Understanding that as we practice becoming fiercely protective, unconditionally loving mothers to our selves, our view of our selves becomes more independent of others' opinions of us.
When Others Criticize You
You can love your self no matter what anyone else thinks or says about you!
By late 1984, I'd finally managed to extricate my self from the tangled relationship that I'd struggled in for over seven years. (See Others' Views for more about this.) I was, at almost 44, reclaiming my own separate life. And, at the same time, I was moving out of the relative isolation I had chosen while in that relationship.
It was a transformative time. Finding my way back to my self, I began meeting and getting to know some delightful women. It often felt like Spirit/the Grandmothers had a hand in the ways in which I met these new friends. The simple sweetness of these connections was balm to my battered psyche.
One of these new friends was a scientist/naturalist/artist that I met while meandering on my favorite canyon trail one early evening. I came upon her and her dog only moments after I'd felt a surge of longing for someone to hang out with. We walked together for a while that night, sharing stories about our connections to wild places, to solitude and to the magic of Ojai. She was living and working in Los Angeles on weekdays. On weekends, she would come to replenish her soul in a little cottage that she was renting in the East End of Ojai. The cottage was just around the corner from the rented cottage in which I was replenishing my own soul. Both recovering from complicated long-term relationships that we'd recently ended, we each were still talking with our former partners, trying to navigate the shift from relationship to friendship. And, we were each consciously engaged with our spiritual journeys. The parallels were striking.
We began spending time together out on the trails when she came to Ojai each weekend. As we hiked, we shared tales of hope and frustration. We reflected on the differing styles with which we were approaching our struggles to disengage from compulsive attempts to save our now ex-partners from the unhappiness of their problem-filled lives. We became a support group of two for this transitioning time in which we each found (and were finding) our selves.
While we were both committed to our spiritual journeying, we had different paths and different ways of being on those paths. She was immersed in a Buddhist tradition, intensely formal in her practice and study. I was involved in a much looser intuitive approach to my spiritual evolution. I let my self be guided by the energy of the deep feminine: the voice of the Great Mother/the Grandmothers that spoke in my heart as I wandered in the wild places. These quite different approaches and the richness they held for each of us were, in the early days of our getting to know each other, a source of intriguing dialogue.
With mind and body, I was exploring the Field of the Sacred Feminine intent on discovering what the essential nature of female eroticism might be. I was captivated imagining the possibilities of a feminine erotic nature that hadn't been, for millennia, co-opted and circumscribed by male images of female sexuality. I was awed by the vibrant erotic energy I felt in my connection with the natural world. The Great Mother was my teacher. I shed my clothes wherever I felt safe to be naked in the wild places. Sitting in the little waterfalls on the river, cuddling with or napping cradled in trees, curled into or wrapped around boulders, I let their energies resonate in my body and being. I was absorbed, feeling the erotic flow connecting me with the river, the trees, the boulders; feeling the expanding openness of erotic arousal, the dissolving of boundaries, my self melting into the all-that-is.
My sharing about these experiences was part of our dialogue about spirituality, relationship and life. After a while, we ventured into experimenting together with erotic energy. At the start, this felt like a safe and natural extension of our sharing since we'd already been playing with psychic energy, trying to send and receive images with each other over distance.
Erotic play also wove in and out of another friendship I was involved in at the same time as Anita (not her real name) and I were experimenting together. I was open in both sharings about being not at all interested in creating a partnering/romantic relationship with anyone, then or possibly ever. I simply wanted to explore on as many levels as were safely available with anyone with whom I was engaging. Both women said they understood and accepted where I was coming from.
Around this time, the owners of Anita's cottage needed to reclaim that space for their own family. At the same moment, one of the other two cottages on the property where I lived became vacant. Anita, delighted with the synchronicity, readily made the move. At the start, her greater proximity felt fine with me. Our separate commitments to our solitude, my openness about where I was vis-à-vis relationship and her Ojai presence still being limited to weekends promised clear boundaries.
Not long after her move, she left her job in Los Angeles. She moved down the road to a new Ojai living space that provided her with reduced rent in exchange for caretaking the property she'd live on and found a job in her scientific field in a nearby community. As she spent more time in Ojai, she began meeting people including some of my friends. She developed her own separate connections with two of those friends.
After a while, things got complicated. On several occasions, she'd make plans for us with those friends, speaking as if we were a couple. She was taken aback by my sensitivity to something she called "insignificant" or "merely semantic." I'd explain further. She'd appear to get what I was taking exception to. Then it would happen again. I'd be furious. She'd refer to me as her girlfriend and I'd call her on that. She'd be surprised by my objections to her proprietary language. She couldn't seem to hear that it wasn't a matter of semantics for me.
She became impatient with our erotic energy play, pushing verbally for what to me felt like just plain sex. I was upset by her attitude and tried again to clarify what I was available for. She'd seem to understand. Then, just back from a trip, she actually became physically pushy about sexual touching. It felt abusive and invasive, so I left and went home, furious.
As I walked the quarter mile up the road to my cottage I finally saw that dialogue was not possible with this person: she just couldn't hear me. Despite how things had been earlier in our sharing, what was going on now was toxic, unacceptable. I was done, not open to negotiation.
Once home, shaken and outraged, I wrote a letter telling her that I recognized that she didn't or couldn't hear me in my own terms no matter how I tried to explain me and that I found her behavior abusive. And given that, I wrote, I saw no point in attempting any discussion about my decision to be done with our sharing. Still shaking with rage, I left the note in her mailbox in the middle of that night.
Late the next morning, she arrived on my doorstep in a rage of her own. Though I had nothing more to say to her, I felt I had to give her the opportunity to have her say in response to the letter. To insulate my self from her rageful energy, I stood holding one hand over my heart and one over my solar plexus. I made sure to stay far enough away from her so that my body was outside the range of her swirling energy field.
She stalked back and forth across my studio ranting at me, telling me what a "manipulative, malevolent, spiritually fraudulent, people-user" I was. One of my most vivid memories from her diatribe was of her telling me how despicable I was because I "used people and when you're no longer getting what you need from a relationship, you just callously crumple it up and throw the person away like a used candy wrapper!"
Though it was hard to listen to her condemnation of me, I felt no need to defend my self. I simply acknowledged that I could see how she experienced me. I was, amazingly, able to allow her to have her perceptions of me, though they differed from my own and even, sometimes, paralleled venomous accusations I'd occasionally heard from my inner critic.
At some point her rage was spent and she left. I was exhausted by the work of holding me safe and centered in the face of her storming. Yet, I also felt exhilarated. It was a milestone in my life. I'd stood solidly in the middle of my own reality even as I grasped how reprehensible my way of being was for her. I could accept the context of her negative perceptions, could see me through her furious eyes and still remain clear that her behavior had been abusive and unacceptable to me.
Both before and after this watershed moment, there have been friendships and relationships that I've left because they've stopped feeling right for me. Part of what Anita accused me of is true about me: when an intimate connection no longer nourishes or grows me, I do leave it. Usually, I do this with grace and caring, honoring what has been. Time already shared and the depth of that sharing are not, for me, reason to stay or to continue in something that no longer feeds my soul.
In earlier days, I'd feel anguished and critical of my self when I came to the place of being done relating with someone who'd been, till then, an important part of my life. I stayed longer than I wanted to in order to postpone having to cope with the person's and my own negative opinions: about me, about the quality of my friendship, about the authenticity of my caring. I've often felt uneasy with the fact that my delight in my own solitary company makes interpersonal relationships less essential to me than they seem to be for many other people. The reality that I can and do leave when being with another ceases to offer me more than I can offer my self makes for a not always level playing field.
At the time I went through this uproar with Anita, I had already grown more accepting of the way I am in the world of relatedness with other(s). I knew that it did not matter whether it came from woundedness or wholeness; it's merely how I'm wired. I'd also realized that even when I do full disclosure about my self in the early days of a developing friendship, people do not necessarily believe or get the full implications of what I tell them. And, I'd recognized that sometimes there is nothing for it but to allow others to have their own readings of me while I stay centered in my own sense of my self.
These days, I accept that some friendships, while rich and intriguing at the start, may only be nourishing for a season of my life. Others begin in the same way but then continue to flourish through countless transformations and seasons. There's no knowing which are which at the start. I have my own permission not to stay in any connection beyond the season(s) in which it grows me, no matter what the person may think of me for letting go of our sharing.
As we practice becoming fiercely protective mothers to all of our little and big selves, we become unconditionally accepting of our whole, imperfect, still evolving, not-always-shining selves. Since our own good opinion of and love for our selves no longer depend on how anyone else sees us, we become more willing to allow others to have their own visions/versions of us. We become less susceptible to others' negating views of us. And, as Terry Cole Whittaker once wrote, we realize that "What you think of me is none of my business."
Keeping our own good opinion of our selves doesn't require that we invalidate or argue away another's less loving experience of us. But, we may choose not to be close with people whose views of us are negative or so discrepant from our own.
Consider loving and accepting your self no matter what anyone else (or your own inner critical voice) thinks or says about you.