines which create a very disempowered experience when it comes to consent. I didn’t feel very empowered to consider ME, apart and separate from the guy’s wants, or in addition to any religious values regarding sexuality – all of which have value, but do not replace or silence my voice. Even if I am married, I still have a voice. Consent is still an issue for married couples. Consent may be more open-ended when there is trust established, but not all marriages have that kind of trust, or this kind of trust has been broken some how. That’s another grey area best reserved for a different post.
If at all possible, I think reflecting on this and talking to adults you trust, before being in the position of needing to make that call is essential. And I believe that this is developmentally a very adult activity that one should use their own clear-headed and wholehearted judgment on because if not, the rewards are often pretty fleeting and costly. There are long-lasting consequences that need to be considered which requires emotional maturity and a highly tuned-in sense to your own innate worthiness. Yet I also acknowledge that unfortunately many of us find ourselves dealing with consent issues long before we even consent to that. These are non-consensual activities aka. sexual harassment and assault, and are unfortunately too common still. Our modern culture still sets up girls and women in a double-bind when it comes to her giving consent or not. Her “No” can make her vulnerable to being ridiculed and even called a “bitch”, “tight” or a “nun” for example, making a big “fuss” over “nothing”. Or her “Yes” can make her vulnerable to being called a “slut”, a “skank” or a “whore”. Who wins in this double-bind? Nobody really, with the exception of sexual predators/offenders while using their cultural privilege or positions of power (usually males) to assert their sense of sexual entitlement, at great expense to others (usually females but sometimes boys too) or those who callously scoff and blame victims of sexual abuse.
Let me be clear, I’m not just talking about intercourse, I’m talking about any kind of activity that has to do with your sacred bodies and your sexuality. This could include a hug, a touch, a comment about your body in a sexual nature, being flashed/exposed to, or even just stares at your body – this is not just about intercourse!
Regardless of what your past experiences have been, now is always a good time to reflect on consent because consent is about boundaries and expecting respect.
Consent is something I believe requires a high developmental level of emotional and mental maturity and self-empowerment. That self-empowerment comes first through co-empowerment through voices like mine, that uncompromisingly affirm your worth and your voice. In an attempt to bring concrete boundaries through legislating consent, many states like Minnesota for example, say a child under the age of 13 regardless of the age of the perpetrator cannot legally consent to sexual conduct. Their “yes” is NOT a “yes” because they should’ve even be in the position to have to decide, and if they are – it’s exploitation and the law recognizes that. However, I would even extend that age beyond 13. The minimum age for joining the military is 17 with parental consent. 18 without parental consent. Something seems off to me. It’s hard to put an age on the ability to truly consent to something so intimate, like sexual activity and the age of legal consent varies from state to state. But instead of focusing on age, focus on maturity and emotional/mental health. Who has the maturity to see the long-term consequences of their sexual activity, while weighing the negative and the positive, and making an informed and empowered decision about their own bodies? Legislating consent is complex, but discerning it within you can be less complex when you feel empowered to do so.
Why is this such a big deal? There are serious consequences to sexual activity that many don’t acknowledge or understand until later. These consequences can be experienced either immediately or much later on, or both. I’m not just referring to the obvious ones; sexually transmitted infections and unplanned/unwanted pregnancies. I’m talking about your emotional, spiritual, and mental health that significantly overlaps with your sexual health. You cannot compartmentalize these any more than you can compartmentalize the food you eat from only being pumped into certain parts of your bloodstream. Wait. Let me semi-amend that statement — At least not without putting in a lot of effort to abandon, deny, or numb out from core parts of yourself, which unfortunately is all too common also when it comes to sexual activity. Sexual health isn’t about black and white rules of conduct or conforming to “norms”. Just because something is common or “normal” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Looking at your sexual health holistically, as it relates to your whole well-being is something not being emphasized nearly enough, and the fallout can be very painful.
There are definite risks and rewards tied to sexual behavior. Sexual touch or any kind of activity in this realm is such an intimate and vulnerable activity, which is why it is so extremely violating in the absence of consent or knowing what all you are consenting to.
It is my belief that sexual activity is most safe AND most pleasurable when it is thoroughly and mutually consented to by mature enough people living from a place of worthiness, not using their sexuality to hustle for crumbs of fleeting worth. Therefore I believe giving consent is an adulting activity, but am aware that many pre-adults are exploring this adult arena thinking they are mature enough to handle it. I just hope for their own sake, it is all safe even though I’m reluctant to call that consensual. It truly takes a high level of maturity and agency to give this kind of centered, empowered, and self-aware consent.
This is important, not just for those who have yet to make their first sexual debut, but for subsequent activity even when you’re in a long-term relationship because your consent can always be taken away. In a long-term relationship like a marriage, the consent may be more open-ended because enough sustaining trust has been established, but it’s still your body and your sexual health. In the places where consent isn’t mutually open-ended like in a new dating relationship, think of it as entering into a binding agreement or contract that requires your signature. What are you consenting to? Since it’s not as concrete as signing your name on a dotted line when you consent to any sexual activity, it can become very ambiguous.
So, in addition to your own set of conscious values and beliefs when it comes to any sexual activity, whether they be religious or not, here are some things to also consider. Hopefully they will help you clarify how consent in the “grey areas” may feel.
Remember – if you aren’t even given the opportunity to say “yes” or “no” because there wasn’t explicit communication about any kind of sexual activity beforehand, it’s not consent. It’s a violation. But if you are presented with an opportunity to give empowered consent while you’re adulting in life, notice what you notice. Give consent to yourself to feel what you feel inside! Girls and women need to hear this because we are so bombarded with messages that lead us AWAY from ourselves when it comes to our bodies and our sexual health.
If you aren’t confident AND relaxed in your “yes” – don’t just go along with it. You don’t have to just take it even if it’s “just” a lingering hug or wandering hands. Know your “No”. Consent is about empowerment. Give yourself permission to speak up as clear and as loud as you feel you need. This is your body. This is your sexual health.
It’s a bit more obvious when talking about sexual intercourse and consent. But hear this — You have the right to not consent to activity way before it gets to that point, and if that’s not respected, it’s NOT OK. You have a Green light, a Yellow Light, and a Red Light — be connected to it. Any consensual relationship will give plenty of space for both people to do that. Listen to all of your body’s wisdom, and if it’s hard to tell what it’s saying, know this is your Yellow Light. Honor it.
If you can’t get comfortable in feeling confident AND relaxed in your “Yes” and your “No” — it’s a NO, at least for now.
If your answer is “oh fine” because it’s not a clear enough “no”, than it’s not a clear enough “yes” either.
I cannot over-emphasize this — If it’s not a self-aware and authentic “Yes!” – Honor that and expect it to be honored also or it’s not consent – even if it’s not about intercourse. Consent starts way before intercourse. Girls in our culture, beginning from a very young age are raised to people-please and care-take, even to their own expense. We are groomed from a very early age to direct our focus and care away from us and towards others. This is so harmful when it comes to our sexual health. Start practicing redirecting yourself back home, within your body.
Notice. Honor. And enjoy that space of authenticity in your consent for your sexual health.
It takes practice. If you are with a man who does not honor this space, your empowerment to have boundaries that value your worth outside of sex, that is a huge red flag that needs to be considered, not glossed over. It isn’t a good sign of his character.
Consent is about clear, empowered, and authentic communication, between you and your body, then between you and another. This goes for a kiss, hug, touch, or of course, intercourse — anything that has to do with your body and your sexual health.
The bottom line is you are worthy of respect, and so is your “No, and so is your “Yes”. Engaging with life from a place of worthiness most certainly includes our sexual health.
I really wish every girl has a strong and loving woman to empower her in this area. I aspire and hope to be that strong and loving voice to empower others now, as a mother. And how awesome would that be to have strong and loving men to add their voice to empowering girls in this way also?
As a step father or step mother, you are actually stepping IN, not aside of a unique parental role. You’re not replacing their other bio parent, but stepping in as a parental figure to fill in the gaps as much as you can. These thoughts are a work in progress, but here are some guidelines coming from a bio-mama who loves her children and wants what’s best for them and their childhood that includes growing up in blended families.
You can customize this list for you and your own household, because each family —especially blended families, have their own unique set of circumstances and needs to meet in order to make their family work in a healthy way. And these needs and circumstances evolve just as the children and hopefully, the adults do.
First and foremost: Love these children as if they were YOURS. This is not on the condition of whether or not their other bio parent is “in the picture” this is something you can consciously commit to regardless of the degree to which the other bio parent is involved. There’s an emotional adoption that needs to happen from the beginning. There is no “probationary” period for the kids, you aren’t becoming a foster parent, you’re a step-in parent that’s being grafted into this family tree. Just as kids are adopted by their adoptive parents by the initiation of the adoptive parent, there is a stable and UNCONDITIONAL commitment to the kids. To not have this happen is to create rifts out of your own self-protection. You could be rejected, or not. It’s not on the condition of them accepting you. You’re not applying for this job, if you’re married or fully committed to a partner with kids, this is the deal. You’re all in, or your not in at all. Some things really are all or nothing. Kids are extremely sensitive, their resilient but sensitive and will feel this sense of insecurity if you have not emotionally adopted them into your heart. As far as your heart is concerned, these children are as if they are your own flesh and blood. They aren’t “his” or “her” kids as far as your heart is concerned. Legal custody and emotional adoption are two different matters. You don’t need a court order to emotionally adopt these children you share a home with. You need resolve. You need a conscious investment of being all in, just like you would if they were your bio kids. Many weddings where there are non bio children of either the bride or groom include making vows not only to their bride or groom, but to the children of the bride or groom, it’s a beautiful thing. This is a stance you take internally to make this level of commitment to the children.
Ask your partner what they want and expect from your role as a step-parent. Share what you see as your role also. Identify parenting philosophies and parenting/family values and work as a TEAM and PARTNERSHIP in building these into practice.
Be open and humble. You are learning how to build a relationship with children who didn’t get a vote in having you be in their own home and lives. If you’ve never been a parent, be willing to place any preconceived notions about how children “ought” to behave and how parents “ought” to parent in one hand, and then open the other hand to receive new insights from your lived experiences with these children.
Know these kids well. Most likely, you weren’t there from the very beginning, but you can invest in discovering on a regular basis how these young and growing beings tick, just as their bio parent hopefully does with them also. The deeper you know and understand them, the better.
Reserve discipline for the bio parent unless there is a very deep and secure attachment or emotional bond that you’ve created with these children. Support their bio-parent’s discipline, but save the most confrontational enforcement of it or initiation of it for their bio parent unless you have this secure attachment where they feel safe enough to just be themselves even if it’s not how YOU want them to be, which takes a lot of time and trust to develop.
If you have shared children with their bio parent, do NOT show favoritism to “your” child. It hurts the whole family. It creates wedges between your child and their siblings just as it would in non-blended families. Be very self-aware and intentional about with this.
Your partner shouldn’t feel like a single parent when you are with them, or you’re not doing your job unless they want you to leave the parenting up to just them. But if not, this will put a strain on them and your relationship because single parenting is one of THE hardest jobs on the planet. This is why I call it a step-in parent, because they shouldn’t feel like a single parent if you’re there stepping up or stepping in, unless your partner doesn’t want you to be very involved. Hopefully this won’t be an area of ambiguity, and if it is, talk and clarify as you go.
Your role as a step-in-parent is tremendously important and valuable, though it is often so under-appreciated and under-recognized. It’s tough, it’s challenging, and will cause you to grow, but the reward is having the very fulfilling and satisfying feeling of building your family UP, no matter what DNA comes from where or who. You are leaving a legacy that goes above and beyond DNA, but is made by sweat and tears from the labor of LOVE. It will strengthen your marriage, your family, and yourself. It’s not for the faint at heart. It takes tremendous courage and commitment to be a step-in parent, but don’t all things in life that mean so much?