Being alone in a relationship isn’t always easy. Take away the distractions that we often pump into our day to day lives and it’s nearly impossible. People expend a lot of effort to get away from the life that’s right here. This is what Tara Brach calls “the unlived life”. And it’s aptly named. Because this is the life that is usually filled with concern, fear or anxiety. All emotions that nobody really wants to be with.
Being Vulnerable With Difficult Emotions
What happens if I disagree with my employer or boss at work? What happens when I feel differently than what most people feel as being “normal”? Or I don’t go along with the status quo? These are some difficult questions. And ones that come with a host of feelings. Questions revolving around feeling excluded or alone in your experience or emotions in relationship are vulnerable places to be.
But this is where we have a choice. A lot of people, including my past self, chose to run from these vulnerable emotions. It’s easier to do what is expected of us in order to keep the existing established rules. Even if the rules are dysfunctional. Because those that are keeping the rules, sometimes need validation of their rule keeping status, to rationalize running from their vulnerable emotions. To feel as though they are doing what is best or are in charge. And all in the name of avoiding their unlived life. I.e. the vulnerability of the difficult emotions and the uncertainty of unstable emotional states.
And all of this is difficult. That’s why we’re running from it in the first place! If these emotions were easy to manage, I’d imagine we’d all have many more healthy relationships. There would be a lot less conflict in relationship as well. But the truth is, we live in a world that is fraught with these types of vulnerable relationships. And on top of the vulnerability, these ways of running from emotions can sometimes be difficult for us to see. Making them even more insidious and the root cause of much of our anxiety around being in relationships.
Staying in Difficult Emotions
When you are stuck in the middle of difficult emotions, such as our perceived expectations of ourselves by others, i.e. pigeonholing or mind reading, most often it is difficult to see past the immediate dis-ease of feeling vulnerable around others. We can feel alone and uncomfortable. And instead of staying with the emotions, we avoid the feelings and situations. The path is clear to follow, but it’s not always the healthiest path. The path of avoiding relationships.
And this path of what can be a confusing maze of expectations, mixed with emotions, can cause miscommunication. From my experience, when you expect a person to behave, act or take on/conform to certain unspoken rules, this is when people feel as though they aren’t adding up to another’s expectations. Or just plane don’t feel enough in themselves. And a life’s time worth of feeling as though you’re not adding up is a lonely place.
So if we are constantly trying to live up to somebody else’s standards, but feel we’re coming up short, how do we break the cycle? Of handing the responsibility of living our own lives to another, by trying to live up to what they expect (being docile) of us? I found, for myself anyways, that setting goals and owning my feelings are paramount to taking the leading role in living my life.
I was so used to deferring the responsibility of my choices and relationships to somebody else, that it just became second nature. And there are no shortage of people that are willing to take up that role if you let them. So I first had to recognize what it was that made me afraid of the responsibility of my life and relationships, in order to take up the reigns again. And this takes patience.
Patience first with you’re emotional experiences. And second, with finding the ways to best take care of yourself and your emotional needs. If this is something you’ve been leaving for someone else to manage, than it is going to be a steep learning curve.
Your Life is a Big Responsibility, But it’s Your Own
For me, I had left that job for the person I was in a romantic relationship with. I had learned this from my caregivers. So I actively sought out this relationship dynamic. And as I’ve said above, there was no shortage of people looking to live my life for me. It wasn’t until I had ended my relationship with the person that was probably looking for safety in control, that I was left with the unsettling truth that I needed to show up for and live my own life. This was a shock for sure. Because it was something I was completely unaware of until I was left by myself.
I had to make all my decisions for myself, by myself. Everything from grocery shopping and cooking, to budgeting, exercise and work decisions. All were left to my underdeveloped judgements. It was scary and overwhelming at first. I remember feeling as though I couldn’t possibly take on the entire task of living my life. But what I found made the biggest impact for me, which helped me to make these decisions without being overwhelmed by their scope was, patience. And taking things one step at a time.
Taking Things Slowly & With Patience
Taking things slowly was important to learn. To recognize that I didn’t need to do it all at once. That I could take each task on slowly and deliberately. This helped me to not only make healthier choices, but also to have a clearer presence of mind while making my decisions. Which meant I was also making better choices.
I also learned how to be patient with my emotional experiences, as they were happening. Knowing when that little voice that pops up, the one that tells you that you need to act immediately, or else and how to stay calm during that urge, brought me peace. But what is also important is knowing how to let that voice have its piece. While not responding from that voice. By being patient enough for the feeling of urgency to wear off. Because it will subside. Then you can respond from a place that is more calm and you’re able to see the situation from a clearer perspective.
And instead of feeling stressed out, as though you are frantically looking for answers to the emotion provoking situation, patience with ourselves allows us the time and space necessary to feel comfortable with the kinetic feelings of urgency and uncertainty. This also allows us to take a responsible and grounded approach to taking care of the situations that need our attention.
Patience In the Work Place
For me, one of the ways this has played out in my recent past is in my professional life. I’m currently in the middle of picking up a new role and responsibilities at my new job. I went in for a shift and it was unlike the experiences I was used to in a similar role at a different agency. My first reaction was to walk away from the role. I thought “this is unacceptable” and felt unwilling to compromise. This was, for me, the voice of urgency telling me I was in a situation that wasn’t safe because it was new.
But I decided to give the issue some more thought. To practice patience. I talked it over with a trusted friend who helped me form some thoughtful and direct questions that would communicate what my concerns were. Also how I was feeling about what I was experiencing. I got some advice and guidance from my friend with a new perspective, but I still had to go inward and explore what I was feeling about my situation.
What are my thoughts and feelings about what I’m planning on doing in asking these questions? Also, how am I going to attune to my feelings? And this is where resilience is cultivated. Because essentially, these are the places where you meet your fears. You feel them out and find out what they are telling you. Then you can brace yourself for how you’re going to be with the fear. Move through it to a place where you are confident in your ability to progress.
And it’s not easy. With me taking on a new role in a new position, I had some fears about my role. Some concerns about how things are run currently, compared to how I was used to them being done in the past. I then had to be patient with my initial response, which was to walk away from the position out of fear. Then I had to feel the fear and understand what it was trying to tell me. I did this by exploring why I was uncomfortable, fearful. Once I explored my fears I came up with a plan to take care of and attune to my fears. So they didn’t grow unchecked, which allowed me to take control of my actions.
The step of being present with the discomfort of the feelings that are arising, when I’m exploring and encountering new situations that provoke fear and uncertainty, is an important one. Because if it wasn’t for the ability to stay with the feelings, especially the fearful ones, then you would be constantly on the run. Keeping yourself in your comfort zone. A place where you are unable to grow.
Moving Through the Fear
And this is how we learn to navigate our fears and anxieties while moving forward with our lives in a positive direction. Staying flexible enough to face each new feeling or fear that rises to meet us. But also holding our ground and knowing that we are enough to meet and grow through these new situations. Again, not always an easy task, but that’s where you build resilience, in overcoming a challenge.
Because the decisions, especially the fearful ones, that come into our lives that we all have to face on our own, builds resilience. As I’ve said above, I used to defer my life’s responsibility to others. For example, I remember living with my ex-wife, in an apartment that she had found, working at a job I wasn’t very happy with, while going to school for something I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do. I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I just kept on going, being propped up by those around me.
Learning to Support Myself & Others in Relationship
And it’s not as though I’m not grateful for those who supported me along the way. But I wasn’t allowing myself to come to terms with where I was in life. The uncertainty of my life’s direction. I did this by surrounding myself with those who were happy to be in a position of caretaking for me. And this is where I was trapped in an unhealthy cycle of being in relationship. Me by not facing the fearful emotions I was running from, because I thought the responsibility of living my own life was too much and my partner, who was happy to tell me what to do and how to be for her own reasons.
And when our relationship finally ended, it came as a surprise to everybody. We were all finally forced to confront what it was that we were avoiding. But what came as the biggest surprise, to me anyway, was that I realized I was strong enough to change.
Making the Change
At the time, it was the affection of another that woke me up. That made me realize that I had the ability and strength to face my own fears. But where it really took shape was when I told my partner about my feelings. How someone else’s affections had woken my emotions. Emotions that had been dormant since my trauma. And that I was willing to work on our relationship in the unhealthy form it had taken.
Ultimately my partner had decided she was unwilling to work on our relationship. I don’t blame her for ending our relationship. She, like I was, was probably running from the difficult work of understanding the dynamics of our relationship. Including the places of fear, vulnerability and uncertainty. This makes me sad for what we could have been if we had faced those emotions together. But first we needed to do the inner work, to know what we are bringing into the relationship.
You Don’t Have to Go it Alone
So if you have found yourself in a similar situation, take heart. Resilience is possible as long as you are patient with yourself. Stick around while you’re going through and sorting the difficult, fearful emotions. Feeling alone while you are sorting through these emotions is common. But it’s something we all have to face eventually. And it also helps to know that you are not the first.
Many have come before you and have done the difficult work of coming to terms with their fears, vulnerabilities and anxieties. And it doesn’t last forever. It may take some time coming to a place of understanding these feelings, but we all get there eventually. I hope this has been of some help to you. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )