Finding Your Yes

Last year, my 10-year-old daughter, Liza, came home from school one day bursting with excitement.  “The 5th and 6th grade dance is next week!”  This was HUGE news.  As the week progressed, I could hear Liza and her friends making plans for the pre-party, the post-party sleepover, the hair-dos, and the outfits (none quite as cool as the pin striped jeans and fluorescent knit tie I donned at my first middle school dance).  And then, the day before the dance, Liza told me this: “The rule at the dance is that if a boy asks a girl to dance, she HAS to say yes.”  (Insert sound of record player needle scraping across album as everything comes to a screeching halt).

ExCUse me?!?  What year is it?!  No.  She must have misunderstood.  “That can’t be true, kiddo,” I replied.  “No, really,” she said.  She went on to tell me that a couple of years back, a middle school boy ran around the dance feverishly asking every single girl to dance, and every single girl said no.  Well-intentioned adults, worried about the boy’s self-esteem, had instituted the new policy.

Let’s talk about this policy.  I mean, there are the obvious problems, like the assumption of heterosexuality, and the assumption that the boys do the asking and the girls do the answering.  That seems like problematic layer #1.

Then there’s layer #2.  It is imperative that we teach our girls that it is their prerogative to say no to being touched in any way they don’t want to be touched, and to expect that to be honored.  And it is imperative that we teach our boys how to receive and respect “no,” to retain their self-esteem in the face of disappointment, and to maintain respectful behaviors, at all times.  In a culture where 1:4 women will be sexually assaulted by a man, this just seems painfully obvious.

Dr Lindsay JerniganWhile this policy was intended to be gentle and protective, it is actually dangerous.  The message I hear in this policy sounds something like this: “Girls you may not want to be touched by this boy, but if you say no you will hurt his feelings, and obviously it is your job to take care of his feelings, so we expect you to say yes, no matter what.  And boys, because we know you are so emotionally fragile, we have created a rule to make sure you never have to feel disappointment.”  Girls in our culture, through this kind of policy and a million other overt and covert messages, are taught that we are responsible for others people’s feelings, and should forsake our own in the name of caring for others.  I told Liza all of this in 10 year old language, ending with the conclusion that she had full permission to say no at anytime.  To which she replied with a sly smile, “But what if I want to say yes?”  You go, girl!!  And this leads me into problematic layer #3.

When we have to say, we never get to say yes because we want to.  Without being able to say “no,” we never really get to say “yes.”  And do you remember what it feels like to really say yes?  Remember being in middle school and dancing with someone you actually wanted to dance with?  Butterflies, sweaty palms, awkward smiles, nervous small talk, shallow breaths, unperceivably tiny steps inching you closer and closer together until Mr. Fiore tells you both to back up until he can see the light of day between you…heaven!!  (Or, Stairway to Heaven, as the case may be).

That is a rich, wonderful moment when we feel ALIVE.  I want my daughter to have that moment.  And I told her so.  If you want to say yes, say yes because you mean it!  And enjoy it.

This school policy hit me particularly hard because, as a therapist with a specialty in reawakening sexual desire, I sit with woman after woman in therapy who says she doesn’t want to have sex with her partner, anymore.  After years of saying yes even when they didn’t want to because they felt like they had to, these women lost their authentic “yes.”  Why do women feel they have to?  Oodles of women tell me they feel like it is their job because they don’t want to hurt their partners’ feelings, for which they feel responsible.  Sounds like the middle school policy, doesn’t it?  When we don’t allow ourselves (or each other) to say no, then we lose the capacity to really say yes.  And that’s a serious loss, because sex from an authentic yes is just as good as dancing with your middle school crush.

One last dissection — here’s problematic layer #4:  The “you have to say yes” policy is in place at the school and in our culture, at large, presumably to protect the initiator…but it robs the initiator of an authentic yes dance, too!  Every well-intentioned partner I know would rather have an authentic, active yes experience on the dance floor, or in the bedroom, than be the recipient of an obligatory, passive yes.  The authentic yes has passion, life, zest, INTIMACY.  And we can only get there by giving voice to our authentic no, when that’s what we feel.  The authentic no, the moment of painful rejection, that’s ALSO a rich, wonderful moment when we feel alive.  Well, ok, maybe it’s not a “wonderful” moment…but it is rich and alive.  We can’t protect ourselves, or each other, from pain and still feel alive (more on this in future articles.  It’s a biggie).  The authentic no, and the pain that comes with it, is intimacy, too.  Because it’s real.  There’s no intimacy if we don’t show up for real.  That’s why our authentic voice, no matter what it says in the moment, is our greatest gift to give.

If you have lost your authentic yes, start by looking for and honoring your authentic no.  You’ll give your yes permission to be real, again.

It’s Not a Competition

By Dr. Lindsay B. Jernigan

Dr Lindsay Jernigan - blog entryRight around the same time that I was developing my thoughts about Compassionate Authenticity and daydreaming about beginning to write, I picked up Brene Brown’s book,The Power of Vulnerability. I only read a few pages, but immediately I was heart broken. It seemed as though she was already saying much of what I wanted to say. My sense of mission fizzled. I stuffed the book far under my bed, where it has remained, in all honesty, unread.   Yup, I recommend this book weekly to clients, and yet I haven’t read it myself because it triggers my own inner demon – that one that says “You have nothing useful to say because what you are thinking has already been said.” That’s an ugly, silencing demon, isn’t it?

Who ever taught us that everything we produce has to be original to be valuable?

Funny story – when I was in high school, my English class had to keep a weekly journal. One brilliant character amongst us (that’s you, Kirk) wrote a page about the evils of plagiarism, and then circulated it to every single student in the class; each and every one of us copied it word for word into our journals. The teacher was furious and gave us all failing grades for the entry. What a missed opportunity to reward creativity, humor, teamwork, and yes, originality!! That team project was a very original idea. This wasn’t a case of getting the assignment wrong; the fact that we were all saying the same thing was proof that we were doing something right.

I’m steeping in the realization, lately, that this is often true. When we see the same truth as someone else, it’s not evidence that we are unoriginal…it’s a sign that we are on the right track! When we hear repetitive messages about health and well-being, when various and sundry schools of spiritual thought deliver similar messages, and when scientists repeatedly make the same discoveries, those teachings and discoveries don’t become less powerful, they become more powerful! They assure us that there is a truth that many people are working to articulate, each with their own language and imagery and narratives that are resonant for different people.

This finally sunk in, one day, and I spontaneously sent the following text to my friend, Alice, with no context whatsoever for the comment: “Breakthrough awareness today. Brene Brown is not competing with ME, so why am I competing with HER?!” Being one of the best friends ever in the entire universe, she knew immediately what I meant and responded within seconds with a long missive that began, “I know! I’ve been thinking a lot about competitive feelings, lately, and the complete lack of need for them. And that I struggle with it more than I am often aware…”

Imagine if you could break free from the reigns of stymying and unnecessary competition. Imagine if you could let yourself ADD your voice rather than comparing and deleting your voice. Let yourself speak. Even if what you’re saying has been said before. Because you know what? It’s never been saidyour way, by you, in this moment in time.   So someone new may hear it. Or be newly inspired or educated. Someone new may get it.

And here’s the thing. Even if nobody reads your words or hears your speech or attends your workshop, even if nobody understands your musings or agrees with your mission, and even if everyone has heard it a hundred times before, what happens on the receiving end of the message isn’t what matters most, anyway. What matters most is what happens to YOU when you give yourself voice. If you have something to say and it makes you shine to say it, then say it! If there is something you do that makes you shine, then do it. It doesn’t matter what lights you up – mechanical manuals, the link between body and mind, the possibility of life on other planets, the biosphere that exists in the moss on a fallen log, balancing rock towers on the river’s edge, teaching kids about new technology – it doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter if someone else is already doing it. What matters is that it makes you shine. And when you brighten, you emanate clarity into the world; when you let your authentic self be seen, you give the most compassionate gift available to give — light. And spreading the light is not a race or a competition. In fact, the more lights we shine, the brighter the world gets. It’s not a competition…it’s a team effort.

Dr Lindsay Jernigan
Happy Halloween!

Compassionate Authenticity in Action

By Dr. Lindsay B. Jernigan

Dr. Lindsay Jernigan Compassionate Authenticity Embrace Imperfection

And so begins my writing adventure!  This is a fitting time and place to start writing about authenticity, I think, because of where I am NOT.  I am not at a clean and organized, uncluttered, well-lit desk.  I am not in an inspiring setting in a moment of grounded creative clarity.  And I don’t have an enviously big chunk of time reserved and protected for writing.  In other words, I am not in the time or place I’ve previously told myself I SHOULD be in to write.  Now that I am finally putting pen to paper, it all becomes clear – of course those shoulds were boundaries that were hanging me up, because they are SHOULDS!  And this is about AUTHENTICITY!  The shoulds, by nature, block authenticity.  This project is truly going to be a learning process – as I write about authenticity, I will be undergoing my own journey, birthing creatively through my own adventures in learning to live authentically.  I have to immerse in the content AND the process of authentic living for this project to launch and live.  I have to both write about and BE the subject of exploration.

So, let me tell you where I AM.  I am writing by hand on the back of a piece of paper I pulled out of the bottom of my purse.  I’ve been carrying it, folded up in there, since I was rear-ended eight months ago.  On the front of the page I hand scrawled the contact info for the insurance agent who will supposedly process my claim just as soon as I tend to that.  (Ahhhh, the list of tasks undone.  I probably SHOULD be dealing with that right now, right?!)  I am writing in three minute spurts in between dutifully listening to my 11 year old daughter read aloud from her ever-evolving report on Amerigo Vespucci.  We are sitting at a cluttered café table among croissant crumbs and loose sheets of her school work, with a total of 28 minutes before we have to walk down the street to retrieve the younger sister and deliver the older sister to hip hop class.  In other words, this moment isn’t what it should be…it’s only what itis.

My perfect imperfect writing spot!
My perfect imperfect writing spot!

And the revelation of the moment, after struggling for at least a year to find the “right” time to write, is that THIS is the right time.  It is good enough, just as it is.  In fact, it is PERFECT.  It’s the perfect experiential reminder about the theme of authenticity, itself.  Embrace what is, just as it is.  Without hiding, without judging or shaming, without striving, without changing.  Then words flow, the message spreads, the light shines.  Then gifts are shared.  That’s why embracing authenticity is the most compassionate thing we can do.  So welcome to my blog about Compassionate Authenticity.  And we’re off!