Smiling A Lot

I smile a lot.

People say I have a beautiful smile.

I smile all the time. I smile when I’m happy, when I’m thoughtful, when I’m stressed out. At work, I can be seen pushing the crash cart down the hall with a huge smile on my face; some people say I give them a serial-killer vibe.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on my smiley nature when it dawned on me: smiling under stress–that’s a thing. It’s called fawning.

Here’s an example. Let’s say a woman gets approached by a strange guy on the street who starts complimenting her and asking her to go out with him. The woman does not like it. Her heart rate goes up and she wishes he would go away. What does she do?

She smiles.

She nods politely and says, “You seem like a nice guy but I have a boyfriend.” Or she gives him a fake number. In any case, smiling does not mean she’s happy; it means she’s fawning.

Fawning. The fourth not-as-mentioned stress response, the one that is not fight, flight, or freeze. Fawning is described as, “trying to gain favor by acting servilely; cringe and flatter [or] to show affection in a solicitous or exaggerated way.” [1]

Smiling under stress. We all done this. It’s necessary to smile and nod at work when forced to put up with difficult bosses and clients. We fawn at home because grandma is eighty-three, it’s Christmas and she just doesn’t get political correctness or that it’s not polite to ask people about their weight. The necessity of keeping your job and maintaining deference and respect for elders is more important than the momentary discomfort which fawning causes.

I think being a women has influenced me to smile more. Thinking about the people in my own life, fawning seems to be common with women than with men. I think that as women we fawn because a part of us senses that a man is physically stronger and is more likely to prevail in a flight or fight situation. Or maybe it’s because we live in a culture that constantly tells women to smile.

Smile! Just smile! You’re prettier when you smile. Smile regardless of how you are actually feeling. It’s easy to imagine how this could cause an emotional disconnect between how a woman may really feel and the message her face is sending. Do it often enough and smiling in stressful situations becomes a habit.

Is there anything wrong with fawning? Well, it has its advantages. Get good at it and others think of us fawners as the peacemakers who establish a comfortable and welcoming environment.  For me, working as a nurse, staying calm and smiling has allowed me to accomplish life-saving tasks in high-stress situations.

On the other hand, fawning too much leaves us fawners vulnerable. We’re essentially everyone’s doormat. Others may see us smiling, think we’re okay and carry on with whatever they’re doing. We focus our energy on making other people happy often at the expense of our own happiness.

Is this behavior serving me? I’ve thought as much and I’ve found that in most cases the answer is no. There are some exceptions such as certain relatives on special occasions or when my job occasionally demands it. Otherwise, I’m going keep in mind that fawning should be the exception and not the rule. Why? Because we all deserve a life where most of our smiles are real! Rather than fawning, we can be tactful and respectful while speaking the truth.

Pete Walker, “Codependency, Trauma, and the Fawn Response (Jan 2003).

Put yourself out there

I wrote an article about breastfeeding. I dropped the F-bomb a lot. It turned out really ridiculous.

I realized something. When talking about breastfeeding, politics, or whatever the controversial issue may be…in the moment it can feel great to outshout or outsmart people who we think are wrong. However, in doing this those people likely aren’t going to change their minds even if they do back off. Instead, they will go to someone else who isn’t as smart or outspoken and fight with them. It seems to me we have only succeeded in passing the fighting along to someone else.

I don’t want to pass fighting to others. What do I want to pass to others? Kindness. Actually putting this into practice can be difficult. With certain people, it’s hard to deeply listen, look the person in the eye, and try to understand. We can choose to see difficult people as an opportunity to practice and an opportunity to be the person you want to be. Acting kind does not make us pushovers or weak people. It means we are strong.

Know who you are, the kind of person you want to be, and then go out there and do your best no matter what happens.

Living your values in life is just like breastfeeding.  Literally, all you can do is take your boobs out in front of God and everyone and do it.

No one understands me!

“No one understands me!” As adults, we may think that this statement belongs back in the days of junior high. Something blurted from the depths of a tortured adolescent soul before stomping upstairs to the bedroom and slamming the door.  It’s a something that is written a heart-covered pink diary with a miniature lock on the side.diary

Hey, guess what? This thought, “No one understands me?” It still comes up here in the adult world. We go to a social gatherings and someone says something that rubs us the wrong way. We open up and share something and-surprise- there is no “aha!” moment of feeling connected. Instead, we get a funny look. We may feel this way around friends, family, or even our significant others. Then this sad, junior-high voice whispers in our ear “no one understands me.” And it sucks.

What can we do about it? We are adults now. We are so much more mature than we were back then. Stomping? Screaming? Pink diaries?  We swapped those out for Starbucks, online shopping, and Netflix. Maybe even a glass of wine to emphasize our adult-ness.

During those times it may be wise to remember something: the wine, the latte, the Netflix…it’s the same as getting candy thrown at you as a kid. A temporary Band-Aid but not a solution in itself.

Our junior high self wants some attention. And even more desperately than our junior high self craves other people’s attention she wants your attention. Real attention. Consider a time when a close friend or your child reached out when he or she was in pain. It’s okay to offer a treat but that’s in addition to what matters more- to look at him or her eye to eye, deeply listen, and offer love, concern and support.

We can do the same thing for ourselves. When these feelings of loneliness arise, take a few moments and stop. Feel the feelings and breathe with them. It’s okay to feel lonely, awkward, misunderstood, or sad. Name the feelings, sit with them. Doing this is like giving our junior high self a hug. Choosing to be good friends to ourselves can make all the difference in the world.  Feeling listened to, understood, and loved unconditionally just as we are is what our soul thirsts for.  We can offer this nourishment to ourselves at any time we need it. We can choose to be there for ourselves, our whole selves, even the junior high parts that are awkward and sad. Especially for the junior high part that is awkward and sad. Our junior high self is who needs a friend the most. Be there with love.


Real Beauty is Modesty: Part 3

Are we morally obligated to other people to dress a certain way? I say no.

In my opinion, as long as someone has their basic hygiene met so that they are not emanating an odor into others’ personal space that’s all other people really owe the world.

What about in church? Aren’t women morally obligated to dress modestly? After all, if a women were to wear reveling clothing to church it could distract men and then they would not be able to concentrate on the service.

Even at church I stand by this statement: we are not morally obligated to other people to look a certain way.

I may wear a knee-length skirt to church with a short-sleeve top. Most people would think that my outfit is fine but others may think it is still too revealing. At that point, after I made a good-faith effort to dress myself based on my definition of an appropriate church outfit, I cannot worry about pleasing other people. If I am a distraction to men, it is not my problem, it’s theirs.

In church, we should look into our own hearts and think about why we are there. We want to listen to the service and learn something. Maybe we want to look nice too. Or maybe we just threw something on because we are stressed out and care more about making it there then dressing up. Our goal probably shouldn’t be to look sexy. However, it is not our job to determine what other people’s intentions are.  From time to time, we may see someone dressed a certain way and our initial reaction is something like, “Hey, that’s distracting. I came to church to hear the sermon and she is not letting me.” Instances like this can act as a reminder for ourselves. Really? Are you sure? How is she stopping you?

It can remind us to come back to ourselves and think, “I treat everyone with respect. I need to focus on myself, God, and the sermon. I need to remember that this other person is not just a female body but another human being.”

The Mindful Mean Girl

“Real beauty is in the inside.” We have been taught this since kindergarten and many of us would agree that it’s true. We try our best to remember this yet every now and then we just can’t help it: we analyze, we critique, we judge.

For example, I see a woman in shorts and a T-shirt. I make a snap judgement and label her as beautiful/not beautiful or whatever and then move on.  If the judgement I made was negative I sometimes feel guilty and then try to chase away those guilty feelings with thoughts like, “Why should I care? She is a stranger after all,” or, “No big deal. It’s not like I said that out loud. All that matters is that I’m nice in real life.” Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. If I still can’t shake the guilt I may go so far as to full-on repent like, “I know that was a mean. I’m sorry. For now on I’m going to stop judging people.”

Stop judging. Right. No matter how determined or sincere I am when I say it, I’m starting to realize that it cannot be done. My theory is that as humans we are constantly analyzing our surroundings as the primitive parts of our brains try to protect us from potential threats. The primitive brain has not gotten the memo that it’s the inside that really counts. It seems to me that the answer is not to deny that we judge each other but rather recognize it and use it as a reminder to come back to ourselves and think deeply.

Again, see the woman in shorts and a T-shirt. Why did that woman choose that outfit? Maybe that woman saw an advertisement for a similar outfit and she wanted to look like the model in the advertisement. Now that thought may lead us to think, “Well, wanting to look like a model is a little arrogant.”  Okay, sit with that thought for a moment. Wait for the next thought. Another possibility is that maybe she wanted to look like her friends. That makes our hearts soften a bit and we may think, “I do the same thing.” Then we look over at her friends or imagine what they may look like in our minds. That may cause us to think, “They have expensive stuff. Maybe they’re rich.” This may make our hearts harden again. We may then think, “Maybe they come from a privileged family and never had to work a day in their lives.” If we have negative thoughts that’s okay for now. If those thoughts cascade into negativity and become more and more mean and vicious so be it. It’s okay. You’re okay. Everyone is okay. Just let all those thoughts and feelings wash over. Let them float by without censoring them or criticizing.  Sit with them a bit. Think until the thoughts stop coming. Breathe. Feel the feelings. Wait.

I think that in doing this we can give the brain a chance to start putting pieces together. Instead of dismissing emotions when we feel them we can give ourselves the opportunity to actually feel. The brain will start to process.

By feeling and processing we may come to realize something about ourselves.  Something like, “The way she looks reminds me of this girl who bullied me at my first job,” or, “I remember struggling when I was in college and not being able to afford a similar colored shirt. I felt really bad.” Our negative thoughts may be tied to something in our past. We all have old wounds that are buried away and our primitive brain makes connections to things we see in the present to try to protect us. Now that we can identify this with our intellectual brain we can heal and better move on. It is healing to have compassion for ourselves and where we have been in our lives. Also, we may recognize, “Hey, this isn’t her crap, it’s my crap.” Which is fine. We all have crap. Gaining such insights help negative thoughts dissipate. The primitive brain can release the notion of thinking that person is a potential threat.

Now let’s look at that woman again. She certainly looks dressed up. That leads us to remember the times that we’ve dressed up. We felt happy and excited. Maybe this woman is dressing up because she wants to feel happy too. We can relate and understand.

When we gain that moment of being able to relate to this other person, then something happens: we can suddenly really see that other person.  We are able to realize that that person is not just another body but another human being. And in gaining that moment of understanding we cannot help but to feel caring for that person. Even though that person is a stranger. Because we realize that we all follow similar motivations and patterns and do the same things. In her we see our self.

When our inner mean girl creeps up and whispers something catty in our ears we can presume that she may be just trying to protect us. Let her have her piece and listen with mindful breathing and compassion. She may lead us to heal something in our past and learn something new. Let yourself heal and let go.  Be left with peace. Peace inside and out, for yourself and others.

Real Beauty is Modesty-Part 2

“For women, real beauty is modesty.” This statement is from a book I’m reading and there is something that bothers me about that statement.

I can imagine the author seeing someone in reveling clothing, like an actress on T.V who is dressed less-than-modestly, and then saying “Remember, real beauty is modesty” as if she has to override her natural tendency to think that that woman is beautiful.

Let’s say I’m walking around with my 3 year daughter and see a woman walking down the street wearing extremely revealing clothing. My daughter says, “She’s pretty,” and I answer, “Remember, Alisa, real beauty is modesty.”   Would that be the correct response? Well, I think I can do better.

Foremost, I would say, “She is pretty!” We should encourage that response in our children and others instead of trying to tear each other down. I wish I could leave it at that.

The reality of the situation is that as a mother I have to teach my daughter that there is a certain way to dress in certain situations. If a women dressed in very reveling clothing and walked down the street men would likely catcall or honk their car horns or even approach her and say disrespectful things. This is not a safe or pleasant situation to be in. Although I would like my daughter to dress and express herself how she wants I have a duty to tell her, “If you dress in this way this is likely to happen to you.” You will be judged and harassed. The issue in this situation is not, “real beauty is modesty.” The issue is not about beauty at all. Who is ugly in this situation is not the woman for wearing revealing clothing but how some men treat women who wear revealing clothing.

Real Beauty is Modesty: Part 1

“For women, real beauty is modesty.” This statement is from a book I’m reading.

Hmm. Let’s think about this statement literally.

I think of people I’ve seen who are covered up.  In some Christian denominations, women wear long skirts.  Nuns wear habits, Amish people wear Amish clothing, and Muslim women wear long skirts, sleeves and headscarves.  Modern American women sometimes dress modestly too like wearing a sweater over jeans.

Women who are dressed modestly can certainly still look pretty. Jeans and sweaters can look nice. Some long skirts are colorful and gorgeous. There are ways to intricately tie a hair scarf so it looks just striking as the fanciest hairstyle. Nuns, Amish people, and others who are dressed plainly can still look beautiful since simple dress can really makes a naturally beautiful face stand out.

Now what about people who wear revealing clothing?

I see people walking around in dresses and skirts in various lengths.  I see women at the gym wearing shorts, t shirts and tank tops. Women wear bikinis at the beach. I think many of them look beautiful too.

Do I see people who are not beautiful? Sure.

Reveling does not always equal attractive. Some who are dressed in revealing clothes don’t look so great. Sometimes the style is not the most flattering to that person.  Sometimes I see a woman constantly pulling down their skirt or pulling up their shirt to cover her cleavage and she just looks very uncomfortable rather than attractive. Sometimes it’s freezing out and girls are shivering in short skirts.

And modestly dressed people have the same issues. Sometimes the style not so flattering. A woman may look uncomfortable, stressed out, sick or tired. Having negative feelings will register on our faces and then we do not look as beautiful.

Sometimes we can cover up skin issues or dark circles with makeup, try to dress a certain way, do our hair and force a smile on our faces so we can still try to look nice even when we are not feeling well on the inside. If one does not believe in wearing makeup or showing her hair she would not have the hair/makeup options. However, that type of person also saves on time and the stress of going through these cover-ups and can save her energy to work on whatever her real issues are at that time.

Neither modesty nor showing some skin can guarantee beauty. It seems to me that real beauty depends on being happy, healthy, confident, and at peace on the inside.