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More on Forgiveness: When We’re Our Own Worst Enemy

Forgiveness. This is not an easy topic. And if you’re anything like I am, nothing gets past your ruthlessly critical eye. Especially your own doings. This has been the case for me for a very long time. Something I’m just now learning to tamp down. But it took some doing to even recognize how unforgiving I was. Also, how the people I chose to surround myself with shared my sense of self righteousness. I cringe a little, thinking back on how I was acting with those around me following suit.

But things have changed for me for sure. I’ve given up many of the old beliefs that were holding me back. I’m no longer the “score keeper” I once was and I’m more willing now to let things go. But if we’re being honest, that was never my intention. My goal was to be kinder, not as mean or petty as I once was. But there in lies the catch. In trying to whip myself into shape, to be kinder, more forgiving, I was unwilling to forgive myself for the ways I was behaving. So I needed to learn to extend a little of that forgiveness inward, before I could be kind and forgiving outwardly.

Forgiveness Starts with Yourself

This is so rote, so cliché that it should be a no brainer. But I feel as though each family, or person has to learn this anew each generation. I know from my experience that forgiveness was something that was held just out of reach from me by my family. And to be fair, I don’t know that any of us felt as though we were even worthy of being forgiven. We carried with us such an air of feeling as though we weren’t enough, no matter what we were doing, that it just didn’t register that we could be forgiven.

Knowing What Forgiveness Feels Like

So instead of trying to practice a little forgiveness, we chose to cover over our unworthy feeling selves. We did this with our holier than thou attitudes. This however, did little in the way of making us feel better about ourselves.

As a result, we all had very low self esteem. We were lonely as well. Mostly because we were pushing everybody away but, also due to us feeling as though we were the only ones feeling that we didn’t deserve forgiveness or kindness. We were trying to be perfect to avoid the critical judgements of each other, while holding everyone to the impossible standards we had created for ourselves. This was a dangerous combination.

The result? Not to my complete lack of surprise, we didn’t know what forgiveness felt like. We were so busy holding it back from each other, that we held it back from ourselves a well. And in the process, forgotten what it had felt like. However there was, for me, a lot of free floating anxiety and fear. Mostly of not feeling accepted by others. Or feeling loved and belonging. Like I said, it was lonely.

Holding Back

What’s so strange about this experience was, that I could actually feel myself unwilling to let go. I could feel myself withholding love and forgiveness from myself. It feels like when you see a small child throwing a tantrum because they are told to stop doing something against their will. And that’s what made this feeling so difficult to manage. Because there was also a feeling of contempt for the part of me that was withholding forgiveness.

The part that I feel should have known better. The part that should know that I’m only hurting myself. But then how should I have known if it was the only way I knew how to relate to my ability to forgive? I wasn’t taught another way. So I continued to hold back my ability to forgive myself.

Realizing Something is Off

It wasn’t until very recently that I put the pieces together of what I was doing and the effect it was having on me. I noticed when I was speaking to someone about how unreasonable my standards are and how I didn’t want to go back to my old ways of being. Then she said something to me that made me physically feel well, cared for. She asked me, “have you forgiven yourself for the ways you used to be?”

The answer to that question was most definitely a NO. And to be asked that, to directly recognize that I was treating myself as unforgivable, a criminal, was eye opening. A feeling of being relaxed, full, washed over me from head to toe. As though I had been waiting for a person to ask me just that for a very long time.

And finally, I turned my attention to that place. The place that had been treated as though it were volatile. But I couldn’t have done this all at once and without a little prep work. The years of self-care I have been practicing, paved the road for me to be comfortable enough to open up as I did.

Listening to Ourselves & Taking Good Care

Here was where I was able to listen to myself with a different kind of focus. I had been listening inwardly for a while now as part of my self-care routine. But now I’m able to differentiate between the parts of me that need my attention. Now I’m able to respond with more patience and know what I need.

Now I know that the part of me that was holding back was doing so because my love and forgiveness have been so abused in the past. I am scared to be open and loving enough, to forgive. Because then I’ll be wide open to the ruthless critical judgements I’ve been so used to from the past. Including from myself.

The feelings of being turned on by those who are supposed to love me. Supposed to be there for me and show me care. I could be left again, as I had been so many times in the past.

Reparenting Our Wounded Parts

And it’s here where the work really begins. We need to guide those parts of us we had trained to turn their backs on us and others to show forgiveness and love again. Even in the face of inevitable pain. Our wounds will be opened again. That’s an unavoidable part of life. But it shouldn’t stop us from living and loving fully. This is the part I keep getting stuck on. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

It feels crazy to open up again after so much abuse. Abuse of trust mostly. And of not being able to rely on others to take care of us when we’re at our lowest. But it’s a part of being connected. For me, I had to open up slowly. I was so confused as to what trust and love meant, that I was guarded all the time. Not knowing when the other would finally turn on me. Because in my experience, it was a matter of when, not if.

So I started small. Really small. After I set up a safe and cozy place that I could use as a retreat, I started venturing out into what had been historically unsafe territory.

Sitting With Those Who Hurt Me

I moved in with my father after my last relationship ended. It was the best thing that could have happened for me at the time. I needed the time and space to put my life back together after the mess I had made of it. It was pretty bad. I alienated almost all of my friends, wound up about 115k in debt, with no plans for my future and no idea how to move myself forward in life. I was a drift.

But while I was licking my wounds, I was spending more time with those who had hurt and abandoned me in the past. I was spending time in physical proximity to them. Even if it was just watching T.V. together. For half hour increments, I was slowly getting used to the old feelings that were arising while just experiencing their nearness. And it was tough at times.

I remember dissociating a few times just sitting on the couch watching a show. This was how badly my trust and emotions had been abused. I felt unsafe in the safest possible environment. I’m in an affluent neighborhood, surrounded by (now) loving and caring parents, no concern for food or shelter, surrounded by a network of caring and loving support, financially stable and genuinely cared for. It couldn’t have been any safer for me.

But there were those parts of me that still remembered what the pain felt like. It was here that I needed to turn my listening ear towards.

Knowing When to Take Space for Yourself

And I needed to listen inwardly. I had no idea that there was an entire world inside of me that had gone unnoticed for as long as I can remember. Numbing it out with the drinking and the medication. The mean natured opinions I would dispense towards anybody who would listen. Anything I could use to quell my inner emotional world, I would use to numb.

So when I started practicing self-care, I begun to slowly learn that I could be kind enough to treat myself with respect. This was also a slow process and one that needed time and space apart from those around me. Because there’s a part of all of us, who wants to feel a part of something. Some belonging. But in the process of seeking that belonging externally, if we’re not strong enough in ourselves, we can drown out the inner voice that so desperately needs our caring and loving attention.

This is where taking space, along with practicing self-care, paid off. My safe and cozy place acted as a center for me to come home to. To feel at ease just being. The clean atmosphere, the ambient lighting and the refreshing scents, all coming together with gentle music playing, creating a sense of ease. Safety. It was here that I found a way to listen to myself. Slowly and with care.

Releasing the Expectations

This is also a place without expectations. A place where I can allow myself the space to explore what my needs are. To slow down and repair some of what has been damaged by the missteps of my past misguided self. A place to heal, and to quote a Peter Bjorn and John song, a place where “I am more me”.

Growing up I had nothing but expectation after expectation piled on top of me. First from my family but then by my peer group. It seemed a never ending stream of rules dispensed to hammer me into something that was acceptable to others. Not true to who I actually am.

And who I am is a sensitive man who feels deeply. I’m a hopeless romantic and lover of music that’s a little on the lighter side. I’ve been listening to Mree a lot lately. The antithesis of how I was raised to be “manly”. I do still appreciate some things from the past. But I wouldn’t say that they define me. And I feel that this is an important distinction to make.

Be More You

Because we all have a version of ourselves that is the truest form of ourself. I know I do. And I’m uncovering a little more of it everyday. It’s strange at times. Scary too. But there are also tender moments mixed in with crests of excitement. A journey worth the taking to be sure. But a journey that starts with letting ourselves be fully us and that starts with letting go of the past. Forgiving ourselves and moving forward.

So if you’ve been on the edge of letting go of the past, let this be your permission to let go. Forgive yourself and move on to the next challenge. There’s too many possibilities to explore that we won’t be able to if we’re dragging the past around with us. Don’t worry what others will think. They’ll come around or they won’t. What’s most important is, to be there for yourself. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “forgiveness” by cheerfulmonk is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Creating a Safe & Calm Place

I was reading a book a while ago. It was about reparenting and in one of the chapters, it suggested creating a safe space. A place where you can go in your mind to feel safe, at ease. I’ve done work like this before, but what I realized was, that I didn’t have one. Everywhere I went, I felt as though I had to preform, never make a mistake. Always be at my best, preforming or feeling as though I was a guest. There was never a feeling of fostering ease to any of the places I could feel relaxed in. So I decided to change that.

Creating a Safe, Calm & Cozy Space for Yourself

After reading the chapter in the book, I scanned my life for what seemed like the safest place to be. And to my surprise, it was my bedroom. I wondered why this was the case, as I’m not particularly fond of the room. But for me, it checks all the right boxes.

It’s cozy. I have a few well placed textiles and trinkets, lending it a sense of my personality. It’s well lighted, as in it has all the right ambient lighting I enjoy. A few candles, some Christmas string lights and a diffuser that also has a low light function. The aforementioned diffuser that has any number of my favorite scents diffusing. It’s clean, comfortable and not too crowded. AKA, jut right for relaxing.

The Elements of Cozy

So this is where I started. I went about creating the place that would bring me the feelings of comfort and safety. But first, I needed to define what this meant for me. When I first started out on my journey to cozy, my safe and calm place was a section of the A.T. on Mt Killington, VT. There was a shelter I stayed in that had stunning views draped in mists and vibrantly green ferns and moss. Here was definitely a high point in my hiking in and around New England.

Section of the A.T. on Mt. Killington VT

But all I have of this place is a photo I seldom look at. Though I’ve made some plans to have this photo printed and framed to keep in my new safe and cozy space, it isn’t something that I can easily call on or see myself in and a part of. Something I feel is an important part of feeling safe. And that’s where my planning began. How do I want my safe and cozy place to look. What are the elements of safe and cozy.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Aesthetics

I appreciate good design and always have. Often I’ll find myself on Pinterest, picking out the the element of the house I someday want to build. I also spent a semester in architecture school pursuing design, when I thought that was a viable career path for myself. Design is something that has always been important to me. Especially with my surroundings.

So in my safe and cozy space, I want it to look a certain way. Inviting. A place that would make me feel more at ease just by virtue of being in and around it. To this end I’ve collected a few things that give it a sense of comfort for me. One example is of an afghan my grandmother knitted more than 30 years ago. It’s multi colored and comfy and made from “granny Squares”. Also my space is surrounded with small trinkets that brings me joy.

A skull painted with colorful chilies I picked up in Mexico. A mug with my first initial on it with a sphere of petrified wood resting on top. Pieces of driftwood I’ve collected and a jar of sea glass that was gifted to me. And some Tibetan prayer flags hang from my wall, making my space more me, more cozy.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Plants

I also have a verity of green little friends that adorn my room. I started collecting jade plants about eight years ago and was inspired by a friend who had a jade plant that he was in awe of. You can propagate these plants fairly simply from cuttings and I was seeing a lot of jade plants in the places I would visit day to day. One at the library, one at an insurance agency I would walk by. So I started collecting clippings from them.

I also went in search of air purifying plants that I could bring into my environment that would give it a boost of fresh, purified air. Snake plants soon joined the party, aloes and ferns as well.

The plants in general have helped to keep my room a bit more humid. But due to the latest additions, my ferns, I’ve been running a humidifier on a low level to keep the environment more suited to my plants. This helps to keep the atmosphere a little more comfortable for humans as well. Especially in the winter months. It also helps to make the room feel more alive. Something lush and inviting. The way a greenhouse feels in the early spring; fresh and green.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Lighting

As I’ve said above, lighting is something that is of particular importance to me. I’m not entirely sure what it is about a perfectly lighted room. It could be the soft way the light welcomes you to whatever task you are encapsulated in. Like sipping a cup of herbal tea by candle light. Or how a set of old Christmas string lights lend a sense of interest to something ordinary. Like the bright green chair and bamboo shelf that holds my ferns, all draped in a set of string lights.

Candles are something that have been important to me since I was in my early teens. They lend a softness to the room and have a timeless feel to them. I burn beeswax candles now due to their ability to clean the air of negatively charged ions. But the soft flickering light definitely invites an atmosphere of cozy and safe.

Also in the book on creating a safe space, they suggested watching a video of a fireplace online. I was skeptical at first, but decided to give it a go and was surprised at how relaxing it was. The sound of the crackling wood, mixed with the ambient flickering of the flames was calming. Cozy.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Scent

This is another important aspect of my surroundings feeling safe and comfortable. I used to burn incense. A lot of incense. I started when I was in high school. Thinking back, living next to Salem MA, The Witch City, was a big influence in my incense burning ways. I also had a girlfriend in high school who loved burning Nag Champa and I used to wear a lot of patchouli oil as well. Dirty hippy, check.

I don’t burn incense so much anymore, but I do use an oil diffuser to create a relaxing atmosphere when I’m ready to wind down. I have a few favorite scents that I keep on hand. Geranium, citronella, lavender, jasmine… There are more to be sure, but these are on pretty heavy rotation. Being surrounded by a comforting scent is a kin to being emersed in a hot bath. And for me, sometimes leaves me just as refreshed.

There’s also something elemental about steeping your environment in a smell that brings you peace. For me, it’s like the feeling of smelling a campfire on your clothes. It’s a reminder that pops up when you’re not expecting it that lulls you into a sense of feeling at ease. A soothing surprise. Something I’m sure we could all use a bit more of.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Victuals

For me, there are few things that bring up the atmosphere of cozy as a cup of herbal tea and a well cooked meal. Maybe a glass of lemonade : ) There’s something about the tea itself, where it comes from and how it’s processed that makes the experience not only soothing, by sipping the freshly brewed cup, but also interesting. An experience.

I often brew a cup of tea before bed and relax for a while before sleep. For example, a few days ago I brewed a cup of watermelon, lime, basil and cracked pepper tea. It tasted like a quiet summer evening and is quickly becoming one of my favorite teas.

Also I’ve come to enjoy a special self-care meal at the end of my week. It’s a way for me to show myself that, I’m taking care of my nutritional needs and I’m doing it by carefully selecting meals that I know I’ll enjoy. And the entire process is relaxing. From prepping and preparing the meal to when I partake. Usually surrounded by candles, my diffuser and the other elements, the word wellness is manifest for me.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Cleanliness

And there’s one element that brings the entire package together for me. Clean surroundings. When I say clean, I mean free of dirt, but also clutter. Organized, but not so much so that it feels sterile. The plants and their earthiness helps to give the environment a sense of clean but naturally so. Balance.

Being organized for me is something that makes me feel at ease, but it’s not something that came easily. My family cleaned a lot when I was younger. We still do and are good at it. But in my twenties I had gotten to the point of not caring for myself or my environment. One of my first apartments was so bad that it had trash drifts!

But even when I was living in this environment, I still took pleasure on the days I would clean every aspect of that apartment. I’m sure my roommates appreciated it too. But living in an orderly space lends to it a sense knowing what to expect. Things have a home which makes me feel more at home. It also makes me feel less apt to get up and clean. Which I enjoy, but I also value my down time as well.

Finding Your Elements

I believe this is what the Danes are referring to when they practice Hygge. And it is something that is important and often times overlooked. Or in my case, the 20 something version of myself would have had some machismo outlook on the idea of “pampering myself” thinking I was being “self-indulgent”. I was also raised on action movies where the mark of being a man was based on how brutally you could sacrifice yourself for the greater good. No bueno.

We need these places. Places where we can feel safe, comfortable and without reserve. Living as though you’re constantly on edge and stressed, asides from having health consequences, also pulls the joy out of life. If you don’t have a safe and calm place to go to, then we’re really free floating in place where fear and anxiety can come to visit at will. And finding your place, one that brings you peace and safety is important to keep these feelings at bay.

So make your space. Find your own elements and tailor it to your liking. Maybe you find peace and ease while you’re on your yoga mat. Or maybe there’s a spot in a park or forest that you’re drawn to. Whatever your elements are and wherever your space is, make sure you take the time to steep yourself in them. Because they will bring you peace.

And there is also something gratifying about building these spaces yourself. As I’m typing, I’m sitting in my room with all of the above mentioned elements, including some others as well. Such as music (which could be a post all its own) and I’m definitely feeling relaxed, cozy and safe. And I bring this place with me wherever I go.

Take Your Place With You

For example, while I was at work today I was imagining relaxing at the end of the day and enjoying doing my tasks in my peaceful setting. Just the idea of being in my cozy space brought me a sense of calm in the moments of dis-ease that came during the day. And this is the benefit of creating this space, because you are also creating a little peace of mind as well.

So if you’ve struggled in the past with relaxing or feeling safe, start your own safe, calm and cozy space. Start small if you have to, but keep going back to it. Because eventually, when you take the effort to care for yourself, you will learn to trust in yourself. And when you trust yourself, then you can learn to feel safe and love yourself : ) Take good care, peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Misty Mountain” by Shek Graham is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Withholding Love: Growing Up Unlovable

This is a difficult subject for me. Love was something that was withheld and doled out with condition. I’ve written about this before, but I’ve recently had an experience that reminded me that no matter what I was taught as a child, withholding love now is a conscious effort on my part. I’d like to explore some of the emotions surrounding this experience a bit and how I’m working to turn my habits around to be more inclusive of love and the people who I give and receive love and support from and to. Let’s jump in at the beginning.

Making the Choice to Withhold Love

This is something I remember very clearly. I couldn’t have been more than 6-7. I was laying in bed, wrestling with some thoughts when I made the decision to hold back. Hold back my caring and affection. It was a stubborn, sort of obstinate defiance. The type where you see a child reacting disagreeably to something their parent is forcing on them.

With arms folded and a stern frown sagging on their face, this was how I felt. I no doubt learned this behavior from my role models. But I remember the night I decided to emulate that emotional state in myself. And the thing is, I still do this to some degree. Even decades later.

Even now, when I have interactions with people who rub me the wrong way, I get that same stubborn sense of, “no! I’m not letting you in.” And it’s not as though I’m not allowing myself to disagree, or even dislike what a person is doing. I’m deciding that the person who is offending me gets a hard “no” when it comes to letting them get close to me.

Predictable Results, Feeling Lonely Not Love

And, no surprises here, this leads to feeling very lonely. Especially when you practice this often. For me, it also led to acting smug, feeling superior, being unforgiving and petty as well. A cornucopian of difficult emotions, leading to feelings of isolation. So with so much detriment to the choice to withhold love, why do we, did I, continue to choose to do so? For me it was out of fear.

The Armoring

I believe this is what people mean by the phrase, “letting down your armor”. From my experience, I know that I just wanted to feel loved and a sense of belonging. I was afraid of opening up to those who could love me because I had been so hurt by those who I had let in in the past. Also, the fear of having the love I was receiving being given on condition, was another frightening prospect.

There are only so many times you can be wounded by those who are supposed to love you, who then leave you alone with your wounding, without support, before you decide to shut everybody out completely. And I suppose that this is where I decided to shut others out. Put up the armoring and use smug, petty judgements and an unforgiving frame of mind to keep others at bay. This isn’t ideal.

Nor is it conducive to healthy and lasting relationships. And I think that the longer I had this armoring up, the more I was losing touch with my emotions. If you practice hardening yourself against emotions of love, kindness and empathy, and your ability to forgive, it stands to reason that you will eventually lose your ability to recognize them in yourself.

Finding Yourself and Your Love Again

So if it’s practice that gets us to a place of losing our compassionate and loving, feeling selves, then it is practice that hones these attributes as well. But before we can start practicing these traits again, we first need to feel safe doing so. This was the case for me and luckily I had some help during this process.

Being Bold Enough to Learn to Trust

For me, my trust had been abused so many times, in such odd and disturbing ways, that I needed not only to recognize that I could rely on people for support, but also learn that people were not objects to be used and disposed of. These were difficult lessons.

I had learned to use people in much the same way I used alcohol: that’s to say that I was only around them for the good times. If they, in anyway caused me the slightest bit of discomfort, I was out of there so quickly it would have surely made their heads spin. Unfortunately, most of those closest to me were the same way. So when things got very bad for me, I found myself almost completely alone. Save for the few true friends and family that decided to stand by me. Which to this day shocks me, because I was a poor friend. And that’s being generous.

Role-Modeling Destructive Behavior

But this was also how I saw my role models act. Gathering to drink and be rowdy while spitting venom at everybody and anybody. I was torn down so many times at the hands of my, “supports”, during the “good times” that I had no idea what it meant to be caring, loving and supportive. Or what a good time, really was. And worse yet, when I saw genuine love and support from others, I viewed it as weakness of character. Something to be made fun of and ridiculed, rooted out of myself. Like a Hallmark movie, too campy and unrealistic for the real world. Full disclosure, I now sometimes watch and enjoy Hallmark movies : )

And this was how I lived my life until my early thirties. Unloving and unforgiving. This was the reason I had so few healthy, lasting relationships. So what changed for me? How did I make the change from untrusting and unforgiving to trusting and able to give and receive love? It happened slowly and took practice.

Role Modeling Loving and Trusting Behavior

After I had been abandoned by someone who said they would always be there for me, I had to rely on family who had abandoned me in the past. This was no easy task. I had given up just about every way I had used to cope with my emotions and was putting myself in the lion’s den. A place that was decidedly unsafe for me to be.

Trust started to come slowly. One way I was learning to trust again was, we were polite to each other to the point of being almost cold to one another. This was a complete 180 from the family of my youth who had no boundaries in regards to personal space.

As an example, my family would search through all of my personal possessions and space as though I wasn’t allowed to have a separate sense of self. This left me feeling suspicious of how genuine the people who were around me were. Being polite helped me to realize that I was safe enough in myself and surroundings to be at ease. And the more we were polite, the more I learned I could trust these people I was sharing space with.

Finding Love Again

It was from this shared space of mutual respect and trust, that I found the courage to feel compassion for those who had left me in the past. They became more real to me. They were no longer the person who did me wrong so long ago. We were in the present, building a new foundation for a healthier relationship that started with being polite and kind to each other.

I could now feel compassion, concern and care for these people. This was not something entirely new, but it was something that was difficult to allow to be. To be with the vulnerability and uncertainty of relying on them again. Hoping that the same would not happen all over again.

But also finding forgiveness. For the ways I had been treated, so I could move forward and build the healthier, new versions of the relationships I so desired. This was no easy as well. But it was in these moments of mutual vulnerability that we all learned to open up, if not slowly and a tiny bit at a time, to each other. This is how we learned to love and support each other again.

Family Dinner Fridays

A great example of this is, after I had spent some time getting used to my new surroundings and starting to feel comfortable again around others, I suggested starting family dinner Fridays. A day where we rotate who chooses a recipe to cook and we all pitch in and help to make the meal together. My family has a love of food, so this seemed like a natural place to start.

And it was during these dinners that we learned to work together. Ask what the other needed, help the other with their task. We learned to divide and delegate the tasks and share the responsibility of our jobs. We also learned how to communicate with each other.

Not only in asking what we needed from one another, as far as tasks being done. But also to ask for clarification from one another. “What do you mean when you say…”, something we were just too proud to ask each other in the past. If you’ve read my post on “disagreement and belonging”, you’ll know we had trouble admitting we didn’t know something, even when it was impossible to know what the other was thinking without being able to read minds. Because we didn’t want to be seen as weak.

Seeing Communication as a Weakness

And this is really what it came down to. We saw communicating with one another as a weakness, because we wanted to be right and seen as superior. All because we wanted to feel belonging. But we were really just cutting each other off from one another with our lack of communication because we didn’t want to be hurt. Something that happened again and again with malicious intent. I believe this is where we stopped communicating, everything really. And this is where I learned how to hold back my love from the other.

“Love is Stronger Than Pride” – Sade

But the need to connect is strong in us. Because we need to connect, to feel loved and belonging. So we keep trying, even if it feels like we’re fumbling our way through our relationships. That’s definitely what it feels like for me sometimes.

And the desire to want healthier ways of connecting is the first step in connecting in healthier ways. I believe that we all have it in us to be together in healthy, reciprocal ways. Ways where we feel heard, respected and most important, loved.

And it is that desire to be loved that is stronger than the ways we choose to disconnect from each other. As Sade so eloquently put it so many years ago, “love is stronger than pride”. The pride that keeps us from sharing and communicating our love with one another. So if you’re looking to make stronger connections and share love more freely, know that it’s not too late to open up and share your loving self. I hope this helps in some way. Peace, thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Heart” by Pandalia_YUE is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Self Directed Guidance: It’s Not Always Easy

Guidance was something that I received very little of while growing up. And Much of the direction I did receive was either unhealthy or toxically Masculine. The emphasis in my family was more to the tune of dominance, not gentle or loving guidance. And I held to those lessons as law for a long time. They worked in our family for the most part. It was only when I stepped outside of my family dynamic, that I understood how dominance was not substitute for learning to work cohesively as a team. Not only that but also how destructive it could be.

And I feel as though I wasn’t the only one raised with these teachings. It feels like, from my perspective that, people for the most part are more inclusive and tolerant of one another in general. I also recognize that I live in a pretty liberal and progressive state. So my views may not be shared by most. But still, we’ve come a long way as a society in the past few generations alone. It’s not too far a stretch to recognize that we’re on an upswing as far as being more humanitarian goes.

And that’s what I’d like to talk about in this post. Focusing on the guidance that we may not have learned from our culture or families, but how we can cultivate the guidance we need to navigate our day to day lives. Keeping that sense of tolerance and inclusivity, keeping ourselves open to new experiences and people. Because it’s too easy to get caught up in the negativity that is happening around us. I know this from experience to be true. So let’s find some of that guidance we’ve been missing.

Guidance is Not Static, But Fluid

This is something I had trouble with when I first started looking to follow my values or other parameters I had set for myself. I took myself way too seriously and would not budge from the stances I took. I was unforgiving. A lesson that I learned early and would also learn to regret later in life. Unforgiving, unyielding, closeminded… All of these adjectives described my perspective in viewing my world.

And from this vantage point, it’s easy to feel as though your way is the only right way. And that everybody who isn’t following your lead is inept or inferior. This is an extreme example for sure, but it’s one that I know well because it was where I had set my standard. I needed to be better than others.

And what’s so strange about this was, I think I was doing it to be liked. Accepted. Of course I offended a lot of people acting this way, so I never did gain the belonging I so desperately was seeking. But what was so strange was, that I was completely blind to how offensive I was being. It didn’t even cross my mind that I was making enemies. My goal was to be right and seem as though I knew what I was doing.

Giving Up Being Right

For me, I had to let go the need to be right about whatever was on the table. Because needing to be right leads to aggression in communication. Expressing dominance over another who, as I viewed them, were “inferior”. This can lead to feelings of superiority, contempt, smugness and other relationship killing emotions if left unchecked. And most definitely severs connection.

What I decided to do instead of needing to be right was, listen. I say decided, because it was a choice I made. And not an easy one at that. In fact, I still struggle with it sometimes. Even the day I’m writing this article, I was in a meeting at work, hearing my coworker communicate disinformation in a vague manner. My first response was one of contempt.

But the more I listened to the conversation, the more I realized they were struggling with a difficult topic. They weren’t being willfully ignorant, they were expressing vulnerability in not knowing how to provide care for a certain situation. This is where I turned it around and started listening to the context behind the conversation.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up for Not Having The Guidance You Needed

And while I was listening to their conversation with a new perspective, the first thought that came to mind was, “man I’m being a jerk”. Insensitive maybe, but a jerk… I didn’t say these thoughts out loud and what’s more, these were the ways I was taught to be in relationship.

Most of all, I don’t want to turn that aggression inward after I’ve done so much work to notice and curb my aggression from judging others. So it’s important to remember to treat yourself with the same kindness and care as you would a dear friend. Because who are we to ourselves if not friends? And that’s not an easy task

For me, what helps is practicing kindness to myself. Especially when an emotion comes up, I inquire where it’s coming from, using soft and gentle guidance in asking what I need. Why is this emotion coming up now and how can I provide care for it? The part that’s most rewarding about this process is, the more often I practice this kindness inwardly, the easier and kinder I feel. It’s quite the change from my old ways of treating myself.

How You Treat Others is a Reflection of How You Treat Yourself

The ways I used to treat myself was with a sharp and demeaning criticism. Thinking back on it now, it seems counter intuitive. With all the ways I was practicing being critical of others while acting superior, you would think that I had a pretty high opinion of myself.

And outwardly that was what I was projecting for sure. But as I said above, I just wanted to feel belonging. So most of the ways I was acting were to gain approval from others. And when I didn’t measure up to my impossible standard, I tore myself down in the same ways I tore others down.

I also was surrounded by others who were just as judgmental as I was. So our relationships were founded on a never ending cycle of judging and being judged by one another. We were stuck in unhealthy relationship with no clear guidance on how to steer ourselves clear of the constant wounding we were inflicting.

So what’s the catalyst for change that we so desperately need to break free from this cycle? How do we make the change from judgmental critic to kind and attentive listener? For me, it started when I felt truly heard.

Feeling Heard is Healing

I used to work in the food industry. I did this because I didn’t have any guidance in searching for and fostering interests that would later bear fruit in the form of a career. So I did what was easy, which was working in a kitchen. These were some pretty tough environments. Physically demanding yes, but also relationally.

We were relentless in our insults towards one another. Arguments were the norm and usually fueled by inflated egos, lots of caffeine and uppers as well as alcohol. It was an unhealthy environment to say the least.

I later would switched from kitchens to bakeries, which were slightly less aggressive, but only physically. There was still the same amount of petty arguments and hatred that was present in the kitchens I worked in. So it was in this environment, that to my complete surprise, that I felt heard for the first time since I was a child.

Coming to Terms with Feeling Heard

And I wish I could say that I felt heard and everything was alright. But the truth is, things got a lot worse before they got better. I hadn’t felt heard in so long, that when I did, I was flooded with all of my neglected emotions. Ones I had been ignoring for decades and that I just hadn’t been given the guidance to know how to handle them with the care and sensitivity they needed.

At first, I felt elated. I couldn’t believe that somebody was paying attention to me. And what’s more is that they seemed to like me for who I was. This came as a shock, because as I said above, I surrounded myself with people who were just as critical and condescending as I was. To be liked without the judgments was a whole new experience for me.

Making Poor Choices While Learning How to be with My Emotions

So I ran towards that feeling. All I knew was that I didn’t want to let the source of that feeling get away. This was where my poor choices came into play. I hurt a lot of people in the process of running towards what felt good and ultimately was left by the person who made me feel heard. This was the last thing I wanted to happen.

But it gave me the chance to stop running long enough to feel what had been neglected for so long. I was able to learn to sit with the uncertainty, of not feeling belonging, not feeling lovable. And I was able to do it with Kindness.

This kindness was something that awoke in me after I had felt heard again. I was learning how to listen to myself and my needs and in turn, learning how to give myself the guidance I so desperately needed to manage my emotional world. These were the lessons that I was never taught. On how to listen, be kind and love myself.

Love is Something Given From the Inside Out

And it was from this place of feeling heard and listening that I could feel love. I needed to feel loved first, with somebody else, before I could know it intimately in myself. It was then that I was able to practice it with myself, by listening to my emotional needs with kindness and then practice that same love and listening to and with others.

But it is a practice. It’s something that you need to cultivate in order for it to become second nature, strong. And to cultivate love, you need to give yourself the boundaries and structure necessary, to give guidance to your emotions. Because love is strong, but if you let other emotions take hold, they will crowd out and smother the seeds of love.

It Helps to Find Others Willing to Listen

And none of this is possible without finding people who are willing to listen and mirror what you are wanting to cultivate. With my old friends, I was practicing contempt and judgment. Now I’m choosing friends based on how supportive they are. This took some getting used to as well. But it is worth the transition to feel a deeper connection than bonding over how attractive we found some woman. Or how much we drank the night before.

I have a photo on my desk of me with friends of mine. We’re at their wedding in a small town in Western Mass. They had just gotten married and we are pumping our fists in the air. These are the people I think about when I think of support, unconditional. They are kind and always willing to listen when I need an ear.

Friends like these are essential to helping give our emotions the guidance to be the best version of ourselves in a kind and loving way. And they’re out there. But you need to do some digging. So practice in yourself what you’re looking for in others and you will naturally attract those who will compliment you.

This can seem abstract too. When you talk about guidance and kindness as a “practice”. But it’s something that’s a felt sense once you understand what to do. So keep practicing! Don’t be discouraged if you still feel judgmental or are feeling unkind to yourself and those old feelings come bubbling up. As I said above, the more you practice kindness, the easier it becomes. Like second nature. Peace : ) thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “arrow” by alandberning is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Disagreement and Belonging: Fear of Being Unloved

In the environment I grew up in, when you had a disagreement with someone, it was taken personally. It was difficult to have your own opinions in my family. For some reason, our opinions had to be right. And more to the point, others had to agree with us and our opinions. There was so much fear around not being seen as being right, that it dominated all of our interactions. That’s what I’d like to take a look at in this post. About how our feelings of belonging are connected to the ways we feel we have to act during a disagreement in order to feel loved.

What’s Between Us and Feeling Loved?

In my past experience, disagreements were usually events filled with all sorts of negative emotions. Resentment being one, along with anger and feeling hurt. No wonder we didn’t want to be wrong. Who would if it constantly brought up these difficult emotions. But there in lies the problem: we’re not always right. Nor do I want to be. Where would the spontaneity be, the fun and the surprise?

But when you see being right as the gateway to your belonging, that’s when we begin to grasp at what will help us feel a sense of that belonging. Because in our situation, we took it personally when we had a disagreement. There was no middle ground or conceding to the other. We were thinking in black and white terms. Feeling as though we had to be right and the other had to be wrong.

And what followed was a false sense of security. Of feeling righteous in our rightness while the other was left to lick their wounds. So with all this adversity, we kept each other at a distance. We were either ashamed of our feeling wounded by being wrong, or wanted to bask in our rightness while the other felt inferior. This was no bueno for sure.

Being Wounded by Disagreement Meant Feeling Unloved

And this was where we learned to feel unlovable. The constant wounding and retreat from each other left us all fearful. Unwilling and scared to connect to one another because we had no healthy ways of doing so. We would numb our feelings with alcohol while we were together, but we were still tearing everybody around us down. And the numbing would only work for so long as we were drinking. We would eventually have to confront the wounds we had inflicted and had endured during our connecting and disagreements.

We only got together on the holidays, because we were too afraid to feel the hurtful ways of connecting that were inevitable when we got together. An extreme example of this is when I was kicked out of my house at 19. There was no one disagreement that triggered my expulsion, but I believe this was a direct result of us being too frightened of coming to terms with all the damage we had done to one another through the years. All the wounds from our traumatic ways of disagreement with each other were left to fester. And we just weren’t strong enough to feel the hurt that had been building.

This Lead to Isolation and Numbing Our Pain

As I’ve said above, we isolated from one another. Then we numbed the pain of feeling lonely. Instead of trying to reach out and understand each other’s pain, we drank because it was easy. Looking back now, there was nothing easy about all the pain we were trying to cover over. Managing that amount of hurt was a fulltime job. And we were constantly feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by the task.

But we kept going because it was all we knew. We never learned the language of our own, or each other’s emotional experiences. It was a place we were unwilling to go because it was too raw.

So we spent a lot of our time hiding from one another. But as the old adage says, the way out is most definitely through. Through the wounds unattended, the fear of betrayal, the insecurity from disagreement and ridicule it inevitably brought. There were loads of reasons to hide. But what takes true strength and courage is to sit with the fear. Feel what we were unwilling to feel. It’s then that, as Mark Twain put it, and I’m paraphrasing, that we resist the fear, master the fear.

Learning to Master Our Fear

This is something that takes a lot of strength to accomplish. And it isn’t usually a one shot. It takes lots of practice and patience. But also, and arguably most importantly, to know that you’ll come out the other side of your fear intact.

Because when you’re caught in the grip of fear, it often times feels a though that’s all there is and all that will ever be. No wonder we and so many like us choose to numb the emotion. If you’re stuck in fear and the people who are supposed to guide you out of it are the ones abusing you, then you would grasp at anything that made you feel better in the moment. Regardless of how dangerous or self destructive it may be.

Recognizing You’re Stuck & Covering Over Your Fear

And that’s where we were, for sure. In fact, everything we were doing was something that was designed to make us feel more alone, more hurt. From acting superior to the other for a quick ego boost. To the caffeine to keep us going in the morning and alcohol at night. All our ways of coping with our fear, the ways we tried to manage it, were all unsustainable.

So in order for me to recognize that we were stuck in the grip of an unhealthy fear management cycle, I had to take some time apart. And make some decisions that would have important consequences, changing my life’s trajectory.

Hard Lessons Learned

While I was in the grip of my own fear, I had set up my life as I had been shown to. Modeled for me by my family. Tearing others down to build myself up and looking for all sorts of unsustainable ways of feeling belonging. And what’s strange about this way of being is, that I surrounded myself with people who were also practicing these unsustainable ways of being in relationship.

You would think that there wasn’t enough room for all the inflated egos. But we struck a strange balance between tearing each other down and building ourselves up. It was as though we were taking turns, on a rotation. We needed the other around to tear down, so we endured being torn down ourselves. It was definitely unhealthy and maybe a little co-dependent.

A disagreement turned into attacks on our character. Which turned into a running “joke”. Everywhere you turned, there was another person waiting to say something snarky. Belittle you in some way. And these were the people I called friends.

Turning the Tables

What woke me from the fear was when I thought I fell in love with a woman. In fact, I didn’t know what I was feeling. I had been so numb from a life’s time worth of covering over hurt emotions, that I didn’t know what I was feeling at any given time. Until I became infatuated with a woman.

When we were in the infancy of our relationship, the woman I was infatuated with made some devastating decisions while drinking. After which we talked about quitting drinking together. So I gave up alcohol for her, and she me. For a while.

I gave up drinking to numb my feelings. And still to this day only have the occasional drink. She however was unable to commit to the same level of dedication that I had committed to. We started fighting more and in the end we broke up over something that was not inconsequential, but blown out of proportion, to detract from the ways I was asking her to stay faithful to me by not drinking. One disagreement lead to another and by the time I realized what had happened, I was being asked to leave.

Waking Up is Difficult

And yeah, it was difficult. But I’m better, stronger now for going through it. I’m building better relationships now because of it. And yeah, those relationships have there ups and downs. There are times I worry about those I work with, because I think they’re pushing themselves too hard. Or feeling like they need to get everything perfect. But I’m experiencing the relationships in the present, without hiding behind some method to alter how I feel.

A disagreement will still come up now and again. But what’s different between now and the old ways I used to view disagreement is, that I no longer feel that I’m not valued for feeling or thinking about something differently. And what’s really incredible is, I’m now able to admit when I’m wrong. Or that somebody has an idea that would work better than my own. Something I never would have thought possible only a few years ago!

Disagreement is Healthy

And finally, in case no one ever told you as I was never told, disagreement is healthy. We don’t have to agree all the time in order to get along. And agreeing is definitely not prerequisite to belonging or feeling loved.

If you were brought up in a similar situation to mine, it may be worth your while to examine your relationships. Do you feel worse about yourself after a disagreement often? Are you afraid to disagree with those who are closest? If so, why? Do you feel ashamed of being wrong or have you been shamed for being wrong. These are unhealthy ways of disagreeing.

Try taking some space from the relationships that make you feel shameful. Instead, practice being open to being wrong. Without shame or judgement, just let the idea that you are wrong at times, be. And when it comes up in your daily interactions, own it. Acknowledge that you were wrong and if applicable, thank the person for pointing it out. If you’re anything like me, it will be a difficult task at first. But for me, it got easier the more often I practiced it.

So good luck reader. As I’ve said, admitting you’re wrong and owning it can be no easy task if it’s historically gotten in the way of your feeling belonging and loveable. But know that this isn’t the case. There are people out there that are willing to build healthy relationships while still being able to tolerate a disagreement now and again. And who knows, maybe even making the relationship a little stronger in the process. Peace 🙂 and thanks for reading.

Related Reading: How to Own a Mistake

Image Credits: “Disagreement” by mikecogh is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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