In all my circles I have three guidelines. They are both basic and complex, easy to understand and hard to understand, easy to abide by and hard to follow.
They are hard for us because they go against our training in this patriarchal culture of ours. They go against what we have been taught about how to be and how to allow others to be in this world. In fact, they are about allowing us to be and not do. To hold sacred space and bear witness. To safely allow ourselves to been seen and not criticized or minimized.
They are hard because they allow for true vulnerability, of both the witness and the person sharing. They are hard because they require that we break a life-time habit of following the rules of patriarchal culture. They are hard because while we know in our bodies this is how sacred space is held, we don’t quite trust our knowing and are still on our paths to trust, vulnerability and being.
These are guidelines that I also try to live by. They are not only for my online or in-person circles. They are not only for my 1:1 clients. They are a way of being for me. A way I intent to be with every encounter and relationship. Do I fail? Of course. And when I do, I apologize and dig deeper into that next layer of my own unraveling and do different next time.
These guidelines provide opportunities for every person I encounter to learn a different way of being in the world. They allow us to start to make small and large shifts in our own ways of being and have ripple effects far beyond our Self. I feel these guidelines, if they are the only way we each change in how we interact with others, are one way we can have significant impact on changing our culture and creating a world where all people are truly heard, valued, and respected.
What are these guidelines, you ask?
Let me tell you.
Confidentiality. This means that anything that is shared on our calls or in our private Facebook group is not to be shared or discussed outside the group. This is with the caveat that I don’t own Facebook and anything that is shared in the online group is the property of Facebook to do with as they will. This guideline is perhaps the easiest one for everyone to follow. There has never been a question of gossiping or talking about each other outside of the group. I am both lucky and honored that the people who come to my circles fully and easily embrace this guideline.
No advice giving, unless specifically requested. This guideline is important to help build a space of trust and safety. When we jump in to give advice to another person we are doing several things. The first is we are telling them they are incompetent of figuring out how to solve their own life issues. Another is we start to place shoulds all over a person (as in you should do this or you should have done that). When we rush in to fix another person’s problem we are also telling them they need fixing. And most importantly we are silencing the other person – telling them they do not have the right to express their frustration or pain or grief or anger. We jump in with advice because these emotions are uncomfortable and perhaps more altruistically because we don’t like to see others in pain. However it is important that we allow for discomfort. It is vital that we create space for others to share their hurts and sorrows and frustrations. It is necessary that there is space for each person and the full spectrum of their emotions and lived experience.
Part of advice giving is also telling another how they should feel. For example when a person expresses that they feel like they are a loser and we jump in and say “you shouldn’t feel that way, you are fabulous” we are again negating their lived experience and silencing them by unintentionally saying “I don’t want to hear it”. We each have a right to our feelings and sometimes hearing another’s pain is also painful to us. Instead of silencing each other I invite us all to use “I” statements – if someone expresses that they think they are a loser, for example, a great response could be : “I hear that you feel like you are a loser and I feel the pain of that statement. I don’t see you as a loser.” This allows the other person to have their experience of themselves validated, to be heard and also to allow for feedback from others in the circle of how they view the person. This is not telling a person how they should feel. It is expressing how we feel about the person.
No comparing of life experiences. We compare life experiences to that of others in two ways: either they have it worse than us or they have it better. When we think others have it worse we are invalidating our own lived experience, and often send ourselves the message to “buck up” or stop complaining or moping. As we invalidate our own experience and emotions we lose the capacity for empathy for our self and for others.
When we judge that someone else has it better than us, we then invalidate their lived experience. This can sometimes look like when a person tells us something that happened in their life and we respond with something to the tune of “Oh you think that’s bad, let me tell you about me/my Aunt Sally/my best friend’s brother’s wife.” This not only invalidates the other’s experience it also silences them and gives the not so subtle message to buck up and that their emotions and perspectives don’t matter.
These are not only guidelines for my circles, as I said above, they are my personal guidelines for living. I’m not perfect and there have been times I mess them up. I sometimes, unthinkingly, jump to give unsolicited advice and there have been occasions when I compare my life to how I perceive the life of someone else. When I do screw up, I do my best to make amends when necessary. And then I get up the next day and do my best to live by these guidelines again.
How would your life shift if you lived by these guidelines? If others did? How would you feel about yourself if others didn’t jump in to give you un-asked for advice?
Let’s all work to create a world where we can trust others, where we feel safe to express ourselves and that our lived experiences are believed and validated.
I talk more about these three guidelines in this video below. It’s about twenty-one minutes long, so go ahead and get yourself a cup of tea or a glass of wine and settle in.
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This blog post and video are part of a series to introduce my 12-month circle Wild Woman Within :: (Re)Connecting to our forgotten knowing. You can learn more about the circle and request an application right here.
Want to see the other posts in this series? Here’s a list:
Guidelines for being (this post)