This is an open letter of mourning to each person who has felt hurt or pain in their experience with me, especially those who have worked with me as teammates and colleagues.
The last handful of years have been years of growth for me and for each of you. No doubt we have all gained from our service together. I am so incredibly grateful for all we have done together and at the same time I mourn some of my communication and my actions. I mourn deeply that many of you who dedicated so much of yourself to me and my mission, got the worst of me.
With great frequency, I focused on criticizing and critiquing and I lacked in sharing appreciation and gratitude. My focus on criticizing was demoralizing for many of you.
I often focused directly on the task at hand, operating based on efficiency and effectiveness, often providing little to no encouragement or words of affirmation even with difficult tasks.
I often failed to celebrate our successes together and instead just moved on to the next task.
I often spoke with sharpness and shortness, in a way that stimulated pain for many of you.
I often spoke in a tone that often came across as cold and harsh and felt hurtful.
I often met your requests and contributions with defensiveness rather than gentleness and empathy.
I often had unattainable expectations and often assumed that if I could do something, so could you, or that if it was easy for me, it would be easy for you.
I was often late to meetings and didn’t have things ready when I said I would. Your need for respect, consideration and equality may not have been met by these actions.
My way of communicating often came across as condescending, judgmental or like I was out to prove you wrong or get you.
Over the last five years, I have gotten the feedback time and time again that you did not feel seen or heard by me or that I communicate in a way that might cause some of you to “feel stupid” around me.
I mourn that so many of your needs were not met from some of my ways of working, communicating and being a housemate:
Your needs for emotional safety and security.
Your needs to be seen, to be heard, to be understood.
Your needs for appreciation, consideration, inclusion, equality, mutuality and respect.
And with these foundational needs not being met so, too, were your needs for joy, peace, play, stability, and celebration of life harder to fulfill.
I know that many of you were hoping for more care from me and connection and harmony with me and I mourn that I did not provide that.
I know some of you experienced your self-expression and autonomy stifled in my presence and even your own power over your world. When you hoped to be empowered by this work, you may have come away disempowered. Rather than being uplifted in your interactions with me, you may have found yourself questioning yourself.
I mourn that at times you felt anxiety, stress and worry when I would call or enter the house or during our interactions and meetings. I mourn the number of times that you would not feel safe to speak your truth with me and share what was truly alive for you.
I don’t mean to speak for any of you with what I’m saying. I know for each of you, your experience was different. For some of you, none of the above applies at all. For some of you, it was minor and you’ve long forgotten it. And some of you experienced trauma that you still hold or are healing from today. Many of us have had deep conversations that resulted in full understanding and healing closure and many of us never had that.
I do hope though that by sharing the feedback that I’ve heard over and over from you and your colleagues, that some of your needs to be understood, to be seen and to be heard are met, even if just a little.
If you’re open to it, I’d like to share how I feel.
Looking back on these many interactions and moments, I feel heavyhearted and sad.
I feel disappointed with myself.
I also feel a bit ashamed and definitely embarrassed.
When I reflect on some of my communication with you I grieve and I mourn.
I have few regrets in life, but with these interactions with you, I feel regretful.
I yearn to have been able to have done things differently.
Many of these interactions stick with me today with pain, sometimes while I lie in bed at night, sometimes when I am out for a walk and sometimes while I’m trying to focus on work, I think of you.
And don’t get me wrong. I have many thoughts of joy, peace, inspiration, excitement and appreciation when I think of you, too. A feeling of warmth and comfort often comes over me thinking of our time together. But with all this, there is the great heaviness in my heart for my actions and for what I would like to have done differently.
If you’re open to it, I’d like to share what needs of my own were not met by my actions.
Through the way that I communicated, my need to live in high integrity was not met.
My need for the well-being of my teammates was not met as well as I would have liked.
My needs for closeness, connection and friendship with you were not met as well as I was hoping.
My needs to act with consideration, fairness, inclusion, mutuality and respect were often not upheld.
My needs for equality and shared reality were often not met.
My needs to be appreciative of my teammates and to celebrate life together were sometimes deeply not met.
And there are so many needs that were not met at times by my way of communicating, but certainly my need for compassion was not met.
Although I did not always act like it, we more or less had the same needs that we were trying to meet.
If you are open to continue reading, before I share what I am choosing to do differently for the future, I would like to share what needs of mine I was trying to meet when you felt hurt. I would understand if you don’t want to hear it. If you are feeling that maybe you’d rather not hear it, I’d like to share why I want to share what was going on for me.
What I’m seeking is to tend to hurt feelings and unmet needs. I’d like you to be able to heal any feelings of hurt or pain. I’d like for you to be able to overcome trauma if you have any.
I want to do what I can to repair our relationship and to heal from the destructive conflict and to come to a place of peace within. I’d like for you to get any closure that you’d like.
Why? Because I really do care about your well-being, even if I didn’t always show it.
I also am tending to my hurt feelings and unmet needs. I want to become whole. I am healing and I am seeking closure.
The best way that I know to achieve this is through empathy – which is to truly see what is alive for you, what you are feeling and needing. The best way that I know to achieve this is through understanding. My hope through sharing what was going on for me is so that we can both meet our needs for understanding, making sense of life, clarity and growth.
And although this is a written one-way message, this is also an invitation to heal with me. If you’d like to heal, I’d like to heal with you on your terms – writing, video call, meeting in person if we’re in the same city, or even with the assistance of a compassionate communication facilitator (which I have done with a few of you and we have made great strides in healing and growth!)
When I began the internship program in St. Pete in the spring of 2020, I didn’t know it at the time, but I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I had some experience with managing people, which was generally a struggle. But I had learned a fair bit over the previous few years and thought that I’d be able to manage a team of people with relative ease. My heart was in the place that I was trying to best utilize my skills and resources to be of service and it made a lot of sense to have a team working together to do this. By providing lodging, food and an educational community-based experience, I could take the small amount of financial resources I had and make them go much further in service. So that was the basis for creating the community house in St. Pete.
What I quickly found is that this experience resulted in a near crippling level of anxiety for me. I was experiencing the most anxiety I had ever felt in my adult life and I was often incredibly overwhelmed. The months in St. Pete were the most difficult months of my adult life. Just knowing that I needed to go into the house often stimulated an incredible amount of anxiety. At the time, I learned that I experienced social-anxiety, which was something relatively new for me. I was managing the lodging, the food and the roles of about nine people and I realized it was just way more than I knew how to manage.
I was overwhelmed with the service that I had taken on as well. I consistently underestimated how long things would take me. Many of the things I was doing were behind schedule by multiple years already due to my constant underestimation of tasks. I was constantly underestimating how many working parts there were to each program that we were doing and when I thought I was getting ahead, I found that although I had made progress, I still would not be caught up even if I worked morning until night for the next many months. I was taking on way more tasks than I could handle at once and it was incredibly stressful to be trying to balance all of them and to move from one to the next in any given day. With a team of nine people working on numerous roles, I was under the constant stress of switching from one thought to the next, often going back and forth in between many times in a day as I tried to keep everyone flowing.
It’s safe to say that I was disorganized and off-balance. And I take full responsibility for this. I did all this to myself. My own mismanagement made service harder than it had to be for most teammates. My own underestimation of tasks meant that I was constantly underestimating how long a task would take a teammate. Because of this I had unrealistic expectations. I have always had high expectations of myself and often expected others to be able to do what I could do, considering it to be common knowledge or a skill everyone has. But I was so wrong about this.
I was in a state of inner turmoil and most of the teammates could sense it. Although I was very proud of overall how well a group of nine strangers got along and that we had no major issues, it’s safe to say that there was a fair bit of “drama” and that I was responsible for much of it. My inner state was reflected in how the organization and the team functioned, often too busy to manage our own stress levels and give ourselves the self-care we needed. That’s the training I received in my work and I carried that over.
This was all at the center of a whole lot of difficult communication. I learned that when I was stressed or anxious that I was most likely to not communicate compassionately and that I would sometimes communicate in a way that would cause others to feel hurt. So, as much as possible when I was overwhelmed and stressed, I tried to keep to myself, but with everything we had going on – again due to my own management – I often found myself communicating at times when it was not wise. These were the times when people especially ended up feeling the most hurt and not having their needs met.
This was also around the time that I put together some of my deeply engrained communication that is in the realm of being on the autism spectrum. Many of my communication patterns that didn’t feel good for those around me were in alignment with the Asperger’s experience. At times, my bluntness comes across harsh and sharp. My literalness to a degree that sometimes results in a lot of communication struggles. I always said that I was void of empathy – which I now know is one of the most important characteristics to have to compassionately manage a team.
With my Asperger’s, I have been very sensitive to noises, often relatively minor noises that are not even noticed by others. I am sensitive to lights. I am also quite sensitive to being too close to people or to many types of touch. So I was constantly overwhelmed in the house and constantly trying to control my environment to reduce my anxiety and stress. When I was in this state of being overwhelmed – which is often the case in a house full of people – I was not in a place where I could easily communicate compassionately.
I also have always struggled to compliment others or to share appreciation. We didn’t do it in my household. We didn’t do it at my university. I didn’t do it much for the first three decades of my life. I’ve always felt a huge block with it and it’s been a source of great discomfort for me. I often did FEEL it, but drew a blank in expressing it to you.
My inability to communicate with warmth, tenderness and compassion was certainly a big part of the struggle for people to have many of their needs met. At the same time, there was so much misunderstanding of my words, my tone and my intention. I was only beginning to understand it more myself, so no wonder others were not understanding me. There were so many times when people made up stories in their head that were not accurate about my words, actions, or intentions. This was exhausting for me, because just like everyone else, I have a deep desire to be understood.
It was really helpful to learn this because I learned a lot about myself and how I could improve myself and where I’d likely continue my difficulties. I also learned my personality type – INTJ-A – and this played a large role in understanding my communication patterns as well. I write about my communication patterns with this and Asperger’s in more depth under My Experience with Nonviolent Communication and I encourage you to read that if you want a deeper understanding.
During these times of great difficulty in the workplace – stress and anxiety – I was generally always trying to meet my needs for effectiveness and efficiency, for stability and structure, for ease, support and clarity for flow and for competence and contribution. In my own personal life, I was trying to meet my basic needs for autonomy, freedom and space; for order, security and safety; for harmony, presence, leisure and sleep; for shared reality, power in my world, growth, peace, making sense of life; and to belong and to be understood.
There was so much struggle that I didn’t understand at the time, that I’ve started to understand with each passing experience of working with a team.
Moving up to Asheville, North Carolina was sort of a fresh start – although some of you came with me, which I was so excited for! I’d made a lot of improvements in my communication, but found myself disappointed at how much I still struggled. In spring of 2021, we took a training in Compassionate Communication together and that was the single greatest move in creating more harmony. Yet as many of my teammates in Asheville know, there was still a lot of pain and hurt feelings. Everything I have shared that I am mourning today was still happening. Even though I was practicing my communication as much as 20 hours per week – reading the book six times, taking every class available, practicing with many of you, going to Compassion Camp – there was still so much miscommunication. I often was not able to communicate in the way I so deeply wanted to. There were so many times when I was so tired of myself.
I tried really hard, and after three years of trying, I realized that I just was not up to the task. I came to the realization that managing people was not my gift. It was not my role, at least for now. I realized that a big part of this was that I didn’t even want to be managing people. My goal was to be of service to Earth and managing a team was a way of accomplishing that. This was a big realization as to why I struggled with it so much – it wasn’t really in alignment for me with what I truly wanted to be doing.
I learned that it was all just too much for me. I learned that I could not provide for the needs of everyone and by the end of 2022, I decided I’m not willing to be in a position where I’m not able to do it full justice.
What I would love for you to know is that I really was doing the best that I could at every given moment. What I think very few people realized fully is that when they were suffering, I was suffering, too. I was rarely oblivious to the pain that others were feeling (and I generally tried to listen and understand) and there was rarely a time where the pain that I stimulated in others didn’t stimulate pain in me, too. Others may have often seen me as cool headed and calm, but I had anxiety coursing through my entire body. I don’t minimize the pain that others felt, but I probably suffered the most from my own communication patterns.
Although I mourn, I do not have any self-hatred or self-judgment. I truly believe that I was doing the best that I knew how to meet my own basic needs while striving for the well-being of others to the best of my ability. If anything, although I mourn, I am mostly grateful for the opportunities for learning and growth and for having made it this far at the age of 37 – when many of us in this Dominator Society never break free from our communication challenges. I celebrate all the connection we have had and all that we have accomplished together. I celebrate the feelings of compassion, love, warmth and gratitude that I know many of you have for me. I am truly grateful for all the healing that we have had together both through struggles and through times of deep connection and joy.
I’ve learned that no matter how you structure an organization of service, at the core are human beings and at the core of each of us are emotions and basic human needs. I’ve learned it is essential to focus on making sure that each of our basic human needs are met and to put a lot of energy into feelings. I would not have said this just a few years ago. Now it is a core basic belief for me.
Again, what I mourn the most is that some of you have followed me for years and had such high hopes for our time together. Some of you have the highest respect for me and dedicated a lot of your time to me. I mourn that you didn’t receive the highest level of appreciation, consideration and respect and that you often received the opposite.
I really was hoping to be able to write this letter to you with more more precision and brevity. I value your time and I acknowledge that this letter is a commitment of your time to read. But I don’t know how to express this more concisely while also trying to show you that I truly see you and truly have heard you. And also while trying to truly be seen and heard and hopefully understood as well.
The purpose of this letter is to create healing – for you and for me. And if there is any healing that you’d like to pursue, I’d like to pursue it with you. Whether it is simply to be heard and share your perspective, to share where I still have not seen you, to receive empathy from me, to try to understand me more – whatever it is that would create healing for you.
I am committed to compassionate communication and to the best of my ability that is what I will try to bring to you in our relationship – whether that is through working directly together, maintaining a small connection, or just keeping each other in our thoughts.
I have listened a lot over the last few years and I have found patterns in how my communication is received by others. I am committed to increasing my skill level and improving my communication to meet the needs of everyone with whom I’m involved. If you have not taken compassionate communication, but like the sound of it, I would like to offer the book and/or NVC 101 with Steve Torma as an extension of my love for you and my desire for your well-being.
At the heart of this is not overcoming what I don’t want to be, but practicing what I do want to be. So I am dedicated to:
Remembering that all conflict involves people trying to figure out how to get their needs met and remembering that each of us is trying to meet our basic needs at every moment.
Staying empathetically connected to each other’s feelings and needs, with the belief that we can always find solutions when staying in this state of consciousness.
To practicing gratitude daily so that I can more freely provide appreciation.
To celebrate the small things and celebrate our little successes.