Self-awareness and self-education are all key elements in moving towards a higher level of integration.
This week I unexpectedly lost my long time furry companion Dusty Bottoms. I decided today's blog should be dedicated to honoring his life.
Ten years ago we were walking my nephew around the park while my sister and her husband celebrated their aniversary. We approached a corner and saw the cutest little dog.
We'd been trying for about a year to have a kid and I also wanted a dog, but my then husband wasn't too sure. When we found out they were looking for a new home for him, to my surprise my partner agreed. His previous owner said that he had a knack for getting uder foot, and sure enough he would follow me around everywhere, but didn't mind too much if I accidentally bumped into him.
Shortly after that, I got pregnant and also was assigned to a job 45 minutes away. My son's father went off to boot camp for the army band for an extended time leaving me home tired and alone with only Dusty for company many a night. He was patient all day and never left a mess, but would occasionally send me a message when I got home that he did not like being alone that long.
Every night before bed he would play with me through the blankets and he was always careful never to attack my bare skin. When my son was born, he intuitively sensed that this little new member of the family needed quiet at night so he toned it down at night, but when the boy got old enough to play they had lovely games of tug-o-war and fetch.
He was there for me through my divorce and late nights with a colicky infant. He was a perfect example of unconditional love.
He had a history of seizures and bad teeth, but what I didn't realize is that the seizures had injured his back and his teeth issues had damaged his heart. The vet I had gone to randomly shut down and it was hard for me to find a new vet - especially with everything else on my plate as a single parent.
The last couple of years he's been in a lot of pain and he lost almost all of his teeth. My husband has been great with taking him to the vet and caring for his needs. I know I gave him a good life, but there is a part of me that feels guilty that I didn't bring him in more regularly to the vet.
He was always there for me, unconditionally, and my attention was so divided.
Last week we saw a cyst on his neck that had gotten quite large without us noticing because it was covered by his ear most of the time. My husband brought him in, and we were releaved that the vet figured it was a bug bite that got infected from all of his scratching. They drained it and gave him antibiotics and a cone. This weekend we noticed it was getting worse not better.
When I got home from my Reiki master class on Saturday, I decided to try some Reiki on him to see if it would help him heal, but instead I believe it helped him to let go.
Sunday morning he woke with a seizure that caused lots of pain with the cone against his cyst. I removed the cone and we really saw how much worse it had gotten so my husband brought him in right away. It turned out there probably was a tumor under there and his tiny little body and heart were not able to fight the infection. We decided it would be kindest to him to not make him suffer any longer.
My husband invited some family and friends over to celebrate his life and we buried him in a nice sunny spot in the new bamboo grove.
He was there for me through the toughest phase of my life, and now I honor his memory as I move through the next phase.
In this week's interview with Nikki Petersen, we talk about finding balance as an intense, gifted, passionate woman. We use the term "work-life balance" all of the time in our vastly overscheduled culture. Add to that the intense pursuit of our interests and the tendency to get so abshorbed we miss out on the basics of life and finding balance seems even more elusive. But is balance even possible?
Something really stuck with me when I read The On-Purpose Person by Kevin McCarthy. He said, "Balance is a myth. Forget aobut it. Instead, integrate your life through your purpose so you're on-purpose."
But what exactly is integration? Kazimierz Dabrowski has a theory called Positive Disintegration, which asserts that before you can integrate at a higher level you must first disintegrate by dismantling your exising internal structure. This process eventually brings us to our conscious self, or a state of harmonious wholeness.
Nikki puts it quite eloquently in her blog post called Dabrowski's Sweater. She describes the process of knitting a sweater with yarn our parents gave us and built on patterns from our parents and the enviornment around us. When we disintegrate, we unravel the sweater and then we integrate by using the same yarn and shaping it into a pattern of our own.
To me, the word balance brings to mind a perfectly even scale, or a waiter perfectly balancing plates or trays. It conveys the idea of symetry or perfect equality of all the important parts in life.
Perfect balance is not only almost impossible to maintain, it can also be quite boring!
Imagine a sweater with perfectly even and symetrical blocks of color, or a piece of music with the same consistent rythm and balance of notes throughout. Not very compelling right? Definitely not very intense.
I still use the word balance sometimes because that is what people relate to who are trying to find some way to integrate their lives, but the word that rings more true for me is harmony. Merriam-Webster defines harmony as a "pleasing or congruent arrangement of parts."
When we have a sense of purpose and greater understanding of ourselves, we can make decisions that foster harmony rather than discord.
Part of my purpose is to help passionate gifted women find harmony by prioritizing things in their lives that are in line with their purpose and bring energy so that they can share their gifts with the world! Contact me if you would like to set up a free 1 hour session to move into the new year with a greater sense of direction and energy!
If you make a positive difference for even one person, that person can go on to make a positive difference for someone else.
When you feel things intensely, it is easy to be an idealist and even easier to get burned out or disillusioned when reality hits hard.
You start out with a mission and little by little that mission starts to slip away when the reality of the system, or entrepreneurship or whatever framework you are using to further your cause keeps putting roadblocks in your path.
I had such a moment a couple of weeks ago when I realized I was starting to become exactly what I entered in education to avoid. You see, when I was in college I was tested for learning disabilities and because all they looked at was an arbitrary state criteria, which I didn't fit, I was asked why I even bothered to get tested. What they didn't acknowledge as a roadblock was that my auditory processing was significantly below my visual processing - meaning I really sucked at taking in what I heard and read (unless it was in the form of meaningful conversation).
I became a school psychologist because I wanted to help students understand themselves better, regardless of whether they met some arbitrary state qualification. Recently though, I started to find myself slipping into black and white thinking, which is the enemy of effective problem solving.
So this got me thinking of how I've moved myself over the years to create real positive change within a set structure.
Reconnect with your why. You probably didn't get involved with this cause to jump through the hoops of paperwork, red tape and/or marketing. You had a purpose or you wouldn't have signed on. Reexamine that purpose, and look for new ways to move toward that goal.
Find common ground. Just as you had your reasons, the people you share space with have their own motivations too. I have always gotten through in this field with the assumption that everyone in the room wants what's best, but they may have different approaches or ideas of how to reach that. There's a great quote from Olivia Fox Cabana in The Charisma Myth, "In most situations, we don't know for certain what motivates a person's actions. So we might as well choose the explanation that is most helpful to us." In helping fields, such as education, I generally find the most favorable answer to be true. When we recognize our common goal, then we can come to appreciate their different approaches.
Think outside the box. Boxes can be useful for giving us a framework with which to organize our world, but they are also often arbitrary. If we are not careful they can encourage black and white all or nothing thinking. This stunts our natural creative problem solving.
Appreciate the good. It's there really! Even if you are currently feeling overwhelmed with what's wrong in the world, there is so much to celebrate! Find it and appreciate it - out loud so that others can hear. What we focus our energy on is what we start to see more of. When I worked at a school for children with severe behavioral needs, they had a strict policy of using 3-4 positive statements to every negative one. As both an employee and a colleague, I saw how powerful this is for adults as well as children.
Find the humor. Changing the world for the better is heavy stuff. When we can laugh at ourselves or our situation, it makes the whole process more fun!
Connect. Find others you can connect with on a deeper level. Even one or two people who share or understand your cause. Life is much easier when you don't have to go it alone.
Let go. If it's not serving you let it go. Let go of those expectations of perfection and how things "should be" and accept things as they are. Only then can we move forward and shift things in the positive direction of what "could be."
Change your story. Events may trigger thoughts, our thoughts may trigger feelings and our thoughts and feelings may trigger actions and our actions will trigger an outcome. We may not be able to control the events, but we can control our thoughts and actions.
Put your own oxygen mask on first. If you constantly put the needs of others before your own, eventually you will burn out. Take a look at your typical day and look at what activities nourish you and what activities deplete you. If you find more depleting, which is often the case, find ways to add more nourishing activities back into your life. Take small breaks to be mindful of your body and surroundings, take a walk, move, meditate, get out in nature. Whatever it is that makes you feel most alive. Even 5 minutes will do a world of good.
And remember, what you do is important! You have a heart for making positive change. You already are making a difference, and have been for years. Just please, be sure to take care of yourself in the process so you can keep on being your awesome self!
What has helped you move from disillusionment back into hope?
I first diagnosed myself as an undergraduate psychology student as having, "overactive dendrites," which essentially meant that I was highly sensitive but I didn't know that term at the time. There were a lot of things I connect with about being highly sensitive, but some of it didn't quite fit as I am also a high sensation seeker and an extrovert. As I researched more about my own son's intensity I realized that I was highly excitable, which means I both perceive and respond to the world more intensely than others, not just in my senses as described by high sensitivity, but also in my mind, imagination, feelings and body.
Over the last few years, I've read all kinds of personal development in order to explore the best ways to harness the power of excitability. These are a few that have had the most impact on myself and my work (Amazon affiliate links included):
The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius(tm) by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen. Jacobsen describes a gifted adult as intense, complex and driven. She doesn't so much focus on intellect so much as the personal characteristics they share. This book is a great start to help understand your own gifts and intensities and use them in a positive way.
Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope by James T. Webb. I've found quite a few books aimed at bright or intellectually gifted adults to be either extremely academic, overly self-admiring, or focused more on problems than solutions. Webb's book does an amazing job of describing the existential dilemmas that more intense people face and describes both negative and positive coping skills for those facing disillusionment.
Living with Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults edited by Susan Daniels and Michael M. Piechowski. This is literally THE book on excitability. I appreciate that it looks at intensity at all stages of life. Some of the essays are more academic in nature, but others are more personal and compelling.
The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life) by Chris Hardwick. This was by far the most entertaining personal development book I've ever read! Chris Hardwick was a "has been" MTV V-jay turned highly successful blogger and podcaster. He shares how he transformed his life by approaching it like a roleplaying game.
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg. Nonviolent communication is a tool I use throughout my work. When I first learned about it, it appealed to me right away because it was close to my own natural style of communication, and I believe why I've had a skills with communicating in difficult situations. While the actual "language" of NVC can feel a little awkward, the spirit of understanding the underlying needs we are trying to meet with our actions is invaluable. It also gives tools for making objective, unbiased, observations and understanding our feelings better.
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz. This was one of the first personal development books that had a profound affect on me. Such simple concepts that really made sense to me. The four agreements are: Be impeccable with your word; Don't take anything personally; Don't make assumptions; and Always do your best. Easy to understand, but sometimes difficult to implement. It's helpful for me to revisit these concepts every now and then.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey. I kind of blew off The 7 Habits for a long time as too mainstream and cliche. When I finally got around to reading it though, I realized that these were inarguable truths. The 7 habits include: Be proactive, Begin with an end in mind; Put first things first; Think win-win. Seek first to understand, then to be understood; Synergize; and Sharpen the saw.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brene Brown. I pretty much love anything written by Brene Brown. Her TED talk on Vulnerability was the first TED talk I ever saw and set the bar for all future talks. In Daring Greatly, she takes her research and gives practical applications. I especially appreciated her chapter on wholehearted parenting. The Gifts of Imperfection is another great book!
How to be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo. I got this book to "save" my marriage, but it also helped me to let go. The five keys include attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing. He also talks about stages of relationships and how to choose a suitable partner. His book How to Be an Adult: A Handbook for Psychological and Spiritual Integration is also a great one, but sometimes it's hard to hand someone a book called "How to Be an Adult" without extensive explanation. It addresses tools to move on from your past and take ownership of your life. My favorite chapter is on how to be assertive in getting your needs met rather than passive or aggressive. It's a great companion to NVC concepts.
Breaking Free from Persistent Fatigue by Lucie Montpetit. You might ask what this has to do with intensity or personal development, but I've found I'm not the only one who has experienced persistent fatigue from experiencing the world more intensely. I've picked up so many chronic pain and fatigue books over the years and nothing ever really clicked. I love Montpetit's approach because she looks at energy balance not just from a health perspective but from a psychological or spiritual perspective. I share some of her most useful tools for balancing your energy in my post What's Your Energy Balance.
There are a lot more amazing books out there, but I thought I'd cap it off at 10. I'd love it if you'd share below what books have had a positive influence on using your own intensity for good!
Our purpose defines us, our vision directs us, and our missions are when we get off our chairs, take action, and do something meaningful." ~Kevin McCarthy
In my post on Finding Treasure in Ruins I talked about how internal conflict is needed in order to develop as person. The driving force that helps that inner conflict to be productive rather than destructive is our sense of purpose.
In his book, The On-Purpose Person: Making Your Life Make Sense, Kevin McCarthy talks about four things to get clear on in order to live your purpose. Those aspects are purpose, vision, missions and values.
Purpose is being.
Your purpose is about the essence of who you are. It is the spark that defines you and distinguishes you from others. It can help give you the direction to focus your energy and acts as a guide in developing your vision, mission and values. McCarthy uses the simple purpose statement, "I exist to serve by ______". I like the statement, "I exist to give and receive _______." because it acknowledges that we are not here just to serve others but also to receive.
At this point, I see my purpose as "I exist to give and receive connection." Connection comes to me in many forms. Connecting with other people. Connecting with ideas. Connecting others to people and ideas I think they would benefit from. Helping to connect people with themselves.
Vision is seeing.
Vision is our inspiration and it paints a picture in our mind's eye of what we would like our future to be. McCarthy says, "If purpose is the spark, vision is the flame inspiring your imagination, belief and hope." When you have a clear vision of the future, you can push through difficult times because your head (vision) and your heart (purpose) are in alignment.
Our full visions can't be summed up in one or two short sentences, but one vision I have of the future is to develop a sustainable practice so that I can work full time helping excitable women. I'd like to have a podcast called "Embracing Intensity," interviewing people who are using their intensity successfully in their lives. Eventually I'd like to use the information I gain from those interviews to write a book to help people to use their fire without getting burned.
Missions are doing.
Missions are the physical actions we take in order to advance our vision that is based on our purpose. They are specific, external and action oriented. Missions often get confused with purpose, but a mission is what we do, while purpose is about who we are. When developing a mission statement, it is helpful to keep it simple, understandable and broad and to avoid the use of the word "should."
My missions have changed over the years. I have worked in schools for years with the mission to help students and their families connect with their learning strengths and weaknesses. Now I have a mission to help intense women connect with their excitability and see it for the superpower that it can be.
Values are choosing.
Our values reflect what is important to us. They act as a guardrail to keep you on track with your mission and purpose. The choices we make in life clarify our values. When your values are violated, you feel it in your gut.
While the list could go on, some things that I value include honesty, empathy, understanding and of course, connection.
If you'd like to explore your purpose, mission and values further, Franklin Covey Mission Statement Builder is a handy resource!
During my first relationship after my divorce I finally gave in to taking medication to help deal with the anxiety and mild depression issues I was dealing with as a single parent. For me this showed up as extreme irritability, excessive worries over things I couldn't control and ruminations that kept me from focusing on work and sleeping. I had taken them once before and it had given me a fresh perspective, so I thought it worth a shot.
Sure enough, I felt happier after a while and the formidable task of dating was made a bit less daunting. After a couple of years though I realized something. Since I'd been on the medication, not only had I gained 40 pounds, but I had been completely sapped of all motivation! Turns out I need a little anxiety to push me forward. So, as I did the first time around, I quit the meds cold turkey during one of the most stressful times in my life. Maybe not the best approach, but I think there's something to fully experiencing those life lows.
Both times I went on medication, I experienced a shift in perspective. The first, as a teen going into college, allowed me to see when I went off that those things that were annoying me about my roommate did not used to annoy me, so it must be me not her. The second time allowed me to get through the most anxiety inducing thing I've ever experienced - post divorce dating, until I could reach a point of navigating it on my own.
For me though, in the end, a little anxiety can be a good thing.
According to Kazimierz Dabrowski, "The theory of positive disintegration has it that most states of anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of psychoneurosis are necessary conditions for positive development of the individual." (Positive Disintegration p.111) This is because we must experience some degree of dissatisfaction with life before we can improve it. It's when we get stuck in it that it can become a problem.
In The Gifted Adult, Mary-Elaine Jacobsen describes three defining characteristics of the gifted as complexity, intensity and drive. Complexity and intensity can contribute to anxiety. Anxiety can both push you toward drive and hold you back from it. If it's productive anxiety it can push you forward. If, on the other hand, it keeps you spinning your wheels, it is useful to find some things that help move you forward.
Here are some things that have helped me over the years:
Manage your expectations - As you may have picked up, the most horrifyingly anxiety inducing thing I've ever done is dating after divorce (I was a pretty anxious dater before I got married, so I was glad to be out of that scene young). There I was not only doing something that terrified me and I was bad at, but I had the added trauma of knowing that my last relationship was not at all what I thought it was. When I was corresponding with a kind man I connected with for the first time, I was an absolute mess. I couldn't focus at work and I not only had trouble falling asleep (not uncommon) but I kept waking in the night for about a month. I held on to that relationship longer than I should have because he was nice and I didn't want to get back out there. Ultimately though, I knew it was not the right fit. Gradually, I learned that the best approach for me was to hope for the best but expect nothing. If I didn't expect to hear back from anyone, or to connect with them when we met, then I was pleasantly surprised when I did.
Expose yourself - My next several years became one big experiment in desensitization. Part of what made me so anxious was that having had so little experience with connecting with men, every time there was a mutual attraction, it felt like a HUGE deal. The advent of online dating has been a wonderful thing in this regard because even with the limitations of being a single parent, there were people I could connect with enough that it stopped being such a big deal.
Change your focus - My last relationship was pretty good, but ultimately still not a great fit and it was starting to drain energy that I wanted to be using to build a business. So I took a 6 month break from dating to focus on my business. When I went back to it, it was almost an afterthought, and without much energy at all, I met my amazing Guy!
Keep your humor - I ended up with a few experiences that could have gone really bad if I'd let it. Instead of getting wrapped up in the drama of it all though, I stepped back and laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. Not to say that I never felt the drama, but as long as I could see the humor in it, it wouldn't last long.
Build your optimism and resilience - In the end, I got through by seeing how each and every experience that I had taught me something and brought me one step closer to where I wanted to be. I had hopes and desires, but I tried not to let them become expectations or attachments to one particular outcome. I could see that there was a world of possible outcomes out there for me and I wouldn't know which was right for me until I was in it. This turned out to be very true for me.
In Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope, James Webb shares some more positive coping skills that are often effective for anxiety, as well as existential depression.
So what's your best strategy for moving forward with your anxiety?
When I did an anonymous survey of dynamic and excitable women, there were a lot of common themes. One person captured it beautifully in one simple sentence, "There's not enough time for all of my awesome."
In general, we are a self-critical bunch. But that's not to say we have low self-esteem. On the contrary, we know we have the potential to do great things, so we judge ourselves when we fall short.
Part of the problem is, there are so many things that we could do well that it's hard to pick just one or two. When we try to do to many at once though, we are prone to get overloaded and shut down. This leaves us with a feeling of "spinning our wheels" without actually getting anywhere.
Here's the good news -
According to Dabrowski, dissatisfaction with oneself is a crucial step toward positive personality development. It is only useful though if it can be directed toward achieving your personal ideal through conscious action.
To do this, we must move past ruminating about what should be and focus on the challenge of what could be. This involves accepting the current reality, and assessing what steps or actions it will take to move forward based on our deepest values.
Easier said than done right?
One tool I've found mighty useful for prioritization is Stephen Covey's Importance-Urgency Matrix from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. At first I thought this book was just another pop-culture self-help book, but it actually has a lot of valuable insights to share!
One of the things that keeps you spinning your wheels is constantly responding to the urgent rather than the important. We often prioritize things that are urgent and not important over more important things that don’t have the same urgency. Covey points out that focusing on important issues that aren't urgent requires a high level of initiative and proactivity.
In order to determine what is most important, you must know where you are trying to go. Take the time to really examine your ideal future life. Include your deepest values and purpose as well as what you love and nourishes your mind, body and soul. Be mindful of your choices and consider whether they fit the big picture you’d like to see of your life.
I use this tool and many more in my upcoming free two week program called Stop Spinning Your Wheels to help women to get unstuck, and make more time for their own awesomeness!
You can access the program in my League of Excitable Women group on Facebook.
“Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.” ― Rumi
We often hear that "it's always darkest just before dawn," to the point where it has almost become cliche. It is a universal truth that we can learn from our trials and tribulations. Kazimierz Dabrowski would take it a step further to say that existential depression, anxiety and neuroses are positive things as long as they move us toward our higher selves and he believes that heightened excitability is a key factor in increasing our chances of doing just that.
According to Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration, before you can develop as a person, you must first break down your existing internal structure. Basically, you must fall apart before you can come back together into a stronger whole.
Factors in positive development
There are three factors that influence development: biological, social and purpose (this is my word choice, Dabrowski uses the "third factor"). These three factors interplay with our emotions to create dynamisms.
Biological - The "first factor" involves the traits you were born with. This is where overexcitabilities come in. According to Dabrowski, having heightened perception and reaction in emotional, imaginative, intellectual, psychomotor and/or sensory areas is an indication of high developmental potential. Other indicators of high developmental potential include special abilities and talents. Your developmental potential does not determine how far you can grow, but it definitely can help the process.
Social - The "second factor" is the influence of your social environment. This would be the "nurture" aspect to the biological "nature" traits.
Purpose - The "third factor" is the most discussed and least concrete of the three factors. It involves the conscious movement toward your higher self. Actions are deliberate and in line with your purpose and values. This is essential in achieving secondary integration.
Dynamisms - Dynamisms are the forces that drive our actions. These involve our instincts, drives and thoughts combined with emotions. The third factor influences dynamisms, but is also considered a critical dynamism in itself. Other dynamisms found throughout different levels of integration and disintegration include creative instinct, empathy and inner conflict.
Types of integration and disintegration
There are 5 levels commonly described from his work. Much of what I've read implies that you start at level 1 and work your way up. After reading Dabrowski's original "Positive Disintegration" though, it seems to me a more cyclical process. We move through stages of integration (wholeness) and disintegration (breaking apart). When we experience disintegration, we can either fall back into "primary integration" or move forward into "secondary integration."
1. Ignorance is bliss (primary integration) - There is little internal conflict at this stage because the focus is on meeting basic biological and social needs.
2. Ambivalence (unilevel disintegration) - At this stage there is conflict between two choices that are equal in level. Dynamisms involved include ambivalence, conflicting impulses and challenges between biological and social drives. This can be triggered by developmental crises such as puberty and menopause or a stressful external event.
3. The conflict between what is and what ought to be. (spontaneous multilevel disintegration) - Conflict arises between higher and lower level choices. At this point it is spontaneous and without direction. Dynamisms that might arise include guilt, shame, dissatisfaction and inferiority toward oneself.
4. The challenge of what could be. (directed multilevel disintegration) - There is still conflict between higher and lower choices, but now the third factor comes in to make conscious choices based on our deepest values. Other dynamisms that support movement toward secondary integration include self-education, self-control, self-awareness and inner transformation.
5. Conscious self (secondary integration) - Secondary integration is characterized by a state of harmonious wholeness. Dynamisms involved include autonomy, authenticity, responsibility, altruism, creative expression and reaching your personal ideal. According to Dabroski, "Partial secondary integrations occur throughout life as the result of positive resolutions of minor conflicts." (*p.20)
Often times people who seek coaching and guidance feel stuck between level 3 and 4. They are self-critical and get caught up in what "should" be. If they can shift their thinking from what "should" be (lack) to what "could" be (possibility), and have a clear sense of purpose, they can use the disintegration process in a positive way.
* Positive Disintegration by Dabrowski, Kazimierz (1964)