Reassurance, validation, compliments, praise, and perspective

From trainer J yesterday before and after my post:

Screenshot 2016-07-02 20.46.03

With regard to the first text, we had been chatting about my practice – J was inquiring to ensure my shoulder and neck were fine (they were and are today after pilates class) – which morphed into his own workout and need to keep working to maintain pace with another tribe member who has made some spectacular gains dropping weight and achieving muscle definition. My brother in the training tribe is extremely disciplined and it’s most definitely showing! A new hero and shining example to emulate is born. Unfortunately we are typically in the gym at opposite ends of the day so I only get to observe his progress via pictures posted or on the nights I venture into the gym for a rare evening practice.

The exchange coalesced a bundle of random thoughts from the past few weeks.

J is not a drill sergeant type trainer who yells or speaks very emphatically in our sessions. Nor is he the rah-rah cheerleader type who lauds me with positive affirmations and platitudes about every single thing I may be doing right and is overly kind in correcting form and such. His style is obviously a good match for what I need – he corrects me objectively when necessary, approves whatever I am doing right with in a normal, not overly effusive manner, and very occasionally might subtract or replace an exercise because of my present level of ability. His steadiness and consistency in this regard through the months has inspired trust; I absolutely believe the choices he makes for me are based on my evolving ability and not some cookie-cutter formula in the personal trainer cookbook. Genuine compliments are rare enough for me to perk up and turn around in sort of wide-eyed amazement. In other words, they are not just the carrot he uses to motivate me somehow. By now he also knows that just telling me straight is going to either move me forward or not move me at all, and no amount of window dressing is going to make a difference. In fact, if he were blowing smoke at me, I would have fallen by the wayside long ago.

So such positive comments – pride in his clients’ progress, pleasure at our shared effort to get some actual muscle definition on my arms and shoulders – these statements are weightier to me, and this was a very happy surprise delivered yesterday. I honestly did not see him and had no idea he was in the gym until another member stopped to ask me a question because she didn’t want to bother him. Our paths crossed briefly on the way out, and thinking about it after his text above, I realize he did ask me if I was wearing a new top, explained to him about my what day it is confusion, and did not think anything more about it.

But the exchange made my already happy day just that much sweeter. And of course got me thinking.

When I first got started in the gym, I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with training and the ways it made me feel. On the one hand I was happy because I was doing something to improve my health. On the other hand it was so hard and I hated it. J and I were getting to know each other, and while I liked him as a person I was not sure if I actually trusted him enough to want to know him better, let him know me better (because then he would not want to work with me, negative girl would assert).

This is true of the many coaching relationships in my life, and as I have grown more confident in my own instinct and voice, my tolerance for dilly-dallying – my own and those around me – is growing thinner and weaker. The more I trust my own validation and beliefs about me, the less dependent I am upon the need for external reassurance that I am okay, I am doing the right things, I am good enough. Make no mistake – it’s still wonderful to hear and to exchange ideas with others, to give and to receive praise and compliments. But I do not need it or feel so desperate for it these days.

M, my village, my core group of die-hard supporters within my tribe – my progress and good-for-me state of well being is somewhat dependent upon them. But they could tell me I’m wrong, I’m being a baby, I need to grow the f**k up (all things said to me over the course of the last year by various people within my tribe *smile*) and I will not be devastated or take it as personally as I might have once upon a time. Because for every time they felt the need to say something like that, there were probably 100 times they would be supportive, encouraging, propping-me-up type friends who would reassure me I am not the terrible, horrible person negative girl would megaphone inside my head 24/7.

I like that people believe in me, think highly of me, feel that I am a worthwhile human being who is trying. Just like they are, just like everyone else (so I like to hope). The difference is that now I know I can and will survive if all that dried up and blew away with a still breeze. It would be hurtful. It would make me sad, and angry, and really upset. But I would not die from it. I would simply continue and find myself a new tribe.

External validation is an intriguing thing. But is becoming dependent upon it another bad habit we should break? I am never going to be the Lone Ranger type; I am never going to be my better/best self all alone and completely independent of other human beings. As I have grown emotionally and mentally healthier, I have discovered my craving for validation and reassurance is faded as well. Not completely, and I still reach for it as warranted. But rather than hope or beg or dance around the subject, I simply ask. “Am I doing okay with [insert insecure hot button of the day]?” is far better for me than waiting and hoping those around me can read my mind and provide what I want and feel I need.

I am not in a helping profession; my work is not in the same sort of realm as those in my village. My area of business expertise does not lend itself to dispensing of professional opinions or advisory services, although looking at trends in a business’ finances can point out trouble spots or lend support for purchases or guidance for business decisions. What I mean is, I typically do not counsel people in their personal matters on a day-to-day basis, despite hearing a lot stories of marital strife or relationship difficulties, issues with kids, or life in general. Not being an expert does not insulate me from being a caring citizen in my world.

My recent lifestyle changes have not gone unnoticed in my world at large. For the friends who have commented with jealousy or derision about my lifestyle change efforts, I have at least 2 or 3 others who are highly complimentary and supportive. There is another small slice, however, that cannot be classified as positive or negative. It’s that frustrating and small slice of people who want to make changes, are struggling to go forward, and need more than just a baseline level of support and encouragement toward their objectives.

A life coach I am not. I have neither the training nor the temperament for such endeavors. Yet in friendship, there seems to come a point where I either need to set and enforce boundaries on the amount of time and attention I am capable of sharing or distance myself from the person. Just lately here, the former is going hand in hand with the latter.

It’s not actually that I am uncaring, or uninterested. I use this blog as my accountability partner for my exercise and overall better health efforts, because believe me, if M or any of my friends had to listen to me go on and on to the degree of navel gazing I do in my posts, M would find me tiresome and I would likely have a much tinier circle of friends.

Maybe it’s a good sign of my own positive growth and emotional health that I notice how dependent others are upon my approval and validation of their efforts. And I am truly happy for and supportive anyone I know who can take a tiny step outside their comfort zone and get started down a better road.

However, the healthier I become, it seems the more boundaries must be drawn. Codependency is very hard to eradicate, so I long ago stopped trying; however, managing codependency and my behaviors from it will be a lifelong quest. Being aware of it and stopping myself before I become drawn into such relationships takes some discipline, but for the most part I am currently doing very well. For all my positive outlook improvements this year, becoming more mindful of this behavioral habit and its consequences is possibly what makes me feel proudest. Yet I still slip and find myself feeling resentful because I cannot or do not wish to have relationships that are fueled by one party’s emotional neediness.

I wish there were kinder, gentler words for it than emotional neediness – that sounds so cruel even if it is accurate. But there are people within my tribe that are like energy vampires that leave me drained and lifeless if I allow it. But I also recognize that once upon a time our emotional exchanges were mutual, that my own neediness fueled them and mirrored their own. Now that I have found other outlets and built up my own emotional resources and confidence, the equation and relationship dynamic have changed. The other party now seems desperate for more of my time and attention, and while I am supportive of their efforts to improve their own reserves, a bottomless vessel is never going to be filled no matter how much I or others pour into it. And it also seems that the healthier I have become in managing my own emotions, impulses, and expectations, the less capable they are of even trying to do the same. Want a poor response from me? A demonstration of learned helplessness is a sure-fire ticket to making me step back and away.

Boundaries are kind of awkward for me. I set them, I can articulate them, yet when pushed to them by others I do not always react as skillfully as I might. My impatience surfaces and my usual directness become a lot harder and blunter. I have expectations that people will try to take care of themselves, and perhaps that is unrealistic when so many I know are prone to panic first and think later behaviors. And perhaps this is also why I feel almost like a sociopath in my reactions to traumas and how they unfold. Everyone is different in how we handle crisis and when bad things happen. I understand the need for support – to give and to receive – and I never want to become so cynical or jaded in my own responses that I cannot rise to the occasion when need is genuine and real. I also do not want to damage relationships to the point that calling or interacting to shoot the breeze becomes an endurance test in awkwardness.

But I have my own journey to manage, my own better health quest to pursue, my own blog to write to explore my thoughts and feelings about the journey. I wish I had the time, energy, and infinite emotional/mental resources to support others in the ways they desire and seem to crave. But I don’t. I am selfish enough to know my own limitations and guard against too much infringement, even with M, who very occasionally goes off the rails and does not take care of himself and lets that breakdown bleed all over our relationship.

I suppose like anything worthwhile in life defining the questions and then finding the answers is a complicated process. I will keep working at it. But sometimes I grow weary of applying myself to try and figure life stuff out and have to remind myself that there are always choices and alternatives, most of which I like even less. While it seemed so much more black-and-white in my younger years, I think the questions were just different and the filtering lens that comes with the demands of hands-on parenthood altered my perspective.

Older? Definitely, yes. Wiser? The debate rages on. And that, at the end of this Sunday, seems as it should be.

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