to Out on a Limb,
a monthly newsletter from Martha Clark Scala. This free e-zine
is meant to invite and inspire you to maximize the joy in
Who remembers a scenario similar to this? Two siblings are squabbling. Sibling #1 hits, bites, pulls hair, makes faces, or verbally snipes at Sibling #2, who then retaliates with the same behavior, or worse. The conflict escalates. A parent gets involved, and what does Sibling #2 typically say to defend the retaliation? “He/she started it!” Sibling #2’s argument is that permission to retaliate came from being attacked first. This kind of conflict pales in comparison to higher level aggression that has the same operating dynamic. Violence received tends to provoke violence delivered.
In another example, a throng of sports fans are out in the streets of San Francisco to witness and celebrate their beloved Giants’ sweep of the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. With Miguel Cabrera’s final out in the bottom of the 10th inning, the crowd goes wild. Strangers high-five strangers. It’s a love-fest. The Giants’ truly incredible post-season is relished with dancing and whooping and hollering in the streets. And then, someone starts a fire? And then more people add something to the fire? Permission to be destructive came from what is often referred to as “mob mentality.”
We also give ourselves permission to be self-indulgent or self-destructive:
“What the heck, it’s been a lousy week, I think I will go out and get plastered.”
“Why not have a hot fudge sundae for the third day in a row? I’ve earned it.”
“I’m sober enough to drive; I am only 5 miles from home!”
“It’s okay to wager this big bet; I know I have a winner.”
“I can keep neglecting my needs a little more; I just have to meet this deadline.”
I think you would agree that the kind of permission described above will not create more joy in your life. Perhaps this is why we hesitate to give ourselves permission to do things that truly might cultivate joy. Does the concept of permission get a bad rap? We may need to distinguish negative from positive permission! My non-scientific observation is that the biggest obstacle we face in the necessary practice of self-care (particularly the caregivers amongst us) is that we fail to give ourselves permission. In some cases, the permission-giving is thwarted by a deeply held belief that we do not deserve to take such good care of ourselves. This makes me wish I could conjure a cosmic response to that childhood query, “Mother May I?” Yes, you can. Yes, you can and you must!
Positive permission can take many forms but the key is that you allow yourself to do, be, or say something that is in your best interest and/or that will enhance your life. For example, imagine giving yourself permission to try something new without any expectation of excellence or perfection? Might there be joy in dabbling or experimentation, in expansion, rather than contraction?
Other permissions that might need more air time include allowing yourself to:
Pay attention to the signs of physical, emotional or compassion fatigue.
Rest when you are weary.
Savor solitude, especially if you are grieving or an introvert.
Have some fun rather than live a life of constant nose-to-the-grindstone.
Hold or state a different opinion.
Set a necessary boundary, even if it means someone will be disappointed.
Feel a difficult feeling despite inner or outer pressure to be “chin-up” about something.
Be your unique self.
Reversing Negative Permission
If by any chance you saw yourself in the examples of negative permission provided above, know that it probably will not help you reverse the trend if you beat up on yourself. By mere coincidence, some of the mantras submitted by Out on a Limb readers in response to October’s issue may be of use:
I welcome this growth opportunity.
Every day is a good day.
I am grateful for the opportunity to heal.
Do something creative.
It’s all good.
Each of these mantras provide positive permission to regard a personal challenge or a character defect that needs attention through a more hopeful lens. You do deserve it, don’t you?
for November 2012
Just notice how easy it is for you to give others permission to take good care of themselves, and contrast that to the extent you give yourself the same kind of permission.
Your November 2012 Prompts for Joy
Click here for permission to celebrate and live your life (and yes, I gave myself permission to indulge in some SF Giants fever by including this one!).
Click here for both permission and concrete suggestions about how to Enjoy the Ride.
Nancy Clark sends me more Prompts for Joy than anyone. You take the cake, Nancy!
I credit my mother for teaching me to give myself permission to not act my age.
By no means
do I have joy “figured out.” Please do not assume
that I do! I write Out On a Limb as much as a meditation for
myself in the ongoing pursuit of joy, as for you. I think this
pursuit is a lifelong journey and that the full experience
of joy is, at best, episodic. May we all have more episodes!
Martha Clark Scala, MFT · 721 Colorado Ave., Suite 201, Palo Alto, CA 94303 ·