GRATITUDE FOR GOOD
A Blog by Gratitude Alliance
This is a repost of a piece written by Amy for Rachel Grant Coaching published here on
December 19, 2017 and is a follow on to 5 Ways to Heal Your Abandonment Wound
By Amy Paulson
A couple years ago, I had a conversation with a wise woman who used the term recovering overachiever to describe the ideal qualities of people that her organization likes to hire. A jolt of energy ran through my body as I heard those words. Yes! That’s me!
Many people like me who suffer from abandonment wounds or other kinds of childhood trauma can link their obsessive perfectionism to that childhood pain of guilt and shame from feeling unworthy and unlovable.
My mom tells me stories of being a worrier, even at 3 years old. She’d give me a crayon and paper and show me how to write a-m-y. I’d stand there next to the end table in the living room, crayon in hand, for over an hour - worried about making those a-m-y letters perfect. Uh-oh, she thought, this one is going to be a real worry wart. Yes. I was.
Not surprisingly, as a dancer for nearly 20 years, my obsession with perfection led to bulimia. Sadly, there is indeed a high correlation between obsessive perfectionism and eating disorders. And, I sure as hell wasn’t going to fail at bulimia - I was obsessed with doing even that perfectly.
The rituals - washing the hands, carefully placing my towel on the floor, then a large tupperware bowl on top, perfecting what foods I could vomit easily, hiding the tupperware in my closet so no one would know, then sneaking into the bathroom to flush it down the toilet after everyone was asleep - all of that I did with a level of perfection that made me feel proud and very much in control, while my emotions and the world around me spun out of control.
Until one day, after I shoved my finger down my throat, I looked down at my hand and it was covered in blood. How could this have happened? I had calculated everything so precisely. I thought I was the perfect bulimic. And, the validation from my dance instructors made it all worth it. They complimented me on rapid my weight loss - all that extra jogging I was doing on top of hours of dance practice very day (oh, and the secret vomiting) must be the winning formula to my slimmer dancer body. Yay for me!
Looking at the blood and saliva running down my hand, I felt both panic and utter failure. I didn’t realize then that that moment was the first step towards my recovery.
It would take well over a decade to stop the bulimia altogether, through a combination of medication, individual therapy, and group therapy - and another decade to continue treatment for the depression that goes hand in hand with eating disorders.
But alongside that, I started learning how to embrace the imperfection that is life. Changing my job from one that encourages obsessive perfectionism (as a CPA) to one where I must surrender to chaos (in a nonprofit that works in global trauma recovery) has forced me to let go of over controlling everything and everyone, and to start looking at failure as an opportunity for learning and growth.
And… I’m still in overachiever recovery. Here’s what that looks like for me:
Self-compassion above all
I took Stanford’s 8-week Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) and it changed my life. Learning self-compassion was like learning a new language - it was hard, required baby steps, and opened up doors to connection. I still have to work at it every day (some days are harder than others). But, I can now soften towards myself - and not just towards my wounded child self - but also towards the adult version of myself who I’m good at judging harshly. She also gets to be human, make mistakes, and in doing so, connects more deeply to her own humanity and that of others around her.
Compassion for others
Any judgement or resentment that I may feel towards others is often just a reflection of my own insecurity and need to be perfect in order to be loved. Ever heard that quote: When you point the finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at yourself…? I hate to admit it, but it’s true. CCT and lovingkindness meditations helped me see those around me in a whole new way - as complex humans who inherited trauma, just like me, and who have their own coping mechanisms, just like me.
Notice when I’m fixating
Even if I embrace the chaos, I still find other ways of trying to exert control. Sometimes, it can feel liberating or even helpful - like stopping in the middle of my workday to clean the inside of the microwave or taking a 5-minute brain break to meticulously color mandalas in my adult coloring book.
Other times, it can be counterproductive - like throwing a tantrum at 11pm because someone left a dirty dish in the sink (No wire hangers!), or realizing that I’ve changed the color of a particular cell in Excel 6 different times because I can’t find the perfect shade of green - meanwhile I had a deadline to get that spreadsheet to someone yesterday.
When I try to stay present and notice what’s going on, I can see it and name it: Oh, I’m fixating. This must be about something else. What’s the worst thing that will happen if I let this go and move on?
Practice imperfection with intention
When I started grad school, I reverted back to my 3-year old self trying to write my name perfectly. I spent so many extra hours on assignments, where that extra time had no benefit to my actual learning process. I got a 99.25 out of 100 in my first class and found myself writing an email to my professor to argue for that last 0.75. Luckily, I called myself out (and by I, I mean my husband) before I sent that email.
I’ve now started to intentionally just do what’s necessary to get by. No, not with everything. But with the many things where it doesn’t fucking matter. Like letting the kitchen be messy when I know people are coming over, throwing away those papers that I will never file and don’t need anyway, and leaving those spreadsheets an unsightly black and white when they don’t need color coding!
These may be small things but they are symbolic. They’ve helped me to surrender and built that muscle that helps me cope (most of the time) when the bigger, more important life things happen.
Remember that recovery is a lifelong process
If recovery were school, I’d try so hard to get an A. But it’s not. It’s messy and imperfect (sigh). Oftentimes, my overperfection hurts people, and I need to own up to it, apologize, and practice compassion for myself and others. Mostly, it hurts myself. And, if I can stay in the process, notice, acknowledge, and not fall into shame, then I can build new neural pathways to heal those old wounds.
Luckily, I have a dozen chances to do that every day.
It’s time to shift the paradigm.
We are being called to evolve together. To make way for something that brings us to a deeper level of awareness, connection, and purpose - for ourselves and for the world.
It starts from within - with the simple act of noticing.
Some call this mindfulness - being aware, in the moment, with intention, and without judgment.
There’s mounting evidence supporting the benefits of mindfulness to our health and well-being - at work, in school, and in our relationships. So, we asked ourselves, can the practice of “being present” help us shift how we give?
Pioneers like International Development Exchange (IDEX) have been taking a mindful approach to philanthropy for decades. One that is rooted in presence, mutuality, and collaboration. One that remembers that all the great movements for social change start at the grassroots level. And, one that values authentic connection - which starts from a process of profound self-examination - of noticing what’s going on inside us and how that informs what goes on around us.
Learning from IDEX and other mindful changemakers at the IDEX Academy this year, we were inspired to join the movement. To push beyond our comfort zones and embody something that is innovative, yet rooted in indigenous wisdom. Something that seeks to transform others, yet is grounded in transforming ourselves first.
In truth, we are outgrowing our forefathers - those centuries-old founders of charitable giving - and the paradigms that informed them. We bow to them and the groundwork they laid, such that we can now see what is needed to meet the injustices of our modern world.
We are aware that traditional top-down, outsider-led aid has been ineffective at radically transforming the lives of those it intended to serve. We see this in the abysmal health, education, and social service infrastructures in the poorest recipient countries of aid. We see this in the continued spread of preventable diseases, in the unjust differences in maternal mortality rates per country, and in the unnecessary increase in the number of orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS.
And, we see this in the eyes of the 2 billion people in the world still living on less than $2 a day.
Yet there are also negative effects that we cannot see. Cloaked in images of starving children with distended bellies, paternalistic, outsider-led models have little to do with human dignity and community self-determination. Rather, they are based on the misconception that outside experts can ‘fix the problem’ - a problem that traditional aid, colonization, and globalization may have created in the first place.
What’s more, such models perpetuate the age-old victim paradigm and harmful stereotypes of helpless, destitute communities saved by ‘whites in shining armor’ - a dangerous hero narrative that further absolves the everyday person from taking action.
Many of the more recent impact and grant-making models still leave room for improvement. They ignore complex interdependencies, value short-term outcomes over long-term impact, and use ‘carrot and stick’ approaches that maintain imbalanced power dynamics between those who give and those who receive.
We are ready for something different. And, most of us who are called to help shift the paradigm want a new way to be engaged - one that asks us to come into a deeper, more relational world together, to forge the kind of sacred connections that our ancestors held as the key to a thriving planet.
In the spirit of a movement that values not just the impact to the communities we serve, but the impact to human dignity that occurs when we transform heart, purpose, and action into meaningful connections with others, we’ve established a new set of guiding principles and a theory of change which lay the foundation for an approach that we call mindful philanthropy.
What does this really mean? Here are some of the highlights:
Presence. It all starts here. We must examine the shadows formed by our experience, culture, ego, trauma, and relationship to power and privilege - all of which can get in the way of a truly authentic practice of giving. By releasing attachment to these shadows, we can serve with curiosity, compassion, humility, and gratitude - and more fully engage with the world.
This presence changes the dynamic profoundly, for it creates the space for us to be with each other wherever we are in our lives and in the world. And from there, we can contemplate how to co-create a better world.
Justice. We are aware that in many places where we work, we represent ‘the other’ - those who may have exploited and oppressed communities of color through colonialism, globalization, and traditional aid. We strive to repair and create new connections to ‘the other’ by advocating for the rights of the communities we serve, including the right to identify their own needs and serve as their own agents of change.
Transformation. We seek transformative change to break intergenerational cycles of trauma, poverty, abuse, and vulnerability. A 9-year old girl whose parents died of HIV/AIDS cannot be given education as the only means to breaking the cycle if she carries trauma in her mind, body, and spirit. We take a holistic yet trauma-informed approach that considers the emotional needs of each person as a means to transforming self and community.
Collaboration. We dismiss the notion that we’re competing with other organizations for resources which leads to scarcity-mindset, silo-building, and duplicated efforts. We strive to replace the old transactional model with an open-hearted relational model that builds meaningful connections with a spirit of solidarity, respect, and partnership.
Learning and Innovation. In the for-profit sector, taking risks and being willing to fail is called “innovation.” Yet nonprofits are given little leeway to take even calculated risks and are afforded zero tolerance for failure. We embrace leaders who have the curiosity, grit, and gumption to try something new, viewing failures as lessons that become wisdom shared with others.
These are just some of the ways in which we are joining a movement that honors what philanthropy is really all about - a word which literally means love for humanity. Our approach is three-fold: encouraging donors to experience the power of mindful giving, training activists and volunteers about mindful service, and collaborating with other changemakers to explore how to collectively shift towards a practice of mindful social change.
Cultivating a movement sounds scary. But, it’s not about us. It’s about the collective. Many other mindful trailblazers have paved the way for us to humbly embrace our shared responsibility not just for a better world, but for a better way of getting there.
Will you join us?
We're thrilled to share the exciting news with our community - we've got a new name: Global Gratitude Alliance!
While our mission, approach, and projects remain the same, the new name is a clearer reflection of who we are and what we stand for: our commitment to global humanity, our practice of giving with gratitude, and our vibrant community of everyday activists like you who share our vision for a peaceful and thriving world.
And, this is just the beginning.
Throughout this year and next, we'll be launching some innovative programs and partnerships serving women and children - both globally and locally in the Bay Area. So stay tuned for more news to come!
We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We are truly inspired by your enthusiasm, love, and support throughout this incredible journey.
With gratitude and joy,
Global Gratitude Alliance
formerly, The Gracias Foundation
PS: The name change doesn't impact any donations - we've still earmarked your gifts for the projects you're supporting! We're also transitioning social media to the new name - bear with us if you still see The Gracias Foundation in the meantime...