Thursday, June 18, 2009

Understanding My Own Triggers: An Awakening

So last weekend was the weekend I was supposed to get married. June 13th, Colgate Day, My Dads Birthday and supposedly a wedding. As some of you already know the inspiration for Pink Elephant Project was a product of the failed engagement, knowing deep in my heart that what was missing was the ability to communicate about our differing perspectives on various issues in a productive way. That's not to say that utilizing some totem and a promise would have solved our issues but at the very least it would have eased the shock of the ending of our engagement.

The truth is however the "shock" really wasn't really a "shock."

As I sat there in my bed, single in Santa Fe reflecting on what happened and got honest with myself, it wasn't too surprising that the relationship was over. As a coach one of the major areas that I focus on with my clients is dealing with fundamental perception that they have about the world that typically was created from some kind of childhood experience that shapes the way they end up relating to the world. When I am able so show my client that the way that they are relating to the world is from a made up perspective of say a 10 year old or teenager and when the client finally sees how that has been impacting their life, they are able to finally move forward and experience real freedom.

Well on the 13th it was time to take a bit of my own medicine. I have always known that the time I proudly came home with a 99 on my exam and not having an answer to my fathers question of what I got wrong has haunted me my whole life. His point was simple, the only way you are going to learn and grow is to know what you didn't get right and learn from that. What I made up about that experience was that I will never be good enough unless I got it perfect. Even worse is that if I did get something wrong I better have a good reason for why I did. Now, was that true? Absolutely not. Was that my dad's intention. Hell no. However, from that point forward how I chose to live my life was to be incredibly critical and look for what was wrong in every situation. For years, I would get involved in relationships and crush them before they ever got started because I would constantly focus on the 1% that wasn't right. While 99% was working, I continued to simply see what was wrong and focused on trying to fix it. I can't imagine what it must have been like for the women I dated over the years to endure someone like that! For those of you that had that experience of me I want to officially say...I'm sorry.

The other way it has showed up for me is in my work and the projects that I was on. Operating from the fear that I wouldn't be able to get it 100% right, I would systematically sabotage situations to ensure that I had an excuse for why it wasn't 100% right. In effect it was like training for a marathon for 6 months and the day before the race taking a sledgehammer to my foot and running the marathon anyway. I figured at least if I didn't win I had an excuse to fall back foot really hurts!

So I dealt with that one years ago and while some of that still lingers in the background today I find that its not as impactful as it once was. I can see it now and nip it in the bud before it takes over. In fact I think that what has brought such great results for my consulting and coaching clients is my keen ability to get right to the issue and create effective solutions for them.

On to the next one that really seems to be at the core of what has been driving me to this day. I can remember one conversation with my dad telling me that "My money is for your excellence" and another conversation in my high school guidance counselors office where my dad declared that "If he isn't going to get into a Ivy League school then he should go to a state school...I'm not going support this kind of mediocrity" To my dad's credit I was a handful and at that point I was an entitled, dope smoking, arrogant, pissed off teenager. For the record he did end up footing the bill for 4 years at Colgate University.

Nevertheless what I made up about myself was that I "wasn't good enough," "I wasn't excellent," and most recently what I have noticed for myself is what I really made up was "I'm not loveable." Now was that true? Hell no. Was that my dad's intention, absolutely not. Nevertheless that's what has been running in the background for the past 38 years for me.

To do a little Pop Psychology 101 on myself, it was clear that who I became was a gregarious people pleasing person running around the world looking for a sense of approval and belonging where ever I went and continued to base my value as a human being based on others response to me. While on the surface I made it work for myself with the people in my life, it was also one of the biggest triggers that would get in the way of difficult conversations with loved one and friends. Its clear that I would do anything to avoid criticism or conflict. The thought of someone saying something about me that they didn't like drove me to extraordinary ends to make sure that didn't happen. If it did, it was either Fight or Flight. It made it virtually impossible to have any self expression because everything that came out of my mouth was in the background designed to win others over and make you like me.

What I really didn't see until this past weekend was that what has really been going on for me over the past 38 years is that I actually have been doing is periodically creating situations and circumstances in which I "need" to be rescued or "need" to be helped. WHY? Well if you love me you would help me...

If I'm really honest with myself what the cycle looks like is the following. I start a new project. I get really excited, tell everyone about it and try to get them excited. What operating in the background it "I AM good enough, see... I AM excellent, see... I AM smart enough...see!" I get things done and rely on my god given talents and skills to make it happen. I do it, and do it well; and I make sure that everyone in my life knows that I'm doing it and doing it well. Just before getting to the top of the mountain...getting to the 100%... WHAM! I destroy it! The excuses and the stories kick in and suddenly I'm talking about the unfortunate circumstances I find myself in once again. I then need help, I need support, I need people to come to my rescue to help me through this tough time. Phew! Its exhausting even writing about it! Thank god I'm loveable!

What I didn't see is how this exact pattern was operating in the background of my past relationship. When I met my ex-fiancée I was the President of an incredible Life Coaching Company. A few months later I actually made my role unnecessary as we transition from a big box seminar company to a more virtual coaching company. Here I was again, not knowing what to do and needing to be rescued. Well that's what happened. I got rescued and moved in prematurely with my then girlfriend and started running up the ladder once again. I started my consulting company and actually did quite well and produced incredible results for the clients I worked with.

The ugly side of the story that I can now clearly see is that I did absolutely nothing to promote myself. I had no marketing materials, no website....hell I didn't even have a business card. I just sat back and made the woman that I was with responsible for finding me new clients and connecting me with her contacts and "helping" me get things going. Why? I'm really not loveable and the only way I'll know I'm lovable is if you help me. When she finally had enough and got fed up, that's when all of the fight or flight responses came in for me. I totally checked out. I made it virtually impossible to have any kind of discussion about our future that wouldn't involve me getting defensive or pissed off. While she was trying to encourage me to look to our future together and sat by my side every step of the way, operating from my fundamental misperception, I blamed her for being critical and trying to make me someone that I wasn't. I resisted like hell and instead of having the conversations, I took to working out, going surfing, and escaping. What happened for her is she gave up. Why? Because I continued to operate my life from the perspective of a pissed off teenager!?!?

I've gone through a range of emotions this past week...everything from anger to total resignation and at this point I'm happy to have identified the pattern so clearly and have actually taken the time to sent a heartfelt letter to my ex taking responsibility for how I was in our relationship. We actually really spoke today for the first time in months and it feels good to have come through to the other side of the conversation I had in my head.

I guess this is the point of this post. While I could have continued to be victimized by the "shock" of what happened by getting honest with myself, understanding my triggers, and looking at how I may have been responsible for what had occurred something very powerful happened for me that I know I will be able to take to the next relationships in my life.

As for the Pink Elephant Project...we are still trying to get a community site built that can provide a platform for all of us to discuss how our perceptions are getting in the way of our communications and understanding how those perspectives were created. I'm really committed to connecting with other fellow seekers that have the courage and commitment to communicate who want to share what's possible when one does. In the meantime I figure I've just got to keep the Pink Elephants out of my relationships, continue my journey of understanding what it is that has me stop in the face of those difficult communications, and continue to share with you the insights along the way.

From the heart



  1. Shasheen, I think you have said a lot and exposed yourself in a way that can lead to healing. Stay the path my friend and know that you do have friends that care. I know I do. Watching from the sidelines. Pat Brown

  2. Bless your courage to "look into the Mirror" and find YOU, the real you, the LIGHT that you are and not the story that you think you are...this 38 - 40 cycle is about expansion of your are right on time...I am going to include a too that is superb for releasing these neurological imprints that most do not even know at least have a conscious relationship with the you can relase it neurologically and have the life you choose, currently. Blessing and love to you, Kay

    Hmmm, looks like the paper I want to attach will not transfer from me on how to get this to you, if it feels applicable for you at this time.

  3. Melanie KirkpatrickJune 18, 2009 at 4:42 PM

    Thanks for sharing! I really appreciate hearing this from the opposite sex, although it made me realize that we, as humans, all have so much in common. I feel that I can relate to so much of what you wrote, so just know that you have people who support and undertsand what you have experienced. Better to have a failed engagement (I guess) than a failed marriage! I got divorced after 1 year of marriage which I feel was a good choice, but heartbreaking nonetheless. No matter what we experience in life, it seems like the hardest ones are the ones we learn the most from. I've been divorced for almost five years and can't believe how much personal growth it's taken to be finally ready for a new relationship! It's been such a powerful time and there are no regrets knowing what I have learned and who I have become.

    I am thankful for The Pink Elephant Project...communication is so crucial for healthy relationships of all kinds.

    I look forward to more sharing! Best to you on your new adventures!

  4. Good work courageous one!

  5. I had to read this since my birthday falls on June 13... well it really mirrors my own failed relationship in so many ways (on both sides). Thank you for being so willing to share your vulnerabilities. I am working day by day towards more honest communications with everyone in my life.

  6. Genuine observations and reflections will steer you to become a better person but we are perfect the way we are. Every now and then ask a loved one, how can I love you more.
    The sharing is profoundly moving.

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  8. wow Shasheen, I can totally relate to this pattern. Thank you for taking the time to reflect and articulate this obstacle that so many of us encounter (or may at one point encounter--when we're ready).
    Here's to you buddy! -Claire

  9. shaheen, I am very very proud of you, excellent work taking 100% responsibilty you are very courageous and i am very much touched by your action. Something magnificent will come out of that . Keep up the good work.You are an inspiration .

    Aruna aunty june19 2009

  10. hey dude
    the pink elephant is what some people in a certain 12 step program call the early period of recovery/sobriety..alsoknown as a pink cloud...a kind of euphoric state at realizing a revelationb about oneself after a period of self delusion or self medication resulting in sounds like you are experiencing that you

  11. Sharlotte PetersJune 19, 2009 at 6:51 PM

    Sometimes I wonder if all the fuss is worth it. Is the lack of ambition equated to a laissez faire or mediocrity? One that lingers not only as a perspective, but it is wired into ones nature like a web from a different realm.

    All these ideas of success wrapped neatly into a package especially for a cultural diary. This bundle meant only for those who know how to navigate the perilous suggestive bent. Not as delicate as the strand to ones nourishment, but an aggressive spin to another’s consumption.

    So the choice is to awaken and balance on the tenuous, or be forced to a nightly slumber of a worn out path. What is success, but one of our own choosing. Based on the needed component to further our smile, or make weary our deepest passions.

    Although it seems, despite our perceived frailties, all paths lead eventfully to our smile. It is in patience and the endeavor to strive for wholeness within that manifests our journey.

    So here is to growing wise gracefully!

  12. Abraham speaks of 'leading by the clarity of your example'. You've done that here, Shasheen.

    By sharing your story you've paved the way for others to do the same.

    By growing to know yourself...and thereby falling more and more in love with your true nature self, you have been granted the gift of personal reflection and understanding.

    I so appreciate your style of writing. The vibe is real, raw...and free.

    You have an obvious ability now, attained through your experiences, that allows you to relate from a space of confident vulnerability.

    This is a gift.

    Thanks for being you, Brilliant One.
    In Harmony... Debra

  13. after all these years of helping others...imagine the moment of sitting down and helping yourself...what courage it takes to look at ourselves...during a moment in the sunshine I had the insight that in my relationship I focused on "the problem not the person"...this lead me and I am still in the pattern of talking/thinking all about the things that hurt/disappointed/angered me forgetting about all the other wonderful moments. so when I was with the person I was like thats right I love you, I remember how much I dig you, how warm you are and strong
    and brave you are...Its the Law of Attraction and on one level I get it, that by focusing on the bad it creates more bad, that by focusing on the good love can grow and the flower in the persons heart will blossom to you and reveal their fragrance. I am truely sorry for my part in the breakdown in the relationship with someone I really dreamed of cared for and adored.
    thanks for your sorry to your ex, it helped me,
    its good to hear a real heartfelt sorry, it heals to feel it.
    love in truth , Naomi

  14. Oh how I resonate with what we make up and then live like it is the truth! Thank you Shash for this honest insight into what meaning making machines we are and thank you for the Pink Elephant Project.

  15. Shasheen, I was blown away by this blog post, thank you for sharing this story.

    My girlfriend a year ago told me, after a project I was working on turned out to be a huge distaster, that "what looks like a failure will look like a success a year later". I couldn't see how that could possibly be the case at the time, but it only took me 2 months to see that she was right.

    I see you bringing the same transformational energy to your life too, and it is inspiring.

  16. It is nice to have the memories of your
    upbringing, however the future can not be build
    upon the past memories. At the age of 21 you are
    on your life cycle steering-wheel,you should have known it better to shape your future.
    What you need is kick on your rear-end.