When people challenge your comfort zone


By Sue Ellen Haning

Welcome back, devoted nuts. I trust your personal road to successful nuthood has become irresistible, and every day opens a door of opportunity for you to step outside your comfort zone. I would love to hear the highlights of your journey, so if you would like to share, at the end of this column you will find my e-mail address.

If you are human, you have experienced the angst individuals can inflict on one another, knowingly and unawares. Thinking about writing this article took me on a trip outside my comfort zone, and I almost abandoned the idea. There is a multitude of directions this can take, different perspectives, personalities, belief systems, cultural influences, experiences, etc., and I am not a psychologist, but something from within kept nudging me in this direction. As synchronicity would have it, this morning the following quote came over my computer:

“A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together.” — Margaret Atwood, Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist.

There must be lessons for me to learn in shaping the words for this article. In the past I have shut down, yielded and thought it wasn’t my problem when people act a certain way, but it is my problem because it is affecting me. I can no longer ignore it. I have not considered my voice a gift because I am not a singer, yet history has changed repeatedly because a single person uttered fully his/her truth. Do you value your voice? Do you speak your truth when you have opportunity?

From this quote it is the ‘powerlessness and silence go together’ that scream at me. Recently I have had numerous opportunities to speak my truth but couldn’t. My southern upbringing taught me to wear a smile and act like a lady no matter what was going on internally. Evidently we didn’t want others to know our problems or we were afraid of what they might think. In other words, “don’t air your dirty laundry.” In my family, when in the company of adults, children did not speak unless spoken to. We were told what to say, “Yes ma’am and yes sir, please, thank you” and always with a smile. Children’s opinions were not asked for and strict obedience to adults was expected at all times. Southern ladies, our mothers and role models, were self-sacrificing, silent, subservient, and totally dependent on the men in their lives. Culture and other childhood experiences play a huge part in whether you value your voice.

As you experience this week, make note of the people who stretch your comfort zone. How do you handle yourself when around them? What feelings overshadow you? A few people that can take us outside our CZs are: manipulators, gossipers, bossers, whiners, bullies, those whose mere presence knock us off balance, passive aggressives, our adult children, and control freaks. Let’s look at the control freak. I know. I know. It takes one to know one; nevertheless, it is the controllers who are my comfort zone testers. They simply cannot help themselves when they are driving you crazy with their controlling behavior. Heck, they drive themselves crazy! They’ll go insane if everything is not to their particulars. Often these poor people suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. If you are dealing with OCD, good luck.

The controllers take the role of authority whether it has been delegated to them or not. They can be solicitous, often appearing simply concerned. The controllers completely and totally dismiss us, having no concern for our opinions, wishes or desires. They do not engage us in conversation so we may share our opinions, but rather politely tell us how it’s going to be, then if we say anything, even an innocent response, it is ignored. Their next move is the killer… they respond with a statement that makes it all our fault. They are masters of taking advantage of our goodness. One look from the controller can freeze your marrow, and reckoning with them is not for the faint of heart. They exit while we are still trying to catch our breaths and make any sense of what just happened. We feel like we’ve just been mowed down. Then the war within begins, starting off innocently enough and escalating. Something like this takes place inside our heads: “Why didn’t you say something? What’s wrong with you? She just walked all over you. That b…. who does she think she is? What just happened?” Our feelings, if not tended to, can shape into an atomic revenge!

The event reeks of a hit and run incident. Often our desire to avoid confrontation and just deal with it wins. Sometimes it is a lack of ability to gently, firmly, and graciously assert ourselves. The bottom line, though, is we were silent and thus powerless. Every person who takes us outside our comfort zones ignites an emotion in us, and facing our emotions is a courageous act. Taking baby steps in these circumstances offers a security against feeling overwhelmed or feeling like a failure in dealing with these gifts in our lives. Each situation with one of these human gems offers us an opportunity to grow and expand. This week, take brave baby steps. It might be that all you do is heave a sympathetic sigh in the controller’s presence, turn and walk away. That’s a positive step if your normal reaction is to be silent, powerless, run, hide or melt on the spot!

With each successful step, courage rises, and before you know it, you can handle a situation you hadn’t before. I have even practiced, before a mirror, what I will say next time I am given the opportunity to speak my truth. Every step outside your comfort zone, no matter the situation, does two things. It takes you to a vulnerable place even if just for a moment, and it is from this place that you can move forward. Stepping outside your CZ also brings life’s realities into view. Our voices are powerful … if we use them. Do you realize and appreciate that your voice can change lives, especially yours? A very wise person, Pagosa’s own Lauren Cohen, recently told me: “Vulnerability is being open, honest, and connected. When you stand in your vulnerability, you are stronger than when you stand in defense.”

I printed this quote and hung it where I would read it daily. My lesson from this is that when I speak my truth from a place of vulnerability (facing the controller), I am much more powerful than if I go with the chatter in my head and become defensive. With some trepidation, I look forward to the next opportunity to speak my truth. This week whatever your comfort zone challenge, I wish you the best. You can do it. I can do it. We all can do it.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” — Neale Donald Walsch, American author of the series “Conversations With God.”

Have a nutty week, and join me next time for Coasting with your Nut.