A Sensitive Boy

Part I:  A Vicious Cycle

Once upon a time there was a sensitive boy.  He cried at the drop of a hat.  This annoyed the boy’s father who tried to toughen him up.  “Don’t be a sissy!” Dad said, which made the boy want to cry even more.  But he knew it wasn’t safe.  Instead, the boy choked back his feelings and hid them deep down in his belly where only he could feel the crying.

The crying worried mother, too.  “You’re too sensitive.” She said.  “You’ll get bullied.”  The boy believed her.  With practice, the boy became better at hiding his feelings.  But he didn’t stop feeling them.  Mother noticed that sometimes the boy’s face would turn red.  His lip would curl and tremble and his body would tense.  But he never cried again.

Over time, the boy would learn all sorts of tricks to hide his feelings.  He hid them so well, that even he couldn’t find them after a while.  One day, when the boy became a man, his wife would complain that he was devoid of emotion and unable to truly connect.  This confused the boy.

When the boy had a son of his own, he began to feel something stirring inside himself – something peculiar but familiar.  One day, the son got his feelings hurt and began to cry.  The boy, now a dad, wanted to cry too.  It hurt him to see his son hurting.  He remembered feeling that way when he was young.  But crying was wrong – dangerous even.  So the dad did what he thought was right and told the son to stop crying.  And the son did.


Part II – “My Son Is Too Sensitive”  – Is It True?

There is a story we tell ourselves about who we are and how it is.  We are too this.  Too that. Not enough of anything.  Every story is a variation of this shouldn’t be happening. Who would we be without that story?

Welcome to ‘The Work’ a la Byron Katie.  A process of inquiry.

I worry about my son because he’s too sensitive.  I want him to stop crying when his feelings are hurt.  And especially in public.  If he was tougher I wouldn’t worry about him being bullied.  I don’t want to see him hurting.  I don’t want him to get hurt because of the crying.

Belief:  My son will get hurt if he cries

  1. Is it true?   Yes
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true, that your son will get hurt if he cries?  No
  3.  How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? I get scared and angry and worried.  I try to toughen him up.  I try to help him not to feel.  I feel like it’s my job to change him.
  4.  Who would you be without the thought ‘my son will get hurt if he cries.’  I’d relax about him.  I’d comfort him instead of yell at him to stop crying when he’s hurting.  I’d be a parent who loves her sensitive son because I do love him so much.  I’d see how caring he is.  How he can sense what other people are feeling – which is a gift. I’d be able to love him and not worry about how sensitive he is. I’d support him.

Turn the thought around (to statements that are as true or truer): ‘My son will get hurt if he cries’

  1.  To the self:  I get hurt when he cries.’  (True.  I suffer with worry when I think of what his crying means.)
  2. To the opposite:  ‘My son won’t get hurt if he cries.’  (Might be true.  I don’t know how people will react.  Maybe he’ll meet with sympathy and understanding.)
  3.  To the other:  ‘I hurt my son when he cries.’  (True!  I disrespect his feelings.  I dishonor him when I tell him he shouldn’t feel the way he feels. I do what I’m afraid others will do to him – I hurt him when he cries!)


I realize I have two sons in my mind – the son I have and the son I think I want him to be.  The real one and the one I imagine to be better and safer.  I try to change him because there’s fear inside that I don’t know what to do with.  When I question my thoughts and meet my fear, I see that in my desire to protect him, I am actually hurting him.  Where is the love in that?

I don’t have to change what I believe. But I can, and should, question it.   Because if I don’t challenge my thoughts, they plague me.  So I ask myself again, who would I be, who would he be, without these thoughts? Can I find one stress-free reason to keep my thoughts?  In the questioning, I begin to see that none of my thoughts are true.  On the other side of the questions is freedom – for both of us.

It turns out, the world is perfect.  It’s what I think about the world that needs work.


The Perfect Post

(image credit Lama Jigme)

(image credit Lama Jigme)

I’ve been accused of appearing perfect.  BA-HA-HA-HA! (Excuse me while I ROFLMAO.)

It seems that this alleged perfection of mine can be intimidating.  This concerns me on several levels.  Primarily because if I’m supposed to be this ‘perfect’ person,  I’d like to enjoy it.  Perfection must have a benefits package that includes perks like flawless fingernails and the ability to walk gracefully in stiletto heels – neither of which I currently possess.  (Point me to Human Resources;  I’ve been gypped.)

The idea of my perfection is as absurd a notion as the misconception that my children eat liver.  It’s just not true.  All the same, I’ve amassed enough of these false accusations  that I must set the record straight.  Because I believe I’m being set up.  (I do hope someone from the FBI is reading this post.  I could use help debunking this conspiracy theory.)

You see, I am a perfectionist.  Or as I like to think of myself, a recovering not-good-enougher.  This is not to be mistaken for actual perfection.  Allow me to explain.

There is a demon inside of me who set up camp many, MANY, moons ago.  This demon believes it is protecting me from the pain of judgment and shame.  It thinks itself a shield – a very heavy one – that needs to be carried around constantly in order to earn approval.  Without this shield, I risk death.

Ok, that’s a little dramatic.  But to the hyper-sensitive little girl inside, not being enough is a death sentence.  And the world is a very scary place.

The irony is, the perfectionism shield scares people away.  It makes them defensive.  And they, too, prepare for a fight.  Only, they have swords.  And daggers that come out of their eyes – especially when I show up at the morning bus stop showered, groomed, and ready for the day after a 5 a.m. workout.

Sometimes they throw stones when they see what I eat – a wide array of healthy fare – because it makes them feel bad about their own choices.  So they try to hurt me without noticing that I’m already hurting from the dietary restrictions my body demands.

On occasion, they get their big guns out and attack where it hurts most – my parenting standards.  They see that I’ve written a book for tweens and equate that with a claim that I am a perfect parent. Deep down, beyond their own fear of being imperfect, they know – and I know – that there is no perfect parent.  But the wanting to be one, that does exist.  And it causes a whole mess of disappointment and misunderstanding.

If one really needs proof, I’m happy to pull out a file box of imperfections.  Just this week I’ve filled up an entire drawer with mistakes.  BIG ones like forgetting my BFF’s 40th birthday.  Ouch!  And medium ones like mistakenly ripping off daughter’s ski club ticket that was supposed to remain on her coat for the season.  (Then having to swallow my pride and admit that I am that parent that didn’t follow simple instructions.) And little mistakes like missing a doctor’s appointment.  All in one week!  In fact, I’ve noticed such a sudden increase in personal imperfection that I’m wondering if someone is in possession of a voodoo doll named Deb.  If you are, I beg you, leave her alone.  She needs a rest.

She, the perfectionist, works really hard at not wanting to be perfect.  She considers perfectionism an affliction, a cross she bears.  This cross is not one she would have chosen had she known how heavy it would be, or how many miles she’d have to carry it.  There are times it makes her fall to her knees and her loved ones have to peel her off the ground.  They might even offer to carry the cross for a while.  But the fact is, the cross belongs to her.  She will be crucified on it, I’m afraid.

For now, she walks on, practicing self-love, learning how to trust herself and to trust life.  Trying, and often failing, to show herself a bit of compassion.

Please, do not envy the perfectionist.  Do not mistakenly label her as perfect.  That label hurts more than you know.  She is not only wildly imperfect like the rest, but also acutely affected by imperfection, and incapable of embracing it in herself.

Most importantly – LISTEN UP – she doesn’t think she’s better than you.  Nor does she want you to feel bad about yourself.  She only wants to protect herself in a world that, long ago, taught her it wasn’t safe to make mistakes.

Oh, The Places We Go

In one week I am informed that two of my friends have cancer.  Another has died.  I’m at that age when really tough things happen at an increasing frequency – divorce, illness, death.  It’s happening all around me, but not currently to me.  So instead of the drama of utter despair, I have the luxury of a more detached melancholy.   A friend’s cancer reality will not change my day to day life, but it does change my view of the world.

Allowing myself to go to ‘that place’ – the deep fear place where the world is unsafe – is a slippery slope.  I fear I will be swallowed up by demons of all kinds and never climb out.  But go, I do, because it pulls me in.

I see myself sitting before God with childlike eyes and grown-up concerns.  I throw no tantrum, nor even ask for help.  I simply sit.  No questions come.  Perhaps because I know there is no answer – at least not one that I will understand or agree with.

All of my beliefs and convictions about life are pulled out of me and laid on a virtual table before me.  I sort through them, easily discarding those that suddenly, no longer have value.  Like the one that makes me floss every day and fret over the dirt on the floor.  The rest of the pieces I re-arrange, trying to make them fit together.  These trinkets are an awkward excuse for a belief system.

My child sitting beside me calls to me from what seems like a distance.  I catch myself daydreaming and scoop up the pieces scattered in my mind, tucking them away in a safe place.  I will examine them again, perhaps later, when the kids are in bed and my confidant comes home.

For now, I will continue my superfluous day wearing a new set of glasses.  Not the rose-colored ones, nor the sunglasses.  Today, I see clearly, almost too clearly – like when the eye doctor adds drops to your eyes that dilate them.  If only I could block out the light.  This new vision is just too much.

One week later, I return to a more comfortably numb state of being.  The “meaning of Life and Death” is not in every sip of coffee anymore.  My normal, slightly cloudy, vision is back.  I walk down the street called “My Life”.  It is flat terrain for now.  But I can’t help looking  back to see what it was that I kept tripping on.  And to be sure that whatever it was, is not following me.

New Rules

2013Every year I denounce New Year tradition and proclaim my distaste for the practice of resolution-setting.  I suspect it has some relationship to my inner teen who still rebels against what she ‘should’ do.  Or the adult me who finds certain practices trite.  I mean really, how many times can we disappoint ourselves by setting up lofty expectations that crash and burn before Valentine’s Day?  We mean well, I’m sure.  There is nobility in wanting to improve ourselves.  But when we fail, as we so often do before year-end, bitterness sets in and we end up feeling worse about ourselves.  Silly mortals.

That being said, I’m willing to risk disappointment this year because I need a kick in the pants.  If you’re an avid follower of this blog (thank you) you know that my posting frequency has slacked.  I could blame life for getting in the way, but we all know that’s a grossly overused excuse.  Nor can I claim lack of inspiration; life is too rich for that.  My problem seems to be a set of impossibly high standards.  You see, I want to inspire and motivate and educate.  I want to write only meaningful material.  I want to entertain you.   I want, I want, I want.  Mercy!  The wanting gets in the way of the doing.  And writing is something I really want to do.

So I’ve decided to change my own rules. (Calling them rules instead of resolutions might make them stick.)  I can’t promise to be a writing rockstar, but I can promise to write.  This year, that will have to be enough.  So here goes:

Chaos and Clarity Rules 2013

1.  I reserve the right to post even when the content is not profound.  Sometimes simple is better.

2.  I will write about life as I see it, not as the world might wish to hear it.  That means things might get uncomfortable from time to time.  Reality isn’t always pretty.

3.   I plan to write once per week.  This will be more likely if Rules #1 and #2 are followed.

4.  I will not chastise myself for breaking any of the rules.

Simple, right?  Cross your fingers and toes my friends.  And comment and share on blog posts, even if you disagree with me.  I respect differences in opinion and enjoy the occasional debate.  I promise to behave if you do.

Happy New Year!


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