We all desire to lead mindful lives. The more heedful our impact and influence upon the relationships we participate in, the more readily we are able to experience the contentment interacting with others creates. Most of us, though, have had experiences in relating with others that have abandoned us to complicated, sometimes overwhelming, emotions. If left unexamined, these feelings can become the creators of an emotional chaos that threatens the associations we wish to enjoy. Thankfully, there are simple tools of self-investigation available that, if approached willingly and courageously, give rise to a power of sentimental and empathic support. I, as much as anyone else, have had my share of emotional crisis. You know of what I speak, the pain-producing collapse of a relationship that leaves us questioning our own capability to recognize love, the confrontation that produces fear, the jealousy that imperils common sense- each of these situations can surrender us to a lifetime of failed connections, or can be used to produce the desire for change.
The process I use for self-investigation is not new, as the idea of taking a personal inventory of emotions and behaviors has been around for centuries. It is neither the product of the recovery movement nor of any specified religion. What these institutions have realized though, by using an inventory method, is that through looking deeply and without fear at our own activities, we can find simple – though not necessarily easy- solutions to very complicated problems. The following are the stages I use, based upon all I have learned about what keeps me emotionally well and affirmatively sound:
The primary consideration here is that you have to be honest, you have to be willing to go inside and face some challenging realities. And remember, this is solely about and for you!
- First, you want to set down on paper (or computer screen) all the activities, all the repression, and all manipulations you have used to get your own way. What emotions have these behaviors created in you? For each state of emotion you are now in, write down the name of all the people who have participated in the creation of the way you feel. After each name, focus on how the individual has played caretaker or been taken care of by you. Where, in all this care, have you chosen to be controlling and manipulative? What are the angers felt for each person on your list? Answer the same question about the following feelings: pain; fear; resentment; rage (as in hysterics and unfounded fury); victimization (how have you allowed these others to hurt you; how have you done the same to yourself; how have you hurt them?); and beliefs (which limit you? What messages are you sending to yourself that you inherently feel are unreal?). In what areas of your life has this problem caused you to be neglectful? Where have you failed to take responsibility (taking into account both your emotions and your fiscal duties)? What boundaries have you set? Where have you failed to maintain these same boundaries? What feelings about guilt do you have? Where have you failed to be loving to yourself? Of others? Is there a lack of intimacy within the relationship? (If it is a sexual relationship, do you engage in sex at times you do not wish to? Do you ever ask for sex when your partner does not wish it?) In what condition is your self-worth? Do you feel your presence in each person’s life on your list to be valuable? What about trust? Write down the feelings you have about the confidence you feel, the faith and hope you use to set store in each person. Now, look at how trustworthy you have been. Can the people on your list trust you to do the things you say, and can they trust what you say and do as real? Can you do the same for them? For all the questions on trust, answer the question “why, or why not?” How stuck have you been in your current thought processes? If it is one of negativity, where do you believe such an emotion is founded? Do you attract sick and needful people? Are you attracted to sick and needful women?
- This is where you write down all the things you have created in the situation that has been troubling you. Take the same list of names you have already created, and write about how your actions, behaviors, misbehaviors, and inaction have affected each person, and you. What have you done wrong? Where have you succeeded? Can you identify a moral condition upon which each relationship is founded? Write about the joy each person allows you to feel. If there is no joy, why do you believe the person is in your life in the first place?
- Now, write down everything you can think of that the people on your list have done to hurt you. If it is helpful, choose one specific day in your relationship, and tell about how or if, the person’s actions created your current state of discontent. What part have your own choices played in their behavior? If the feeling you are having is negativity, do you believe you have taken on the responsibility for the behaviors of others? Has that misplaced responsibility been of any value to you? Are there any messages inside you that say you must take care of others before you take care of you? Where do you believe these messages originated?
- It is now very important for you to set down a list of all the things you honestly believe to be good in you. What are your greatest attributes and assets? Do you have a difficult time thinking about such things? What are your finest qualities? What in you do you believe is the reason other women fall in love with (or what do they find lovable in) you? What creates your happiness? Where does your inner joy originate?
- Now that you have had the opportunity to think of these things, it is a good idea to write the story of your life, as it is revealed- writes about you. Do not force yourself to recall your entire life, simply write about the various relationships and events that come naturally to you. Do you find, in writing about the hurtful emotions in steps 1-3, certain specific memories have returned? What do these memories tell you about your current situation? How do they relate to how you now feel? Do you notice any great gaps between memories? What do you think it means that you have them? Write about what you have done in life, the times you have lived up to your own expectations and the times you have not. How have the expectations of others informed your history? What events have brought you personal satisfaction? What behaviors have created your guilt? If you find one situation seems to have a greater impact on your current thoughts, write down everything you can about it. What do you think it reveals?
- While we touched upon fear, anger, shame, guilt, negative emotions, and resentment in the previous steps of this inventory, now it is a good idea to look at these things specifically. Begin with a list of those people and situations you have resentments about- as many as you can recall. Then, in a space below each resentment, write down whether it was created and sustained out of fear, shame, guilt, a negative self-image, or by a maintained state of anger. Imagine you are resentful toward your mother and you list this under her name: “Mom says she accepts my lesbianism, but then goads me into feeling guilty about not marrying and having children,” well, it is obvious this can reveal much about why you have conflict in living with a woman. Remember as you do this process, it is not about creating shame in you for the things you have said and done, but about recalling unresolved issues so that you can heal.
Once you have written all these things out, it is important to the process of resolution that you then tell them to one other person. It is obviously of utmost importance the person you reveal yourself to understand what you are doing, and is not someone who will ever disclose the nature of your inventory’s contents, or use what they have learned against you in any way. I, personally, have gone to a Catholic nun, a rabbi, one beloved uncle who understood, a good friend, and a dear teacher from my past. Because each fully understood my intent in daring to open myself to them, that it wasn’t about being hard on myself but about being fearless and thorough, the nature of taking such a risk began the interior mechanism of healing and self-forgiveness.
You can find MizzT in the Lesbian Worlds forums.