Have you learned how to keep your heart open to your feelings and your guidance so that you can respond to challenging situations from your loving adult rather than from your ego wounded self – from love rather than from fear? This takes practice, but it’s what will create your sense of safety.
Hi everyone. Dr. Margaret Paul and Dr. Erika Chopich here with the Inner Bonding podcast. Today we want to talk about the power of learning to stay present in your heart, open to learning and open to your guidance, especially when you are being challenged by someone’s wounded self. Erika recently had a profound experience with changing a potentially dangerous interaction to a loving one, and I’m excited for her to share it with you.
(Erika) I was at a local shopping center where the traffic was controlled about by a roundabout. I entered the roundabout and I had the right of way, when suddenly I saw to my right an older gentleman in a bright yellow pickup truck who darted in front of me. We nearly collided, and I slammed the brakes on and slid to within one foot of his driver’s door. We both stopped. I had a clear view of the man since he was only a few feet from me, and I saw that he was red in the face and very angry. He was an older gentleman with graying hair and an enraged look on his face. His eyes were filled with fire as he looked at me and flipped me the finger.
I did not take his road rage or his response to me personally because I knew that this man’s behavior had nothing to do with me. But I was shocked and a little intimidated. Not wanting to further enrage him by making him feel mocked, I gave him a very slight smile and soft eyes and I raised my right hand and blessed him with the sign of the cross in response to his mean hand gesture.
I saw him momentarily drop his head and his mouth dropped open as well, and then suddenly he looked up at me with a big smile and blew me a kiss. I responded to him with an equally big smile and a wave, and we both went on our way. As I drove home, the interaction really struck me. In one split second the man who is having an obviously very bad day had shifted his mood to something much lighter and I genuinely believe he learned something as well.
As a chaplain, I try to remain open at all times to God’s nudges, gestures, and God-winks that guide me along my path. In this instance, I managed to stay open to spirit long enough to affect a positive change in both of us. I did not respond with anger or resentment or judgment. I just knew this man was having a very hard time.
Some of the most meaningful moments in my life have come from the choice to try to remain open to God 24 hours a day and in this case, I allowed God to do the driving and navigate me through a very difficult path.
it takes a lot of practice to learn to trust God more than your own wounded self. In daring to trust that this man needed a blessing rather than engagement from me directly, I also trusted that he would not be angered further by my offering. At that moment in time I chose to trust God rather than my own reactivity, my wounded self. This takes a great deal of practice and some days I’m very good at it and other days it seems beyond my reach. The important part is that I keep practicing staying open every day of my life to God’s direction and it has served me well, as it will you.
Because my interaction with this gentleman was confrontational in nature, it would have been normal for me to respond with anxiety and fear. Instead, because I was open, I responded with love, and I am grateful for the years of practicing my openness to spirit that had led me to participate in this very special moment.
(Margaret)I was so moved when Erika told me about this incident and we both decided that it would be a great topic for this podcast.
Do you believe that others or circumstances are responsible for whether you keep your heart open? I hope you can see from Erika’s experience that this isn’t at all true. Loving yourself and others is about keeping your heart open – no matter what.
My clients Robyn and Dennis, who had been together for three years but not married, consulted with me because they couldn’t seem to connect with each other. They loved each other, but Dennis felt that Robyn had a wall up that stopped them from getting close.
When Dennis stated that he experienced Robyn having a wall up and he wanted to understand why, her response was that they both had a wall up. Dennis said he felt open to Robyn and really wanted to connect with her and that he wasn’t aware of a wall.
It was evident to me that this was true. I experienced Dennis as open hearted, and Robyn as closed. As so often happens with many people, Robyn was projecting her closed heart on to Dennis.
“Robyn, there must be a good reason you are closed to Dennis. Would you be willing to talk about this?” I asked.
“He has to be accountable for the ways he has hurt me, and he never is.”
“Robyn, are you saying that whether or not he is accountable is responsible for your closed heart? That he’s responsible for you closing your heart?” I asked her.
“No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that I don’t want to open my heart until he is accountable,” she said.
“Dennis, how do you feel about this?” I asked.
“We’ve tried over and over to talk about things,” he said, “and for each of us to take accountability for our hurtful behavior. But the problem is that when she tells me what I did that hurt her, either I can’t remember, or I see it very differently than she does. And the same thing happens when I tell her what she’s done that has hurt me. So we don’t get anywhere, and we end up hurting each other even more when we have these accountability talks.
“So a few months ago, after practicing Inner Bonding for a couple of months, I decided to let all that go and focus on keeping my heart open. I decided to forgive her for hurting me, and that has been a big help in keeping my heart open. Robyn, I love you and I want to connect with you. I hope you will open your heart and forgive me for whatever I’ve done to hurt you, because I’ve never done anything on purpose to hurt you.”
Robyn, who had not been practicing Inner Bonding, looked miffed. “So in order to connect, we have to do it your way, is that right?” she asked.
“Well, I’ve been trying it your way and it isn’t working. Are you saying that you will open your heart only if we do it your way?” he asked.
“I can’t just open my heart and have a clean slate the way you want me to,” she stated.
“Robyn,” I said, “It sounds like it’s more important for Dennis to do things your way than it is to connect with him, is that right?”
“No,” she said. “I want to open my heart and connect with him, but I can’t until he is accountable for his hurtful behavior.”
“You can’t or you won’t?” I asked.
Robyn was unwilling to be accountable for the fact that she was making Dennis responsible for whether or not she opened her heart. She was unwilling to take her eyes off him and put them on herself and her own intent to control.
I could see the sadness in Dennis’s eyes. “Dennis, you look sad,” I said.
“Yes, I am,” he said. “I know that unless Robyn decides to open her heart, we are not going to make it as a couple. I feel too lonely with her to continue in this relationship. I don’t want to be with her if she is making me responsible for her closed heart.”
I felt sad too. I knew that these two would not make it as a couple if Robyn continued to keep her heart closed. I could see just how unloving it was to her to keep her wall up, but that she was not even open to knowing that keeping her heart closed was 100% her own choice. She was not open to seeing that she was not only being unloving to Dennis, she was also being unloving to herself.
As long as she was blaming her closed heart on Dennis’s lack of accountability, she was stuck being disconnected from both herself and from Dennis. And because she hadn’t been practicing Inner Bonding and developing her loving adult, the only way she felt an illusion of safety was to keep her heart closed.
While you might believe that keeping your heart closed is the only way to feel safe, as you can see from Erika’s experience, there is a far better way of feeling safe.
Do you live your life with your heart mostly open or mostly closed? Do you spend most of your time protecting against rejection or being taken advantage of, or most of your time open to yourself and your guidance, and to sharing your love with others?
As children, many people had very heartbreaking experiences that caused them to close their heart. What experiences led to you to closing your heart?
- Various forms of physical and/or sexual abuse
- Various forms of emotional abuse, such as criticism, judgment, blame, ridicule, or sarcasm
- Being neglected, ignored, discounted, unseen
- Being engulfed and smothered by a parent – pulled on and used to fill up their emptiness
- Rejection by parents, siblings, and/or peers
- Loss of a parent through divorce or death
- Loss of a beloved sibling, friend, or relative
- Physical defects or disabilities that created limitation and judgments
As children, when you experienced any of these and other very challenging situations, and there was no one there to lovingly help you through the pain, the loneliness, grief, heartbreak, and helplessness over others may have been too intense for you to manage, and you might have closed your heart to survive. You may have learned to be in your head – your wounded self – rather than in your heart.
However, now, as an adult, keeping your heart closed has many negative consequences. While it was necessary for your survival as a child, now it is causing you a lot of pain. As adults, we all need to learn to lovingly manage our painful existential feelings of life, our loneliness, heartbreak, grief, and helplessness over others and over events without closing down.
Here are some of the possible consequences to putting your wounded self in charge and keeping your heart closed to foster the illusion of safety. Be honest with yourself – do any of these possible consequences feel safe?
- You feel alone and empty inside
- You can’t feel empathy for others so you feel disconnected from others
- You turn to various addictions – food, drugs, alcohol, TV, sex, talking, anger, blame, and so on, to fill your emptiness and take away your aloneness
- Your relationships are unsatisfying
- Life is not fun
- You feel anxious and/or depressed
- You get sick a lot
- You do hurtful things to others
These are just a few of the many possible negative consequences of keeping your heart closed.
Are you afraid to open your heart? Are you afraid of being hurt and rejected, controlled and used? Are you afraid that if you open your heart, you will not be able to manage the heartache, heartbreak, loneliness, sadness, grief, helplessness, and sorrow of life?
So, how can you keep your heart open and still feel safe?
You will start to feel safe when you learn to be a spiritually connected loving adult, rather than continuing to put your ego wounded self in charge. As a child, your body was too small to handle the big painful feelings of life without the help of a loving adult. Today, your body is big enough to handle these feelings, but you still need the help of a loving adult. The difference is that now the loving adult needs to be you. You need to learn to be the spiritually connected loving adult capable of managing the painful feelings of life so that you don’t need to close your heart and turn to addictions, or lose your relationship like Robyn who lost her relationship with Dennis because she was afraid to open her heart.
The loving adult is who we are when we are connected with a powerful source of spiritual guidance. When we are not connected with our source, we are operating from our programmed mind – our wounded self. Our wounded self, coming from many fears and false beliefs, is not capable of handling the painful feelings of life. This is the part of you that closes your heart to protect against pain yet is now causing much of your pain and likely causing pain to others.
When you move out of the intent to protect against pain and into the intent to learn about loving yourself and others, then you move out of your programmed mind and into your connection with a spiritual source of love and wisdom. When you choose the intent to learn rather than the intent to protect against pain with your controlling behavior, your heart naturally opens. It is your intent to protect against pain with various forms of addictive and controlling behavior that keeps your heart closed and prevents you from being guided as Erika was with the man in the yellow truck who was enraged at her. Erika was far safer in allowing her guidance to act through her than if her wounded self had reacted with anger.
Whatever we do that is truly loving to ourselves – that is in the highest good of our soul’s journey on the planet – is also loving to others. It is never in our highest good to be mean to others, even when they are mean to us. It is in our highest good to follow our guidance and do what is truly loving to us.
For Erika to be present enough in the moment to react from love rather than from fear, from her loving adult rather than from her wounded self, she needed to be in the now moment, fully present and mindful with herself and with her guidance.
Being present and mindful means primarily two things: learning to be compassionately aware of what you are feeling in any given moment, and learning to stay open to the love and wisdom of your spiritual guidance. And, like Erika said, this takes a lot of practice.
Learning to stay present is challenging because we have been practicing the exact opposite for most of our lives.
As I said earlier, for most of us, being mindful and in the present moment was too much for us to manage as children. We were too little to manage the emotional disconnection of our parents, and, in some cases, the emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse that may have followed from their disconnection from themselves. In order to survive in the face of their self-abandonment, we needed to disconnect from our overwhelming feelings. Learning not to be present for our deeply painful feelings of heartbreak, loneliness, grief, and helplessness was life saving for us. Our caregivers’ disconnection and the resulting various forms of abuse or neglect that followed from their self-rejection and self-abandonment were shattering to us. We could not have survived it without learning to disconnect from our feelings and not be in this present moment.
Having disconnected from our feelings, we never learned to lovingly manage them with the help of our spiritual guidance.
This is what we now need to learn in order to be present and be able to respond from love rather than from fear.
We cannot be fully present in the face of our painful feelings unless we learn to be present with the love and wisdom of our guidance. Practicing presence starts with Step One of Inner Bonding – learning to be aware of your feelings and going through the 6-Steps of Inner Bonding each time you feel anything less than peace inside. The first challenge in being present with your feelings is even remembering to do this. Many people need reminders, such as setting the alarm on your cell phone and putting sticky notes around. It’s not easy to remember to pay attention to your feelings when you’ve spent your whole life avoiding them.
Are you challenged in staying present in your body with your feelings? Do you find yourself in your head instead – thinking, daydreaming, distracted – anything but being present?
You are not alone!
This was Karyn’s struggle:
“What is the secret of staying present with my feelings and connected to the heart at all times?” she asked. “If I ask inside, I know it is practicing and being diligent and firm. Yet, I do have to say that I have not been able to do that. Is there anything else I need to know?”
As I previously stated, the issue is that all of us have been practicing disconnecting from our feelings our whole lives because we didn’t learn how to lovingly manage them. The neural pathways for disconnection in our brain are deep, and it takes much practice to establish new neural pathways for being present.
And, since being disconnected and in our wounded self is habitual, it takes a LOT of practice. It took me a long time to learn to stay in my body rather than in my head. And your wounded self doesn’t want you to be present. The wounded self wants to stay in control because this is what it believes makes you safe. And the way the wounded self stays “in control” is to keep you focused in your head rather than in your heart and soul. Without a lot of practice, our automatic intent – our default – is to protect against pain with various forms of controlling and avoidant behavior.
So one of the secrets to staying present is awareness of your intent.
Unless you are consciously choosing the intent to learn to love yourself, even in the face of your painful feelings, you will automatically be focused in your head rather than in your body. Once your intent is to be loving to yourself – which takes much practice before it becomes automatic – then you will be able to mindfully stay present. If Erika had not done the practice to be automatically present most of the time, she would have automatically reacted from fear rather than from love, and the result might have put her in more danger – because the wounded self doesn’t know anything about staying safe.
Unless learning to be loving to yourself has top priority, you will likely not practice enough to create the new neural pathways necessary to function as a loving adult.
Practice means that you need to be as vigilantly mindful of your intent to be loving to yourself, and about staying present with your feelings and your guidance, as you would with a baby whom you deeply love and cherish. Loving parents make sure that they can always hear the baby’s cry. Either the baby is with them, or they have a baby monitor on. Parents who want to be present for their baby don’t seem to need practice in listening for the baby. Their intent to love their baby is so strong that they are automatically tuned in to their baby’s cry and needs.
If your intent were as strong for your own feelings – for your inner child, then it would be easy to stay tuned in. But since you likely have been practicing avoiding your feelings for most of your life, learning to stay in Step One of Inner Bonding throughout the day takes a lot of practice.
Clients often ask me how they can stay focused on being present in their bodies with their feelings and their guidance, while also being tuned into others.
My client Franklin asked:
“I feel like I have a hard time with balancing being emotionally available for others and myself at the same time. It’s either I am being emotionally available for myself and not others or emotionally available to others but not as much myself. I try to be conscious of this and meditate, journal, read, do yoga, find solitude, etc. in order to maintain awareness/self-love (through practicing Inner Bonding as well) but I feel it’s either one or the other. How do I be better at being emotionally available for someone else and not lose that for myself?”
Mindfulness is about this – being mindful of your own feelings while also being conscious of what’s going on between you and another person, and what’s going on around you, as Erika was with the man in the yellow truck. You don’t need to block others out to stay tuned into yourself, nor do you need to block out yourself to stay tuned into others – but again, this takes practice.
My client Rebecca asked:
“Inner Bonding is all about learning what is loving to ourselves and to others. It gets difficult when you feel torn between doing what is loving to yourself when that may seem to be in effect being unloving to others. For example: We have different friends who are experiencing lots of difficulties …. e.g., Elderly friend widowed after 60 years of marriage. Friend battling breast cancer second time around. Friend nursing someone who is terminally ill. Friend who has twins and other young children in need of many hands. Friend who’s struggling with Alzheimer’s and not being able to stay in their own home, plus others. If we help these people out – as we do from time to time and like to do – it can become so consuming that we have to abandon/neglect ourselves at times to do so. How do you balance this out? How do you help others and not abandon yourself? How can I say ‘no’ to one of these friends if they request help, if I have something of my own that needs my time and attention? How do you share your availability without abandoning yourself as sometimes it is hard to know where to draw the line?”
It depends on the situation. What I do in each situation is I go inside and ask my inner child what she wants and needs, and then I go to my guidance and ask what is in my highest good. Sometimes I help others because I want to and that is in my highest good, and sometimes I say no, even if I want to help, because it’s not in my highest good. Sometimes I say yes, even if I don’t really want to, if I know that this is in the highest good of my soul. And sometimes I say no because I really don’t want to, and I know it’s not in my highest good. If I know I will feel resentful, then it’s not loving to me or to the other person. If I know that my soul will feel fulfilled by helping, then I do it. Each situation is different.
It’s important to understand that what is truly loving to you is also loving to others, even if they don’t think so at the time. Helping from our heart is very loving, but giving yourself up isn’t at all loving to you or to the other person. The key to these questions is learning to stay tuned in to both your feelings and your guidance to know what is truly loving to you.
This is presence, and this is what enabled Erika to respond from her loving adult rather than from her wounded self.
You can learn to connect with your spiritual Guidance with my 30-Day video course, Unlocking Your Inner Wisdom.
You can learn so much about loving yourself and creating loving relationships from my recent books:
- And, How to Become Strong Enough to Love: Creating Loving Relationships Through the Six-Step Pathway of Inner Bonding
And we have much to offer you at our website at https://www.innerbonding.com.
I’m sending you my love and my blessings.