This is something I know well. I’m not sure how long this post is going to be, but I’m just going to shoot from the hip on this one. I’ll explain my experience growing up, how I was raised and how I took those lessons from my early childhood care-givers and completely isolated myself from all those that tried to get close to me because I was acting as though I was better than just about everybody who came into my life. It’s a lonely story, but one that needs to be told incase others are stumbling down the same path I had.
If you are, know that it’s not to late to change things for the better. And I’ve also learned that people can be pretty forgiving. So no matter where you are on your journey, don’t lose heart! It gets better once you realize you need to shift your perspective.
When Your Way To Feel Belonging Is Through Exclusion
I grew up around a lot of big personalities. My family was loud, opinionated and rancorous at times. I don’t remember a lot of the details from my early childhood, but the main impression I got was, there were a lot of us and we had a good time.
Though, this changed abruptly with the death of a family member, we were all still pretty vocal about our opinions of others. It seemed that no matter who was being scrutinized, there was always fault to be found with the other person. The old adage, “if you don’t have anything nice to say…”, was not observed in my family’s moral or value repertoire.
And this was our main mode of feeling a sense of belonging with one another, by tearing another down. This makes me a little sad to think about it now. I don’t remember any one of my care-givers ever complimenting somebody else in the family. Not even once. I think I may have received a compliment, about my appearance. But even that’s vague and I’m not entirely sure it actually happened the way I remember it. Ah, I remember! One of my care-givers told me I had nice calves and I think it was the only compliment I ever received. This is actually a little mind blowing now that I’m writing it down.
Dangling the Carrot
The one thing my family excelled in was withholding love and affection from one another while hinting or suggesting that they could love you, if only you were different in some way. Usually to fit their mold or idea of how you should be. It seemed that everybody had an image of what the perfect life should look like and if you didn’t fit, you were tossed to the side like a piece of garbage.
This may seem like a harsh assessment, but as I’ve said above, there wasn’t any positive reinforcement or any caring and understanding persons available. You either did what was expected of you and were granted permission to ridicule others together, or you were ostracized for not belonging, being ridiculed yourself. It was a polarizing and very sad place to be caught in the middle of.
So I did what was expected of me. I followed suit and made fun of others, acted superior to just about everybody and joined in on the consistent stream of ridicule that we were laying on one another. It was either that or be completely shunned for daring to be different. These were the building blocks of how I continued to manage my relationships outside of my family. This did not bode well for me in latter years.
When You Realize You Haven’t Made the Best Decisions
Again, this way of living did not leave me in a good place. I had very little emotional support, few friends and my family was almost nonexistent. I had found myself in unhealthy relationships, and living in a pretty consistent state of fear. This was something I hadn’t really come to understand until somewhat recently.
What I realized, after thinking about the type of romantic relationship I wanted for myself was, that I am deathly afraid of all the women in my life. The women in my family were so mean, so cutting, with their words and actions, that I constantly felt on edge around them. As well as feeling this way around people that remind me of them also.
My female family members were people I was trained to see as loving individuals, only to feel that they were abusive in the most subtle of ways. And they knew no restraint in their ire which made it all the worse. As an example of the types of comments they were capable of, one of my family members had told me that another of my family members would kill themselves if I was a certain way. I couldn’t have been more than fourteen at the time, but that remark to this day still shakes me a little.
There was a callous disregard for the emotions of others in all of our interactions, which was something I picked up and used as a survival tactic to protect myself. I was also so numb from the constant woundings, that it was difficult to feel anything at all. Also this is one of the main reasons I had such trouble building meaningful and lasting relationships with anybody. I just couldn’t bring myself to be open to another after being so thoroughly abused verbally. The idea of showing my vulnerabilities to someone who could do so much damage to me, one of the cornerstone of building intimate relationships, seemed crazy to me.
So, I avoided being in relationship with others. I acted larger than life on the outside to hide the fear of being hurt again by those I loved most. I also distanced myself from just about everybody in my life, further and further until I had only a few supports who stuck with me even though I was actively trying to push them away. I would like to again extend my gratitude to those who did stick by my side. You mean the world to me. Thank you <3.
Making Better Decisions: Hey, You Can Only Go Up From the Bottom
I hadn’t really realized how isolated I was until I decided to break off my relationship with my now ex-wife. Almost all the relationships I had were through her, and the ones I kept were based on activities such as drinking or avoiding responsibilities. So when I finally took the reigns of my life back from the void I created by pushing everybody away, I found that there was a lot of work that needed to be done.
I started by making a list of those who decided to stay in my life. The title of this list is, “stay connected”. And that’s jut what it’s for. One of the things I realized on how I had managed my relationships in the past was, that I did not pay attention to those closest to me and what was happening in their lives.
If listening to others and remembering what they say sounds like a no-brainer, you’re right. But I was never shown how to foster a friendship. Never taught that people had feelings that could be delicate at times and that the ways to nurture and grow a relationship was to water it with love by showing the other attention and a willingness to be there for them and care about what they’re going through. Another cornerstone of friendships. We were too busy cutting each other apart, searching for vulnerabilities to capitalize on to concern ourselves with caring about the other and their feelings or experiences.
Hurt People Hurt People
It’s also important to recognize that the people who hurt me by acting in the ways they did, aren’t monsters. I may be painting a pretty bleak picture with the types of things said and done, but they were only doing what they felt they had to in order to feel safe. I recognize this now as their insecurity or feeling they needed to control another to feel safety and belonging. Which makes it not personal in a way. It wasn’t about me, it was about them surviving.
I was in their shoes, I know how lonely and fearful they felt. I did the same things when I was in their shoes. But there are other ways of being and it’s important to know, that understanding why someone did something isn’t the same as condoning it.
So if the old saying is true, “hurt people hurt people”, than the opposite must be true too. Loving people then love people. And this is how I’m trying to change to reflect my new way of moving through the world.
Instead of focusing on all the ways I’ve been hurt by those who should have been there to support me, I’m now focusing on first, taking good care of myself, and second, extending care to others. This is no easy task if it’s something you’re not used to doing. I had to swallow a lot of pride first in order to be able to reach out to some people who had wronged me in the past.
But it’s worth it. knowing that I’m trying to be stronger. Building resilience to the pains endured in the past makes me more able to weather the emotions that are more difficult to feel.
I Know I Need to Open Up, But How?
I know… This is, as Melba would say, “no easy”. But necessary if you want to have meaningful relationships and friendships. A lot of it comes down to blind faith. Trusting that the other, whomever they are, won’t tear you down. It’s also worth mentioning that there are no completely safe relationships.
We are going to get hurt from time to time if we are in relationship. That’s inevitable. But the types of hurt aren’t usually that bad. And if they are shaping up to look more like abuse, then maybe it’s time to revisit your boundaries in the relationship. But there is a certain amount of collateral damage that comes with being connected. Luckily, the benefits far outweigh the detriments or the other option, being completely isolating yourself to avoid pain.
If you’ve been cut deeply by others, it’s best to start slow. Find a few people, one or two people who you can trust enough to start building your new friendships, even if they’re old friends with a new beginning. Find out what your personal values are, i.e. humility, honesty, kindness, caring, and find ways to practice them in your relationships with these new friends. This may look as simple as going for a walk with them, or saying things that are supportive, practicing and establishing your values. This will build trust.
And the more you practice these values, the stronger they will become. Your friendships will be held in the foundation of these values the more you practice them. This is how trust is built. It’s worth mentioning that this is a slow process, and it’s best not to rush into these relationships bearing the full extent of your vulnerabilities.
We all know people who over-share in inappropriate ways. Aka level jumping in friendships. It’s best to get a feel for how the relationship is going first. What is the other person sharing? Is it mostly small talk? Or are they giving you a peek at their inner worlds? Depending on what they are sharing, maybe you adjust to their level of intimacy. And if you feel like going a little deeper, push the boundaries a little and see how they react, but start small. If they are sharing about their S.O., share a similar story about your S.O. and build from there. See where it takes you. Pretty soon you’ll be old friends swapping stories and creating memories while staying true to your shared, established values.
Don’t Worry, It Gets Easier
And don’t forget, this is not easy work. It takes a lot of strength and will power to start off on this road. But if you’ve found that you have acted superior to others as a form of isolating yourself to cover over feelings of insecurity as I had, just know that it gets easier with practice. The more I engage with people in honest ways, the more I show care to those closest and the more I suck up my pride when I feel like I’ve been slighted and focus on what really matters, the easier it gets.
So make a list of the people you want to surround yourself with. The people you want to build your life together with. Then make it a point, a priority to get involved with what they’re up to. Keep a running list, as I do, of what they’re going through so you can be a better friend to them. Whatever it takes, get involved (thanks Jordan.) And don’t forget to show a little humility as well. I practice this when somebody says I’m great in some way by saying, “no, we’re great”. Better together : ) Peace and thanks for reading.