I’ve been writing a lot about how I wasn’t supported. And in some ways, I still lack emotional support. Luckily I’ve come to a place where I no longer blame those who neglected me. But that sadly doesn’t ease the pain of the lack of feeling supported. In this post, I’d like to explore this area of relationships. The place where we are looking for support from each other, and maybe coming up short. But also in connecting as well. What does it (connection) look like and how do we foster the sparks that build them. But let’s take a look at where it isn’t found first.
For me, there wasn’t any emotional support, connection, intelligence or recognition of emotions happening at all in my family. From what I’m able to tell, as for why this was the case, there was just too much trauma in our family. All of it being covered over, denied and ignored. And without support from each other, it would be crazy to dive into all of our badly hurt and unattended, traumatic emotions alone.
Dissociating From Our Emotions
So we ran from one another. The most prevalent ways we did this was through drinking alcohol. The easiest way to numb ourselves from what was happening in our emotional selves, while avoiding the emotions we recognized in others that remind us of our own hurt emotions. Also, we told each other what the other was feeling, by say things like, “you are so ___ right now”. This way, we were safe from the unexpected emotions that would pop up in another, and the opinions of others, by blaming them for how we were feeling. We did this by projecting our perspective onto the other. All while not challenging our views about what we thought our relationships and ourselves should look like to our standard. We wanted control over the others experiences of us.
This was one of the ways we avoided change and growing. Other ways we avoided growth was through dissociative behaviors. Drinking for sure, but we mostly watched TV and read, as a way to escape from our own emotions and the emotions of others. This type of self absorbed behavior is a way to disconnect from the relationships in our lives. While also skirting personal growth at the same time.
And as maddening as it is, to be unable to connect with a loved one emotionally, it’s most likely not their fault. Or rather it’s probably not personal. This was a tough pill for me to swallow. I had a series of emotional breakthroughs, resulting in my emotional world being more clear and well defined. But when I reached out to those whom I had lost so much time with, in neglected relationships, I realized that they were in the same place I used to be. They were unable to recognize and attune to their emotional worlds.
This explains why I was never able to make the emotional connections with them that I was seeking. But this is still difficult to not only realize, but also experience. So the question is, how do we begin to rebuild connections we’ve lost so long ago, if we never really had them to begin with? Or how do we build new ones? Short answer: I don’t know. But, there are somethings I’m attempting, in hopes that I can start building my relationships a fresh.
Reconnecting with Ourselves & Our Relationships to Find Support
Finding support has been especially difficult work for me. Seeing as how I’ve had no guidance or role models in the realm of relationships. Everything I’m trying is either something new for me, or advice I’ve received from a trusted source, that I don’t fully understand. But I’m trying anyway, regardless of how difficult it may seem. Here are some of the ways I’m practicing personal connection, in hopes of fostering healthy connections and finding support.
This is an important one for me. I had zero consistency from those who were supposed to be my role mode for healthy relationships. I usually took on too much responsibility for the other people in my life, usually because they were telling I was making them feel a certain way, and none for myself. Now that I’ve recognized that I’m in control of my half of my relationships, I’m learning to be accountable for myself, in them. This is also the new standard I’m setting for those I’m in relationship with too. They need to be accountable for themselves in our relationship as well.
For example, I have a standing date with a friend of mine for Mondays. We’re both off during the day, and it seems a good time to connect. But we’ve been getting a little lax about our Mondays. This usually happens because we’re not reaching out to make plans for our standing date. And subsequently, letting them go by without getting together.
So, I’ve set some new boundaries in our relationship. This is a person I want to spend time with. But if the relationship is one sided, i.e. I’m doing most of the work, it isn’t an equal, reciprocal relationship. So the new boundaries are, every Monday, one of us will make a plan for the next Monday. And we’ll take turns making plans for the upcoming week. This way, we both have an equal role in making the relationship work. Instead of one person doing the work and letting resentment build about the lack of shared responsibility.
Practice, Patience & Persistance
But this doesn’t come naturally for some people. For those of us who have been severely neglected, the most basic relational maintenance and upkeep are a mystery. This is why practice, patience and persistence are of the utmost importance when connecting with those who have little skill in keeping relationships afloat. We sometimes need these schedules, like my Monday standing dates, to remind us that relationships sometimes need a little maintenance. Because if you’ve only ever looked after yourself, then there’s a good chance you won’t be able to tell what the subtle nuances are that your relationship with another needs shoring up.
This is especially true for those of us who have learned to neglect our own needs. If you were neglected and abandoned as a child, there is little chance you will have learned to gauge how you are being treated isn’t normal. If you haven’t had healthy connection, this type of attunement is like putting a puzzle together blindfolded. This is where self-care can teach us how to find support in relationships.
Self-Care as Guidance
Showing up for yourself is more than just a trend. It’s a way to give yourself love and respect. To find out who you are and what your likes and dislikes are, outside of the expectations of others. In the family I grew up in, we were constantly cutting each other down for not fitting the mold we thought they should fit into.
This was a terrifying place, and one difficult to practice self-care in. In fact, it was impossible to do so. We were so busy surviving, tending to our relational wounds, that we had no space to nurture the small things that brought us joy. In most cases, we didn’t even know what those things were.
What’s Stopping Us from Caring for Ourselves
But these were the pieces of ourselves that needed our care and attention the most. For example, one of my caregivers would tell me I was “fat and lazy” constantly. In a way, they were right. I was overweight and I had a poor work ethic. But I couldn’t have been more than 13 at the time. Any lessons I learned about weight management and the ability to be productive, I learned from them.
So instead of recognizing that we collectively had a weight problem, and that my caregiver did for others as a way to feel needed and simultaneously resenting those they did for because they were spreading themselves too thin, we called each other names. Like fat and lazy. This however, made everybody feel ill at ease. We were all just reacting to the emotions that were coming to the surface, without asking, “how can we change the ways we’re reacting to these emotion that won’t cause the other person pain?”
This is where being taught self-care, would have been a way for us to heal these wounds, and be more at peace in our own skins, together. By learning how to nourish ourselves in healthy activities and connections. Such as healthy eating habits or how to manage a healthy amount of responsibility, AKA boundaries, we could have communicated our emotion in a more positive way. Instead of tearing each other apart for not reaching an impossible standard. The result would have been, building self-confidence and self-worth. Having a sense of being intrinsically valuable. This is the power that self-care holds if fostered.
Reaching Out Often & Fostering Relationships
Another way I’ve been reconnecting with my relationships is a pretty straightforward one. I’m actively looking for ways to connect with the people I’m choosing to be a part of my life. This may seem like a no brainer but it can be somewhat counter intuitive.
When I was in my early twenties and thirties, my friend group was already incorporated into my daily routine. I worked with a fair amount of my friends, I lived with a few, and we usually drank at the same bar every night. This made it easy to find all my friends when we weren’t playing video games together.
But the older we got, the more self contained our lives became. We no longer shared apartments and seldom crashed on each others couches. We worked separate jobs and moved to different cities. These are all natural events over the course of a friendship. But if you let time pass without connecting, or without recognizing that new effort needs to be expended in order to keep the relationship alive, you could end up as I had. With very few friends.
Finding & Fostering Connection
I found myself without friends to share exciting news or people to grab dinner or lunch with. It was a lonely place that I realized I was in. So, I started where I was. With the few friends I had left, I made it a point to stay in contact with them. And the more I reached out, the more they reciprocated. I even began reaching out to people I hadn’t spoken to in decades, to find that we were able to pick up right where we left off.
These were welcome connections indeed. I now make it a point to stay connected with the people I’ve been cultivating a relationship with. We share recipes we’re cooking, hobbies we’re interested in. Visit interesting and new places together. Make future plans, things to look forward to. Everything you’d expect from a healthy friendship.
And the difference between the relationships of my past and those of my present? In the present, we are all putting in the effort to stay in touch with and foster these connections. The bonds are stronger now that we make the effort to take an interest in what the other is doing. Our common shared interests can no longer be summed up in the phrase, “can you pass me a beer.” Not that there’s anything wrong with sharing a drink together. Only drinking shouldn’t be at the center of the relationship. Celebrating the friendship should be the most important part.
In my family, there was a lot of time and emotion spent on how we thought we needed to act, to feel accepted. As though we needed to live up to some impossible and ever changing standard. One that I’m not even sure where it came from or how we came to a consensus on the subject. If everybody was so uncertain of themselves all the time, how could we know for certain how to belong? It kind of blows my mind a little to think about the origins of our standards.
But we had them none-the-less. And they did a lot of damage in our relationships. So shedding those standards, by first recognizing them, and actively working to deconstruct them through self-care, was imperative to heal from them. Some examples of impossible standards are, perfectionism, always being agreeable and never complaining. Fostering healthy connections is my new standard to living a more connected life with healthy friendships.
And hopefully, if I work on these places in my relationships with care and attention, we’ll create a shared sense of intimacy and support. A place were we can open to one another and share our goals and aspirations. A place where it’s safe to ask for and receive help. Without judgement or ulterior motives. To ultimately be ourselves.
Finding Support Takes Persistence
It’s difficult work, finding support. But it gets easier the more we do it. And the up side is, we have healthier, stronger and self-sustaining relationships. Win, win, win. So what’s holding us back from connecting in these healthier ways? Take a look at some of your friendships and see where there may be room for improvement using some of the suggestions above and start there. But equally as important, don’t forget to celebrate the places where your relationships are already going well. It’s good to recognize the work you’ve already put in. Peace & thanks for reading : )