Is everyone doing the best they can? I ask. “Well of course not!” I hear many of you say, as you instantly offer examples of ‘bad behavior’, from the highest echelons of politics to the most intimate personal relationships. We can all point to those we feel are not doing the right thing, the moral thing, the loving thing or the truthful thing in the way they’re acting out their lives. Yet I now find myself at a place of acceptance: accepting that others are on the perfect journey for their growth and knowing in their reality. That we’re all doing the best we can in this moment – given our current beliefs and conscious or unconscious fear.
In 2004 I walked away from a thirty-four-year marriage that held memories filled with much joy, including the raising of three wonderful sons. However, I was faced with truly wanting to understand why I had often been the object of my husband’s verbal abuse in that marriage. In 2006 I was still processing that relationship and not wanting to repeat such an experience in any future relationships.
To help my healing, I took myself on a deep, supportive spiritual development course in Florida, where I went through an exercise that thankfully delivered my “Eureka!” moment of understanding. My coach guided me through re-experiencing a scene from the past with my then-husband, when the verbal abuse had been flowing unabated, at me. I closed my eyes and put myself in his shoes instead of mine, journeying back to our kitchen where many of these altercations took place. To my amazement, I felt the deep fear he was feeling, as if his back was ‘up against the wall’. A fear which I, and he, were blindly unaware of at the time.
The source of my husband’s fear was truly nothing to do with me. It was triggered by a long-standing conflict outside of our home life, where he felt disempowered and threatened by others trying to oust him from a position that he was very passionate about. Through that role he was saving lives, being in service, giving of his wonderful skills at that time. However, his ever-present, obsessive fear of losing that role, which was a big part of his identity, robbed me and our family of much of his loving attention, support or consideration. For too long, the situation obsessed him, and ultimately, led to our divorce.
Source of Fear
I now understand that the original source of my husband’s fear and insecurity could be traced way back to beliefs about himself that he had unconsciously agreed with as a child. Throughout his life, certain triggers could re-ignite childhood pain, and would be expressed as present-time anger.
As innocent children, we are dependent on our relationship with our parents or caregivers for our survival. We soak up beliefs and perspectives handed down to us during our formative years. They become our habitual unconscious beliefs and form parts of our adult identities. In my ex’s case – as with most of us to some extent – those beliefs include not fully valuing one’s self and feeling personally disempowered. I played my part in that relationship by not fully valuing myself either; not owning my power or self-expression. My loving parents – who meant well – trained me to be a humble, compliant people-pleaser and not to express my true feelings. Thus, we both enabled this toxic persecutor-victim behavior to continue in our marriage.
For me, finally discovering that my husband’s short fuse was clearly fear-based behavior opened a door to more inquiry and experiential understanding. Now I have an unshakable knowing that any act of human behavior not sourced in love is directed by our fearful, often unconscious beliefs. The road to my experiential, final knowing included many deep dives into the source of my own shortfalls.
I also know for sure that we are truly not our fears or those false beliefs that do not serve us well. I know we can all grow and change, at any age.
In my marriage, intuition told me that love was the answer to our relational dilemma. However, at that time, dogged by my inner judgments and beliefs, I did not understand what love truly was. I felt a ‘call’ to come from love, and the desire to reside ’in love’ when relating with all others, but I did not yet know the ‘how’.
Have you ever felt this call to love? It resides deep in all our hearts. The conflict between that call and the fears and judgments that tend to cloud the heartfelt, inherent desire to be the love we truly are cause all our discomforts, our turmoil, and our resistances. Our true desire of the spirit becomes buried under all those beliefs and fears that do not serve us – until that is, we willingly decide to look at ourselves and others differently.
In order to heal ourselves and others, first we need to be loving and compassionate with our self; if we don’t know our own love, it’s not available to give to others. We need to understand that our own fears and unhelpful beliefs have an origin that may go back many generations. Yet our blessing is that we can choose to let go of those beliefs and fears. The opportunity to change is always there. If we are willing to be open, gentle and loving with ourselves, it’s much easier to witness and heal our own wounds and fears, to decide differently, and thence to do the same with others.
In Brené Brown’s book Rising Strong1, Brené struggles with behavior in others that push her own ‘self-righteous’ buttons. In the chapter entitled ‘Sewer Rats and Scofflaws’ Brené shares how she faced the ‘room-mate from hell’ at a speaking event.
Brené realised she had been programmed to fit with her family blueprint. She had learned to appear to willingly fit in. However, Brené writes that by endeavoring to fit in with her family she secretly became really good at being resentful on the inside.
Thus, we learn to ignore our personal needs, and to tolerate the ways of others, at great emotional cost to ourselves. As we grow into adulthood, we take those now-unconscious, embedded habits with us. They have become part of our persona, and often include the resentment of our suppressed emotions. We erupt with those emotions from time-to-time, and they can easily emerge as withdrawal, anger or upset, in ways that feel out of our control. Often, below a falsely polite surface, we harbor covert judgments of others whose behavior does not fit with our personal standards.
Finally, after a session with her therapist and much inquiry with others and herself, Brené had to tearfully agree that everyone is doing the best they can, given their own internal programming.
Internal Fears and Beliefs
And what about the most abhorrent actions that we witness only too often these days? When witnessing any wrong-doing, however large or small, I suggest we ask ourselves: “What internal fears and beliefs may have caused a person to behave this way?”
We are unlikely to have the answer to that question, but by asking it we are more open and less judgmental. How about deciding that if people are not coming from love, they are most definitely coming from fear? And their fear is present because of an original hurt or threat followed by the constant, inherent fear of more hurt.
Wired For Empathy
Dr Gabor Mate is a renowned expert on the potential impact of childhood development and trauma on adult physical and mental health. Dr Mate says “We’re actually wired for empathy; we’re wired for connection; we’re wired for love and we’re wired for compassion”. He says “All we have to do, and it’s not an easy task, is to get back to our true nature”.3
“What Happened To You?”
Please, let’s engage with our hearts and be discerning but not condemning. Yes, we can take necessary precautions to keep ourselves safe from harm; and be practical to prevent people harming others or themselves. Having personal boundaries is fine and necessary too, but what might happen if, instead of outright condemning others, and punishing people as a priority, on the basis that more fear will prevent more crimes (it doesn’t)4 we endeavor to see beyond people’s wrong-doings to who they are beneath their fears? Can we agree that they would not behave that way if they were not beset by fear-based thoughts and habits? Dr Nadine Burke Harris, a leading expert in childhood adversity and how it affects our whole life, suggests that instead of asking “What’s wrong with you?” we ask with compassion in our hearts “What Happened to You?”2
Seeing True Potential
If we practice seeing people’s true potential even when they don’t, by seeing beyond others’ misdemeanors and fears, we invite their best selves and ours to naturally emerge. We begin to heal the planet and move toward the next shift in human consciousness.
How might you relate to others if you were not beset by any fears in your mind? How might you relate to others – and yourself – if you come from the fearless love in your heart?
Janet Lesley Powers
Photos by Janet Lesley Powers
- Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW. Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution (2015) Random House Books.
- Quote from Dr Nadine Harris, author of The Deepest Well and leading childhood adversity expert. Being interviewed on PBS: On the Impact of Childhood Adversity: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/amanpour-and-company/video/nadine-burke-harris-on-the-impact-of-childhood-adversity/
- Video: Dr Gabor Maté, On Finding Your True Self Again https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TIjvXtZRerY
- Marian Hatcher, 76% of all inmates end up back in jail within 5 years. Here’s how I broke the cycle. Aug 8th 2017 Vox.com.
Janet Lesley Powers is a Certified Transformational Life and Leadership Coach and Certified Group Facilitator.
Janet transitioned into coaching in 2007, following a successful career in conservation policy for a world-wide non-profit organisation. After facilitating Personal Leadership Workshops within the global non-profit, Janet became a self-employed coach, graduating from Georgetown University’s Institute of Transformational Leadership. She also completed Georgetown’s ITL Executive Facilitator’s program. She now coaches clients online and in person, dividing her time between extensive travel in her RV and her base in the Washington DC Metro area, United States..
Janet also facilitates Authentic Empowerment Workshops for women, and is writing her first book, to be published later in 2020. The draft title is Living Our Truth in Uncertain Times.
Janet can be reached by messaging the Open Community Facebook Group Living As Our Truth: Reclaiming Our Authentic Power. https://www.facebook.com/LivingAsOurTruth/?modal=admin_todo_tour
Janet also manages a closed Facebook group with the same name.
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