Getting the Wake-Up Call as a Race

There are so many gloom-and-doomers who think the world is in a downward spiral, that we’re irrevocably doomed to annihilation of our race and our beautiful planet.  But I believe they’re wrong.  I know we instinctively stay nestled in comfort zones and choose the easy option which works in the short term but can destroy ourselves or others in the long one.  We also don’t seem to learn much about our self-destructive tendencies until they create situations which are intolerable.  Then we wake up.  Sometimes.  Sometimes we don’t, and we hope we can get away with it.

We never do, though.  Once we get a reveille call, we’re en route to having to wake up whether we want to or not.  It’s true for individuals, societies and the whole human race.  It’s our saving grace.  Part of our evolutionary make-up.  So, I know the world looks as if it’s in a shocking state – and in many ways it is.  Human trafficking???   Rape, murder, violence, abuse of children, pedophilia, political corruption.  You name it, we’ve got it all.  And we’re destroying the planet – either actively, or passively.

But what if the result of our actions has reached such a level of degredation that we’re finally responding to the wake-up call that is nothing more than the better part of ourselves?   The part which needs to see life being cherished above all else.

The stories that are being exposed by the media are horrendous.   I certainly can’t get my head around the idea of a girl child being sold into sexual slavery by her father for a few measly dollars.    Nor can I fathom the new immigration law in Arizona which is paving the way for racial profiling and is driven by fear and prejudice.   Or the way the ANC in South Africa has become so corrupt, betraying everything Nelson Mandela established.

But I don’t think we’re in a downward spiral.  I think we’re stepping out of history.  Ignorance is bliss, but it leads us to do terrible things.  Facing the truth is always incredibly painful and challenging.  But there’s something in our intrinsic make-up that’s drawing us towards that truth.  So we can deal with it.  And we are.  An enormous number of people are rallying in a meaningful way to stop human rights violations.  They want to be part of a solution.  Consciousness of the value of life is increasing exponentially.

Our evolution used to be focused on physical survival.  But once we got that down to a certain degree, our aspirational self started developing.  Now our evolution is emotional, and we’re becoming more conscious of each other and how much we need a quality of life that isn’t just about how many cars we drive.  We’re realizing we have the right to do more than just survive at any cost.   We have the right to experience love and be cherished.  To do what makes our heart sing.  To not give up on our dreams.  To fight for our rights as individuals, communities and as a race.

So I don’t think we’re in a worse place than we’ve ever been before.    We’re just better informed about the reality of who we’ve always been.  We’re shining the torch on it.  It’s only when we see and accept the reality of our limits that we can go beyond them.  I think that’s what’s happening now, and that the most powerful driving force within us is luring us towards moving beyond those limits towards that which is better.

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Entitlement: Ask and You Shall Receive

A couple of years ago Oprah did a show on a young girl living on the street but still doing her schoolwork, desperate to get an education.  Oprah gave her an apartment and paid for school and college.  The girl was blown away.  It was very moving.

I watched and despaired.  In comparison to that girl I felt so undeserving.  I’ve had many times of not being able to generate money, with nothing in my purse, bank account or fridge.  I had very few clothes and my car didn’t work.  But I had friends who could bring me food, and I could borrow enough money from my mother to pay rent.  And even though I paid a huge emotional price for it, I didn’t land on the street.

Plus I could go to therapy, repairing self esteem, learning a different way of looking at life, understanding the different components of my mind, facing the truth of my behavior and what drove it, and laying a new foundation that would let me live and breathe freely, express myself unconditionally and enjoy success in a way that’s meaningful for me.

I clung to the idea that when I’d reached a certain momentum of change on the inside, my world would begin to change, but it was hard, because I got poorer and poorer.  I thought about asking Oprah for help but I couldn’t believe she’d be interested in me.  My journey so far has been pretty epic for me.  But everybody’s journey is epic for them.

I knew how hard I was fighting to find my sanity and keep it, and to work towards building entitlement and belief in myself.  Dealing with a past that crashed in on my present often without warning, paralyzing me, leaving me unable to decipher where reality was; facing a rabid inner critic and monumental fear.  But I wondered what Oprah would see.  I needed financial help, but would she think I deserved it?  Of course  I was the one who didn’t believe.

It’s funny how a big crisis takes you back to the root cause of it and everything else that has never worked in your life.  After bankruptcy I became dependent on my mother.  She kept me alive, but did it reluctantly and punished me emotionally.  The more she helped me the more worthless and guilty I felt for being vulnerable. This was how it was when I was a child.

I’d spent my life believing the myth that she was the tragic heroine in our family.  But she wasn’t.  Narcissists survive and it doesn’t matter to them who pays.  Accepting that was like facing death, but it gave me the momentum to finally shut the door.  I didn’t know what I was going to do for money, even within a couple of weeks.   But I did know I was never ever going to let anybody manipulate and hurt me like that again.

It was as if the room I was living in was suddenly flooded with light.  It became clear that you don’t have to suffer to get help.  You just have to be aware of what you need, and entitle yourself to ask.  And know that you have the right to not let anybody manipulate you in your vulnerability.

These days I joke about Oprah discovering me, and of course I want that.  It’s fantastic publicity for a start. And loads of fun.  But also it would be an amazing stroke, of course it would.  I really do admire her.  I could handle a trip to Chicago and a seat in the hot spot on Oprah’s show.   But I don’t have the sense that I’m waiting for her permission any more.  Probably because where I once longed for her to embrace me, I know how to embrace myself.

Conversations with a Narcissist

You can’t really have a conversation with a narcissist, can you?  You have a monologue situation; they talk and you listen.  The thing that seems to be missing with them is the capacity to realize how much they’re obsessed with themselves and how much they discount everybody else in their world.  They truly don’t believe they do it.

In fact they don’t seem to have a frame of reference for the concept of “other than me”.  I wonder how that happens?    They don’t know what normal interaction of give and take is, it’s completely alien to them.   I know one narcissist who has bitched about their brother very consistently for about 30 years, but when I mentioned it once, they were outraged that I was unjustly accusing them.  They couldn’t remember a single instance of being angry with their brother.

Is it a factor of low self esteem?  Does childhood abuse cause this?  Yes, but I don’t think it’s only that.  I think it’s also got something to do with entitlement – what was required of them as children – or wasn’t – and what they were allowed to get away with.  Perhaps they didn’t have to take others into account; were never held accountable for any of their behavior and were protected from the consequences of it, the impact it had on other people.  Or perhaps they were isolated and never interacted with other children or adults.

Who can ever explain it?  Maybe there’s just something missing.

They walk around in a kind of anesthetic bubble, and truth is an alien concept to them.  They’re usually incredible liars and don’t seem to care that often their lies are utterly transparent.  But nobody can ever accuse a narcissist of being stupid, because that’s the last thing they are.  They’re very astute, and know how to manipulate people on sight – but they don’t do it consciously, I’m pretty sure of it.   It’s just kind of an instinct with them.

Usually they’re very judgmental of others and have a standard for themselves and a totally different one for everybody else.  Everyone else is always wrong, and they are always right.  They’re easily offended, especially if they get a dose of their own medicine – which of course they don’t recognize as being their own.  They’re also very easily hurt, which makes it so hard to deal with them, because the hurt is real.  They’re also expert at exploiting their own vulnerability.

They’re often very creative and imaginative.  They imagine things about others and themselves which aren’t real.  Well we all do that, but most of us can see that we’re doing it – maybe after the fact, but at some point we wake up.  Narcissists don’t seem able to ever wake up to the reality of their behavior and that the world they live in is fictional.  Because it isn’t fictional to them.

One thing I’m sure of.  You can’t get through to them.  Communication is one-way.  They take but they never give – yet they believe they’re the most giving of all.  It’s hopeless to try and have a real conversation with a narcissist, let alone a relationship.   Conversations and relationships need a degree of self-awareness in both parties.

What happens when you love a narcissist?  Well, it’s harsh, but you have to look at what’s in it for you.  Is it really love?  Yes, it can be, if it’s a parent or a sibling.  Whatever you do, you have to accept that they need power – yours – and they’ll take it with no compunction.  They’ll stay strong and you’ll stay weak.  If you don’t protect yourself you’ll get hurt, over and over.  And protection pretty much means closing the door.  Because narcissists don’t change.  Why should they?  It works for them to be the way they are.

Deep deep inside, though, I think they’re real lonely.  That’s what makes it so hard to walk away from them.  But you have to.  Otherwise they have a life but you don’t.

Walking away from Co-Dependency, Making Healthy Choices

Being Erica had an episode last night about her relationship with a woman she’d known all her life who was irresponsible and kept getting into trouble.  Erica kept rescuing her and paying – and not being able to extricate herself because of what she thought of as her loyalty and love for her friend.  In the end she saw she was letting her friend use her because it made her feel needed and the strong one.  It was hard for her to face the truth.  I could relate to that.

I had a sobering illustration in the past 6 weeks of staying in something unhealthy.  I thought it was because I didn’t have any other options, but that wasn’t really it.  A man offered to fix my car for a reasonable fee.  Too reasonable?  My gut sent out a signal, and I heard it, but over-rode it.  Why?  Because I was vulnerable and thought I didn’t believe any other options would be available to me.  That’s on the surface of it.

From the start things went wrong.  I’ve learned the man is a petty crook and beats up on people.  He kept making promises, I kept believing him – so did the police.  Then he’d renege and I’d experience a horrific sense of having no power, of people being allowed to do what they want to me and me having no options. I was constantly exploding with rage in the privacy of my own home.  Feeling victimized.  But not walking away.

Then suddenly yesterday I saw.  This relationship – I know it!  It feels comfortable, safe, it’s where I know my place. Not safe in the ultimate sense, of course, but safe as in familiar.  It was  shocking.  In that moment I saw how all my life I’ve made choices to stay in unhealthy relationships hoping the other person would change, keep their promises, respect me, stop using me, stop lying.    And truth?  It was so I wouldn’t have to walk away into nothingness.

Being treated as if I’m unimportant is how I’ve known who I was.  How could I walk away from the only thing that affirmed my existence?    But over the years, with all the experience of unconditional love and teaching I’ve been getting in therapy a new me has been growing, one that doesn’t need abuse to feel alive.  Funny how you can be gradually changing, building inner strength, but not realize it.

It came to head yesterday.   I suddenly got sick of the game, of the parts both he and I were playing.  It didn’t make me feel alive.  I didn’t have to lecture myself into it, it was an emotional reaction.  This felt like death.  I wanted life. And for the first time ever I didn’t want to punish him. I just wanted to get away, cut my losses and make space for something better.  In the past I’ve been consumed with anger and hurt and desperately wanted to take on people like this – take them to court, make them pay. Worse, I wanted to stay entangled with them.

Not this time.  There’s nothing left in this kind of relationship for me.  I don’t need to punish him, or see him punished.  I need to be somewhere else. So I walked away.  And another solution, a healthy one, slipped into place.   In Being Erica last night, she spoke of reaching a point in your life where you’re able to make choices that truly work for you; are protective of your right to be treated with respect.  I guess I’m reaching that point.  It’s an emotional thing, not intellectual.

Lady Gaga and Doing it My Way – Well, doing it Her Way

I saw Lady Gaga interviewed on telly the other night, and was quite amazed at how down to earth she was.  She was just gorgeous.  Unpretentious, no power games.  One of the things she said which resonated with me was that you can’t do what other people want you to do when you want to follow a dream.  You have to follow your heart.

She wasn’t aggressive about it, or even egotistical, just matter of fact, it was refreshing.  I’d say she knows what she’s talking about.  She drew a strong boundary between who she is privately and her creative persona.  Just showbiz, that’s all.

Her real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta and she was born on March 28 1986 to a  Catholic Italian American couple who came from lower class families and worked for everything, something Lady Gaga is proud of.  She started playing piano at the age of 4 and wrote her first piano ballad at 13.  By age 14 she was performing at open mic nights.  This was a girl with a destiny and with fantastic entitlement.

Her memory of school is that she felt insecure because she was mocked for being too provocative and eccentric, so she toned herself down.  But she love acting, and was a disciplined, studious, dedicated student.  When asked about her spiritedness, she attributed it laughingly to the fact that she’s left handed.

When she was 17, she enrolled at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she studied music and wrote papers on art, religion, social issues and politics.  Plus an 80-page thesis on pop artists Spencer Tunick and Damien Hirst.   By the second semester she wanted to leave, to focus on her own career.  Her father agreed to pay her rent for a year on condition that if she failed she re-enrol.

She has said she found the cheapest apartment she could “and ate shit until somebody would listen” [Vanessa Grigoriadis, “Growing Up Gaga” New York, New York Media Holdings] (Source: Wiki)

Well, that was a smart choice.  Finding this out about her has changed my idea of her completely.  A lot of what she does doesn’t appeal to me, but I really love how she claims her space – and her freedom from fear.  Also, she seems to be a generous-spirited woman who’s smart and on top of her world.  She’s aware of social issues, is a philanthropist, has won plenty of awards, and is sincerely grateful for the support of her fans.

At one point the Catholic League attacked her for blasphemy – but all they succeeded in doing was to make her the first artist to get 1 billion viral YouTube views.  Mae West was also slammed by the group.   Hmmm, so that’s how you get fame.

Middle East, Egypt, Libya and Twitter

I’m getting addicted to television.  And Twitter.  Blame it on the Middle East and this extraordinary blossoming of people’s awareness of their rights, all the connection that’s happening.  It’s infectious, that’s what it is.  One revolution such as the world has never seen before.  That points the way for all of us, no matter what our challenge is.  Speak out, stay firm, don’t give in to violence, connect with everybody around you. Ghandi would be proud.

I always hear it – and have said it myself a million times – that history repeats itself, and things never really change.  All the dictators, all the repression leading inevitably to crisis and violent,  bloody revolution.  But it’s not really true any more.  Something’s different this time round.  Don’t forget, it’s the year of the Female Iron Rabbit, generally spoken of as a particularly auspicious year.

Here we are in the west pretty much controlled by the power we’ve given to capitalist kings and queens (mostly kings but let’s face it their wives are right behind them).  They are the dictators of this century for us.  They’ve manipulated the desires, the honor, the work ethic of the middle classes just as any dictatorial monarch.

But just as the French, the Russian, the you-name-it Revolutions of the past started with mumblings and rumblings of dissatisfaction which gathered momentum, our awareness is growing of how powerless we really are, who we’re sacrificing our lives to.  And we’re not so happy about it.  We’re doing some mumbling and rumbling of our own.  Revolution is in the air.

In the Middle East, the business of dictatorship has been business as usual up until now.  Repressive regimes violently punishing opposition.  But something has changed.  In fact quite a few things have changed.  It isn’t just one country, one despot.  It’s a whole region, many different countries.  The rulers are independent from each other, but it’s as if there are almost no borders between the people.  At least no borders that can contain the infectiousness of their courage, their desire for freedom, the fact that they’ve all had enough.

So now each country has the momentum, the kind of mass consciousness of the whole region to back it against its despot.  Even somebody like Gaddafi, who lives in an altered reality, much like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, and who doesn’t care who he kills or how he goes about it, doesn’t have the power to suppress that momentum.  He may not be able to see it but everybody else does.

And how about this for a difference:  King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is trying to pre-empt a revolution by promising to spend $3 billion on housing and security.  A political commentator on BBC said it wouldn’t work, people don’t want lip service, they want the real thing.  He’s 87, by the way, the world’s oldest reigning monarch, and one of the world’s wealthiest men.  He stands to lose a lot.  He may still be deluded, but at least he’s thinking, watching, paying attention.

Something else that’s completely different to past revolutions is that so much of this one is being carried out by young people, who have vision, energy, courage – and Twitter.

Fighting Demons Dragons and Criminals – Entitlement and Protection

It’s funny how the challenges you meet always end up having something really good about them.  It’s pretty much impossible to see it while you’re fighting demons, dragons and criminals.  But when you’re done, and the demons et al are vanquished, then you see.

On Monday I didn’t have to deal with any demons or dragons, but I did have to deal with somebody of a criminal bent.  Criminal in that he promised to fix my car 3 weeks ago and took a R5,000 deposit, saying I’d get my car back in 5 days.  Then it was 10 days.  Then I couldn’t get hold of him.  He wouldn’t answer his phone or return my gazillion messages.

His loyal sister who works for him took my calls but wouldn’t tell me where my car was, and kept protecting her brother.  On Monday I got angry and said I’d go to the police.  She slammed the phone down.  He called and hurled violent verbal abuse at me – then threatened me.   It was really quite terrifying to have that filth coming at me as if I wasn’t a human being.

I flashed back to two experiences.  The 14 year old girl being molested, and the time just before I went bankrupt, when I was in a vortex of unethical men with excessive permission to do whatever they wanted and mow me down in the process.  In both those experiences I had no power at all and no value in their eyes.  None in my own.  And no protection.  Only fear and the most horrible rage that boiled volcanically within, which I couldn’t articulate or let out.

But on Monday I cried a bit at the shock of the abuse.  Then I marched down to the police station.   It was scary to lay a charge, given that he’d threatened me and knows where I live, but I did it anyway.  I wanted a different outcome to being abused.  And I got one.

People always complain about how useless the police are here, but my experience was what I wanted it to be.  Better, in fact.  The officer listened to my story, and called up the car fellow to get his side.  The idiot abused the officer!  Made my case for me.  So now he’ll be arrested tomorrow on 3 counts.  Abuse, intimidation and theft.  Then the police drove me home to make sure I was safe.

It was a horrible experience in one way, but in another I got the protection I’ve always longed for.  And I got to see how I so am not that terrified, powerless 14 year-old or even 40 year-old any more. Back then my inner scream was you can’t do this to me.  But they could, they did, they got away with it and I was powerless to stop it.  I had nobody to turn to for protection.  It was a terrible time.

I wanted to fight my abusers.  To hurt them.  All my focus was on them.  Strangely, I couldn’t fight, much as I wanted to.  I didn’t have the resources or the personal power.  They would have destroyed me.  So instead I got to pay attention to myself, my self esteem, my own lack of entitlement.  I’ve learned to respect myself – and how to fight for myself if I need to.

Suddenly I don’t need or want to fight, and the protection I need is right there.  This time round it’s the protection of the law.  Which I’ve got, with ease.   My days of having no options, of being abused by people with too much entitlement and not enough awareness and integrity – of not being able to protect myself or find protection from my community – those days are over.   Stepping out of history here.