process

Are you purposefully problem-solving?

Life is HARD! It includes many problems to solve, especially when you’re living it fully and deeply and not skating around the rim, floating along on a cloud of privilege, denial or delusion (which many people are).

Everyone who is aware of the natural ups and downs of life needs a good healthy vent now and then. It’s a strategy mental health professionals advocate we all strive to practice to purposefully problem-solve daily frustrations in our lives.

Venting allows us to express the natural ebb and flow of human emotions which indicate an appropriate level of awareness and ability to deal with reality. If you aren’t riding the rocky waves of feeling, you probably aren’t really dealing with reality at all! Even Buddhist masters feel a wide range of feelings, they just have great tools to manage the highs and lows. I’ve been practicing for 20 years and only finally feel like I know what I’m doing most of the time.

So it’s ok to feel lots of feelings, I just gave you permission. But how we deal with those feelings determines how we feel on a day-to-day basis and how we impact the lives of other people.

Because there’s venting and then there’s flat-out complaining. And behavior change experts (like me) will tell you (and myself) that complaining is just disempowerment, plain and simple. Complaining rarely if ever helps us feel better whereas processing helps us purposefully problem-solve which helps us feel more confident and happy!

So how do you know when you’re venting to purposefully process or problem-solve and when you’re complaining in circles?

I’m happy to share my personal experience and perspective on this, because it’s way more relatable and fun since I’m a real person. People who meet me and know I’m a coach often get a little disillusioned by their own projections of what they think a coach is or should be. When they meet me and realize I have struggles and challenges and fears and limitations, and even (GASP!) complain from time to time, they sometimes think I can’t really help them or other people. Even though I’ve helped thousands of people in the ten years I’ve been a coach and for years before I ever became certified.

But the truth is, I’m just a normal human being who happens to know a lot about behavior change and healthy habits, but it certainly doesn’t mean I’m perfect. I don’t need to be perfect to help people. I just need to know tools and encourage and support others in their process. The best way I do that is to walk my own path, make mistakes, learn from them and keep going. And share what I learn!

So here’s how I have learned to know when I am complaining and not doing healthy processing or venting.

Both feel and sound similar. Both include insights about interactions with other people. Both include sharing painful feelings or frustrations about circumstances or realizations. Both (maybe) include some snarky comments.

But complaining sounds more like, “I can’t believe this happened to me. It’s so unfair. Poor me. This is just my situation and there’s nothing I can do.”

Complaining is merely recounting the details of what happened, over and over, without any desire to transform the situation.

Processing or healthy venting for problem-solving sounds more like, “wow! That was really frustrating or disappointing. I really didn’t listen to my gut and probably should have. I didn’t realize this earlier but can see clearly now. It sure doesn’t feel good, but I learned a good lesson from it.”

OR

“I clearly expressed what I wanted and needed but we weren’t on the same page. I tried several times to make it work and finally gave up. I feel sad and disappointed but can see why it happened like that.”

OR

“I keep expecting someone to be different or have a different reaction. I’m really setting myself up to be disappointed over and over. I should probably change my approach.”

Get it? It really involves some important self-awareness and self-reflection to make it purposeful problem-solving and not ranting and complaining about how much people suck.

Complaining usually focuses on the behavior or actions of other people. It indicates where we had unrealistic expectations or projections and failed to express them clearly. Complaining lacks any statement of personal responsibility or attitude that contributed or led to the frustration.

Processing to purposefully problem-solve includes, first and foremost, what we expected or how we could have contributed to something that didn’t work out or was unsatisfying.

It’s important to remember that it’s ok to be annoyed or sad or frustrated, especially when we have worked hard to express ourselves and it falls on deaf ears. Or when people seem unwilling or unable to change to make working or living together feel easier and more fun.

So why bother focusing on healthy venting when we could just complain our guts out?

Well, I remember things really changed for me in my life when I stopped complaining because it just got exhausting. I felt like a broken record and I started hearing how I sounded to other people and started to cringe.

When I started learning new ways to express myself and think about my own behavior, I started processing more and trying to trouble-shoot solutions to change myself or a situation. It doesn’t mean that people HEARD it as processing. In fact, when I talk I often think many people think I’m complaining, because that’s what they’re used to hearing from other people in their lives. It’s hard to know the difference until you really think about it. But when you listen well, you can spot it!

I engage in healthy venting and processing because my life isn’t easy. No one has it easy, really, but some certainly have it easier than others. The more challenges I’ve taken on and chosen, the harder my life becomes. But it’s up to me to speak to how those challenges feel and how to solve them, which includes healthy processing of what feels painful, frustrating or hard. Merely complaining about something doesn’t change it, in fact it only makes what felt hard feel more horrible because it doesn’t transform or go anywhere.

Take politics. We see lots of people complaining about a person, or people, but not really processing how they keep expecting someone to change (who shows no sign of changing anytime soon). See how complaining just goes in circles whereas processing, which would include changing one’s personal perspective, actually trouble-shoots the same problem? Even if the situation doesn’t change, YOUR FEELINGS about it do change!

Or think about your own life and a problematic situation. Why are you complaining about it? What’s the story you keep telling yourself or another person over and over? Can you see where you could transform it by adding in details about your own part of what happened?

Sit on this. Think about it. Consider what you’re doing each day and if it qualifies as processing or complaining. And if I can help you sort through this or shift it, let me know.

Five Gifts I’ve Received From My Transition

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  It’s a nice coincidence that Transgender Awareness Month is ending just as we celebrate Thanksgiving. It's true that as part of my gender transition process, I celebrated the holiday this year neither with my family nor as part of the relationship I had shared for the past five years. While there were many painful feelings present, it wasn’t all that was there. My spiritual practice helps me put all things in perspective and, upon further reflection, this experience helped me to realize several gifts I’ve received from my transformation.

Finding and feeling gratitude and joy for the gifts we receive from experiences of adversity help us balance the pain of loss, sadness and grief. 

Some might call this process of introspection and meaning-making to be selfish navel-gazing. I call it my path to enlightenment which basically means I get to feel awesome more often and shitty less often. Whatever can help me do that in a way that works and lasts, I’m all for it. No doubt, if you’re reading this, you’re drawn to the same desire. You’re going through something that has tested you in some way, or have already done so, and want to know what to do with those thoughts and feelings so you can get to the part where you feel some relief.

So, insofar as it’s helpful and enlightening to you, as this month of seeing and understanding the transgender experience more closely comes to a close, here are five gifts I’ve received from my experience so far.

1. Developing a new capacity for compassion. It’s said that those who find and really understand Buddhism (and other religions or spiritual paths) are those who have experienced the greatest suffering. I absolutely fall into that category, from countless experiences before and since my gender transition, and my own awareness of my life experiences helps me to deeply understand and relate to the suffering, struggle and joy of all people better than I ever did before. Before my gender transition, I danced around this experience by picking and choosing who deserved my patience and compassion. Since choosing to transition, I see much more clearly the connectedness, the relativity and patterns of the human experience. Making space for my process and practicing tremendous acceptance and compassion for myself, where others haven’t been able to, helps me make space for others in ways I couldn’t before.

2. Going undercover every day. So, I will admit that it’s pretty damn cool to live two lives in one lifetime. I spent 34 years as one person and now get to move through the world for the rest of my life like I’m wearing a costume or going undercover every day.  Truthfully, I still feel like the same person because I am the same person. The only thing that’s different is how people interact with me based on who or what they think they see or know. More often than not, I find it quite comical and extremely enlightening. It’s humbling to see what I thought I knew about the world. Since processing through much of the pain and anger associated with such profound disorientation and transformation, I actually laugh to myself on a daily basis when women treat me like I don’t have a brain or when men accept me as “one of the boys”. Can you imagine waking up and experiencing the world as a completely different person midway through your life? It is equal parts fun, weird and profoundly confusing. It’s fascinating stuff and I feel like the Terminator, scanning for and detecting data in each human interaction.

3. A whole new relationship to my body.  Like many people, for most of my life, I was at war with my body. Department store dressing rooms were torture chambers and getting dressed every day was an agonizing chore. I cannot explain exactly why just yet, but since my transition it feels like the war is over. There are many daily battles but nothing near what I experienced before making this decision. I think because I had to think so intimately about it, like when I chose to quit being a teacher, and then become a vegetarian, then a lesbian, and then just a person, I reached a real peace and serenity with my choice. I think learning that only I could choose to flip the switch, and making the choice to do it, helped me come to value and appreciate my body more, maybe for the first time in my life. It’s like we’re in this thing together, now. Maybe the hormones help. Maybe they actually turned off some receptor somewhere deep in my brain. Maybe it’s for reasons I haven’t yet determined or will ever understand. Not a day goes by where I don’t reflect on my decision but I never regret it. It was mine, and only mine, to make. The days I spent frustrated and confused in my previous form are over and are now replaced with new and different feelings. The new ones are also difficult but easier, now, somehow.

4. A new voice. I never appreciated my old singing voice until I lost it. The first few months of my voice change were extremely difficult as note after note disappeared. When I finally realized I couldn’t sing along to Brandi Carlile or Patty Griffin, two of my most favorite artists, it was a very difficult few weeks. Now, two years later, my voice almost perfectly matches those of James Taylor and Michael Buble. Don’t tell anyone I sing along to Michael Buble and no one gets hurt, ok? As I grieved the loss of one range and experience, I welcomed a new way of expressing myself as a singer, even if I only do it to make myself smile. I’m also learning a new way to express myself in many ways, how to use my life experience and my “voice” in my writing and speaking in ways that I never have before. Sometimes I catch myself waiting for what feels like persistent laryngitis to wear off and have to remind myself that it’s definitely here to stay. Here to stay in a good and fun new way.

5. A new understanding of love. Transition of all kinds challenges relationships of all kinds. My process has tested my own love for myself and the love others have for me and themselves. We often speak and write of love as a definite like if we define and measure it and put it in a box or summarize it in a well-worded quote, we’ll know where to find it when we forget or need it. Through my interactions with family members, friends, colleagues and strangers the past few years, I’ve come to a new understanding about love. I think love is both a feeling we experience and it happens in real time, each day, as an expression in our words and actions in relation and response to the needs of others. My transition has taught me to see and accept the many different ways humans manifest this. I understand that love, like happiness, begins as an inside job and is a daily practice with ourselves and others. It’s the process of thousands and thousands of choices we are free to make from one moment to the next.

 

I’ve been living openly as a transgender person for two years and six months. I’m so new to this and will undoubtedly have new and interesting insights as the years go by but these are the greatest gifts I’ve received from the process so far.

 

In your own transition process, I hope you find these words helpful in some way.

If you would like my support, drop me a line at dillandigi [at] gmail.com

An Open Letter to Myself circa 2006 -- "Being Transgender is a Process, Not a Finish Line"

Hey there.

I am writing this because you will get it. You will understand now. Because you're older and wiser and your Buddhist practice has helped you come to fully understand the concept of karma. Many people understand/misinterpret it as "punishment" but you get it is more how energy sent is energy returned.

I know there was a lot going on back when you moved to Boston in 2006. Even before that, there was a lot going on. There always has been in your life because, well, it was a long climb to where you are. And not an easy climb, at that. For many years.

But here's the thing: you know you judged people. You still do. You do it because you have your own insecurities to work out, still. I get it. But back in the day, when people around you were coming out at transgender--you weren't as kind or understanding as you could have (should have) been.

And now it's you in their shoes. And now you get it.

You Really Get It Now.

You get that being transgender is a process---not an elitist race with an agreed-upon finish line. 

You get that making decisions to change your name, inject yourself with hormones and spend thousands of dollars on surgeries--or not to ever do any of these things--is an extremely difficult and complex process. I mean, damn, how many years has it taken you to get this far? And you've been dressing in men's clothes since you were able to choose what to wear so where was the mystery? You remember how bad Catholic school was-the boys were really mean because you were stronger than them and more concerned with kicking their asses than kissing them at recess. Or because you loved their green polyester ties and would have given your left arm to wear one to school everyday instead of your plaid skirt. But the skirt it was.

You get that burying your identity has been easier than giving it room and air to breathe all these years.

You get that calling yourself gender queer was your way of hiding/stalling another few years--but it's ok, because it felt right at the time.

You get that transgender looks lots of different ways for as many different people and everyone who is brave enough to even mention identifying as transgender deserves a lot of space and patience as they make the decisions they want to make to become or just be.

You get all this because...now it's you.

It's cool that it took you walking in others' shoes to become more compassionate. That's a good thing. It's cool that you can reflect on ways you could have been gentler on people who were doing their best during their own process of coming out to themselves and others.

It's cool----because internalized transphobia is a difficult thing to overcome. It's no easy task to be honest with yourself about who you are so you can be honest and compassionate and in turn, an advocate, for others.

Especially when that honesty means you living it out loud, exposed to the opinions, judgments and assumptions of other people every single day.

No shame. No blame. Just name.

Here's what I'm going to do, because now the ball's in my court.

I'm going to do the best I can to be the best ally possible. I am going to create and advocate for safe spaces for anyone based on who they are---not who they were or aren't yet. Transgender is a delicate, vulnerable place to live in---so I will do my best to make sure (not matter where I am on my own journey) that each person I meet is treated with the respect, patience and compassion you weren't able to summon when your repression was an enormously powerful force.

No matter what comes next on the path, I promise that the journey won't be forgotten and I won't judge people based on their progress toward a self-determined destination. I won't play gender police and have a sign ready when people are "male enough" or "female enough" because maybe the gender binary is not their goal. If or when I pass for male, I won't succumb to heterosexist behavior because I'll remember that passing privilege doesn't erase my past.

I will create spaces and make room where there isn't yet space for people who are brave enough to live out loud outside the boxes that our country and the world have created for the bodies that house our precious, love-filled souls. A soul doesn't know a box. It only does once it's told the box it belongs in.

Some of us feel we got the wrong box, like mail that comes to the wrong postal address. Or a salad when we ordered a burger.

I'll make space where you drew boundaries.

I'll speak up for the times you were silent.

I'll ask for the times you assumed.

I'll do what a lot of trangender people forgot once the privilege to physically evolve became no longer intangible. Even though the past is always present in the mirror and within.

I'll remember that being transgender is a process, not a finish line.

I'll do this because the scars of this process run deeper than those from my acne and tattoos.

I'll do this because you couldn't.

But I can.