I was talking with somebody who is close to me a few weeks ago when I realized that they weren’t really listening to what I was saying, or rather they inferred or interpreted what I was saying differently from how I meant it. I noticed that this happens a lot with us. In fact, it happens all the time. And not just with this person either. It’s been happening with many of the people I’ve been close with. Especially when I was a child.
At first I though that the person was being self-absorbed. Not listen because what they were thinking about was more important, or rather assumed they knew what I was saying and made a split second judgement about what my intentions are. This is and was a frustrating place to be. To feel as though someone is telling you how you feel or what your intentions are.
Narcissistic or Self Absorbed, Is There a Difference?
When I was a child, I had caregivers that were, well the only way to describe it was vein. They talked about most people and things with a condescending tone in their voice. One was also a model when they were a young adult and had a shopping habit that was borderline unhealthy. I remember their home was filled with caches of clothing and make-up as though they were stock piling for an odd kind of emergency.
This trait was something that was passed down through the generations in my family. It seemed as though they were constantly buying new things to feel some sense of belonging or to look the part. I’m not entirely sure what the drive was behind the urge to shop, because we never spoke about it. But the primping and need to buy new things mixed with the condescending demeanor towards others for the ways they looked, led me to believe that it had something to do with how they were being seen. Translating to narcissistic tendencies. And maybe an unhealthy way to bond as well. This may very well be the impetus behind my writing this blog.
But regardless, the above way of being was slightly different from the latest conversation I had, the one I referenced at the start of this article. Where the person was slightly indifferent, but the results were the same: nobody was listening to anybody else. We were just guessing at what the other person was thinking and feeling instead of asking them directly. It was a giant game of mind reading where no one was the winner and the result was, there were an awful lot of feelings going unrecognized, neglected.
So We’ve been Neglecting Each Other, Now What?
When I realized that we weren’t not listening to each other, instead we were hyper focused on what the other person’s intent was in what they were saying, without asking directly, this made sense to me. This is what I had been doing for years. I was searching out hidden meanings in the conversations I had with those closest to me to find out what they wanted from me. I thought, “maybe if I can figure out what they like and be that, I’ll be liked and accepted by them.” This however did not workout in my favor.
I spent a lot of time, as I’ve said above, trying to read between the lines to infer what the other wanted from me because I was too afraid to ask directly for fear or being rent limb from limb. We were mean in my family. But everything I seemed to try, I was rejected for time and again. It didn’t seem as though there was anything I could do to gain their favor.
At the mere suggestion that they showed some positive regard towards something or someone, I clung to it like a life jacket, hoping I could resemble something they liked, however small. As I’ve said before on this blog, that’s how I became to live like Jim Morrison. After being scolded by my family when I made fun of “The Doors” because I thought it would make me look cool. Again, did not work out in my favor.
So when all of my “hustling for approval” didn’t work, as Brené Brown so aptly put it, what was there left for me to try? Well, by the time I figured out that no matter what I did, I was never going to be good, cool or desirable enough to win the affections of my caregivers, I had already done some serious damage in my life and to my relationships.
I left my then beautiful wife for a woman two thirds my age and reverted back to my former self from my early twenties. It wasn’t pretty. After the woman I left my wife for, left me because I left my then wife for her, and rightly so, I was forced to move back in with my father and stepmom, or become homeless. Spoiler alert, I chose family.
I say rightly so not in a way to chastise myself. I’ve been through enough of that in my earlier years to know shaming yourself into change doesn’t work. But because I needed the time to sort out an entire battery of emotions, a life’s time worth of experiences that led me to where I had ended up. I was making poor decisions based on the unhealthy lessons of my past. I wasn’t going to change until I had the chance to examine where I was, what got me there and new ways of being that were healthy and sustainable.
What Got Me Here
The short answer, on how I got to a place in my life where I had done so much damage to my relationships is, fear. I was scared to death that I was missing something. Something I should have learned by now that would grant me access to those who were supposed to show me love, their affections. Only there was nobody there to teach me what it was that I was missing.
So I was left alone and filled with fear. Never quite knowing what to do or where I was headed. Hitching myself to any relationship that showed me even the smallest amount of acceptance. Afraid and lonely was the way I spent a majority of my life. Because it’s difficult to build healthy and lasting connections when you don’t feel as though you are connected to anyone in the first place. You need a role model, a grounding point. Some foundation to build healthy, unconditional acceptance.
And unfortunately, these types of relationships aren’t taught at school if you don’t learn them from your family or those close to you. Add being an introvert as I am, and a healthy dose of fear from the trauma I’ve experienced and you have a recipe for isolation from others for fear of being hurt again. No bueno.
And it was this fear of connecting to others again that was holding me back from making any connections. I was so busy nursing my wounds that I didn’t realize I couldn’t heal them alone. Something Tara Brach has said often in her talks comes to mind. “We were wounded in relationship and we heal in relationship.” And I couldn’t agree more. If it wasn’t for the love and support of those closest to me now, I couldn’t have come through what I have.
Where Do I Go From Here?
When I began to defrost from my emotional freeze, the one I had initiated when I had been hurt one too many times in my youth, I felt a great amount of fear. It seemed as though everybody I had a relationship with currently, reminded me of someone I knew in the past whom had done me harm. This is a vulnerable place to be.
But what’s got me through it and what’s still getting me through is, coming to terms with what’s happened to me in the past with those I should have been able to trust. I can’t change the past. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to play God and create some sterile version of what could have been. I like the person that I’ve become now that I can feel again.
Also, I’ve grown quite a bit from the person I once was. So I can see the situations that my caregivers were going through and the stress that they were under. It may not make it right, but it’s at least relatable. I don’t know how I would have reacted to the situations my caregivers went through. It wasn’t easy for any of us, that’s for sure.
Growing Into Kindness
So how am I moving forward from the wreckage of my past? I wish I could say it was as easy as forgive and forget. Forgive, yes. But I have a feeling that that may take a while to fully understand what that means. I’ve tried forgetting. And for me that meant a lot of covering over what I was trying to feel all along. This is how I froze my emotions. But I know that I’ve got to start with being kind.
Kind first to myself, then to others. Especially those that remind me of the people I’ve known from my past. Because this is where I feel the most vulnerable and therefore, what needs the most love. And I’m doing it with a lot of help from others.
For those interested, this talk from Tara Brach goes into detail of the effects trauma has on the individual. It’s one that was immensely helpful for me when I was defrosting. It talks about how in shamanistic cultures, they believe when a person is greatly traumatized, their soul leaves the body. The person is then surrounded by loving and caring community to invite the soul to come back. And this invitation is really one of being ready to heal.
Heal from the wounds of our past while learning to love ourselves and others as we heal. It’s really an amazing concept and a process I’ve come to understand as I come to terms with the events in my life that have left a mark. And this is where we can begin to realize what our full potential really is and what we’re capable of.
And Don’t Forget, Be Patient
This whole process takes time. And especially patience with ourselves. It’s difficult to sit in the feelings of pain that we have to experience in order to go through them and come out more whole on the other side. Just like the lyrics from Peter, Bjorn & John’s “Objects of my Affections” suggest, after we begin to heal, “I am more me”. And that’s a good feeling : ) Peace, and thanks for reading : )