Blinded by the Light
When you face the sun, how long can you keep your eyes open?
When someone tells you they love you; or that you’re amazing; or that you’re talented, skilled, qualified, or special — for how long can you hear it?
Take a moment. (It’s yours, after all.) Close your eyes and imagine someone specific saying those words. Can you take it all in? What does it feel like?
Too little light can make us stumble. Too much light can cause a glare.
Too little acknowledgment can make us feel ignored or unimportant. Too much acknowledgment can make us feel anxious, afraid, or undeserving.
When the light source is just too strong, we naturally shade our eyes; or we close one eye and screw up the other; or we simply shut both eyes altogether.
When the compliment feels “too good” we brush it off or accuse the sender of motives. We may look for something negative to say about ourselves; dismissing our own goodness…or greatness. Even when we know it’s true. Something about being known and seen by another can feel like…too much.
A few weeks ago, a friend shared with me this poem. Does it resonate with you in some way?
Hugs surround me with bars of a jail,
Sympathy leaves me pathetically frail.
Connection leaves me achingly sore,
Rejection leaves me aching for more.
Kisses cut like a sharp knife,
Arrows bring me back to life.
Compliments are ill believed,
Reprimands are freely received…
“Photophobia” is a term an ophthalmologist might use to describe one whose eyes are super sensitive to light. These individuals must continually shade their eyes — and consequently, they see less.
In psychology, Diana Fosha Ph.D. refers to the ability to receive the really good stuff, the light, as the individual’s receptive capacity. Conceptually, it’s on a spectrum: How much you can handle before you are overwhelmed?
There are good reasons why your own receptive capacity may be inhibited. You may prefer to keep the bar low because your self-esteem has been derailed: I’m not so great, so don’t expect much from me. I can’t handle the fear of letting you down.
You may equate good stuff with trouble. Oh-oh, I’ll have to pay for this.
You may equate compliments with conceit; this is usually a message received as a child: Don’t show off. Who do you think you are, anyway? You’ll make your siblings jealous.
Certain compliments may elicit distrust. What do you want from me this time?
Sometimes we just feel butterflies in our stomach or our heart pounding without knowing why at all — or, at least without finding the words to name it.
Close your eyes. Take a breath. Can you slow down your life long enough to feel good? To take in the goodness others feel towards you? And can you stretch out that little moment a little moment longer?
I write this on the threshold of the Festival of Light. Each night, as you take in more light from the menorah, take in a little bit more of your own. Shine!
A freilichin Chanukah.