Finding Your Values: What Are They? How Do You Know?

Values were something I hadn’t thought much about in my youth. I had a lot of opinions and I had a self-righteous streak when defending those opinions, but I never thought of them as values. Or even thought of them in a sense of structure or order. In short, I felt that most of the time I was right, and everybody else needed to catch up. This, as you have probably already guessed, did not win me very many friends. Nor was it a very sustainable way to navigate my life. I burned a lot of bridges being unforgiving. And if I could change it, I would.

But with that said, I feel the best way to atone for past mistakes is to make healthier decisions going forward into the future. And for me, that started with hammering out my basic values.

So What Are My Values?

For me, values are forms of expression that are lived through ourselves, our personality and actions. For example, one of my values is honesty. The simple act of being honest in my day to day interactions is something that is important to me. But this is something that I learned later on in life. And unfortunately, I had to learn this the hard way.

I was likely to say anything that would get me what I wanted when I was young. And later in life as well, I would think nothing of embellishing the truth. This was mostly due to me feeling as though I wasn’t worth the attention or affections of another. I was so use to being left on my own, that I would say just about anything for someone to want to be around me. And what was so strange about how I was acting, all to be seen and liked by others, that when somebody did show an interest in who I was, I was usually clueless. I was so wrapped up in what Brene Brown calls, “hustling for approval” that I was blind to those who would have been good friends.

Pay for Your Ticket

What turned honesty into one of my values was, while I was riding the commuter rail two stops over to the next town on my way to an appointment, I decided that I was going to always pay for my ticket. This seems like a simple decision to make. And it was. Only, before that day I had always looked for a seat with a zone tag on it, hoping to fool the conductor into thinking I had already paid for my ticket.

I could afford the ticket, so it wasn’t an issue of saving the $3.25 that the ticket costs. I was just trying to be sneaky, get away with something because I could. And one day I realized that that is not the type of person I wanted to be. Hiding from a conductor to avoid paying $3.25 seemed childish to me the more I thought about it. So it was this simple decision of always paying for my ticket, where my value of honesty was forged. And as far as values go, this is an important one.

Without it, we wouldn’t have many relationships founded on trust. This was a problem that I kept finding myself confronted with. Most of the people I had in my life, also didn’t have many values. And it wasn’t until I started practicing my values, that I came to know my true friends. And it feels good. Being able to rely on my friends, no matter what : )

My Short List of Values

Okay, so honesty is a pretty universal one. But how do we find out what our values even are if you’re starting from scratch. Much in the way that I started finding what I valued. As with most things when I’m uncertain of what to do, I start a list. And finding my values was no different. Below you’ll find a short list of the ways I want to live my life:

  • Kindness to myself and others, be forgiving, don’t talk badly about others or myself.
  • Physically fit and a healthy lifestyle so I can avoid injury and stay healthy. Another way to care for myself 🙂
  • Patience and calm
  • Women are not sex objects
  • Hard working and take pride in my work. Do a good job whatever I’m doing. Don’t cut corners.
  • Honesty
  • Stay away from drugs. alcohol is okay once and a while.
  • Find the time to relax and take care of myself.
  • Be humble, watch my judgements of people.
  • Stay clean and organized
  • Don’t over consume, less is more.

This list came to be after I had been practicing many of the different components for a while. These are the ways I want to be living my life. It’s also worth mentioning that I adhered to almost none of these values before I decided to make changes in my life for the positive. And it wasn’t easy making the change.

Some Habits are Harder to Break Than Others

My proverbial white whale was “women are not sex objects”. This way of viewing the world was foundational for my younger self. While I was growing up, I received so much negative reinforcement around self worth being intrinsically connected to looking attractive that it was law. So when I viewed women, this was the first criteria I used to decide their value. These were definitely unhealthy ways of viewing my world.

But, it was all I knew. It wasn’t until I finally felt heard with a woman, that I stopped the cycle of objectifying them. And that’s not to say that I don’t still appreciate their beauty, but it isn’t the ONLY qualifying factor now, as it once had been.

Now, regardless of whom I’m talking with or thinking about, they are people first. They have just as much going on in their lives as I do, possibly more. So it’s with this outlook that I come to each interaction and try to keep the judgmental side of me to a minimum. And that’s not always easy. I find myself constantly trying to refrain my thinking around each interaction. Trying not to fall into the old habits I once was so accustom to. And this is something that we learn as we go. It’s not something that’s just presented to most of us, unless we have great role models growing up. Which sometime happens if we’re lucky. Though usually it’s something that’s learned new, each generation.

How do We Cultivate Values?

So if you’re reading this, you may be wondering, “how do I cultivate or find out what I value?” For me, it took a lot of looking at what I was already doing and liking about myself and practicing those aspects. Journaling was something that was invaluable to me in figuring out what my values were.

I enjoy the process of bringing order to things, so making a list in my journal and fleshing out why they are important to me came almost second nature. I say almost, because I first had to find a vehicle for my voice. Writing to me just came naturally.

Finding Your Voice

When you think about the aspects that you admire about yourself, what are they? How do you express yourself in the best possible ways? What do you like about yourself? These are the elements of yourself that you can hold on to and develop into your voice. Maybe you’re good at organizing people and events. What about organizing gives you a sense of fulfilment?

For me, as I’ve said above, I enjoy writing and bring together feelings in this outlet. So journaling and blogging are two of my favorite pass times. But what’s important is, that we find what matters most to us and bring that out in how we decide to communicate.

For example, one of my values is self-care. So I’ve posted about my self-care routines on this blog, as well as a resource list on my notes app that I can access when I need a quick pick me up. I am able to convey my values through what comes naturally to me, my writing. And it’s different for everybody. So finding out how you like to express yourself, or what comes natural to you, is important to knowing how to express your values.

Expressing What You Are

After you’ve found your medium, now it’s time to express what you like about yourself. Do you feel best about yourself when you’re helping others? Or maybe when you’ve taken care of yourself and your surroundings. One of the things that brings me joy is looking at something that’s been designed well.

The clean feel with the warmth of colors and textures that come together to make a house feel more like a home has always held a special place in my heart. And staying clean and organized helps not only our physical space, i.e. if you clean out your fridge after you grocery shop each week, you more than likely won’t have a three week old container of whatever growing mold. But it also gives us the mental clarity to not worry about having to clean out the fridge. And this type of organizational mind space can be extended to other areas of your life as well.

In short, sticking to your values can create more ease in your day to day life. It may not be easy to begin this change to values based thinking and acting, but it will definitely help to create more confidence in how you move through the world.

Finding the Middle

Values are important, because they give us they impetuous to define how and who we want to be. But taken too seriously and you can become rigid and unyielding. On the other hand, if you side step your values when situations become difficult, then they aren’t really your values. So finding a middle ground to balance out being too ridged or too lax is important.

When I was younger, honor was driven into me as one of my values in the most militant way I could imagine. A family member would pull me out of bed at two in the morning and drill into me the importance of being a man. This was terrifying for a child of 8, but I held very close to those values, to the point of being mean and unforgiving to others. This is an example of taking values too far in one direction.

On the other side of the spectrum, in my teens and twenties, I was reckless and had no boundaries. I drank to excess and lived in squaller. I was looking to avoid the responsibility of being an adult at all costs, using whatever means necessary. Now that I’ve matured, I’ve been able to find the middle, where I’ve learned to be forgiving, while also holding to my values without judging those who hold values different from mine.

Don’t Worry You’ll Find Your Way

This was something I wish had been told to me as a child. I was so worried about how to feel belonging, that I didn’t have any values. I was just doing what everybody else was doing, hoping to feel accepted. And all the while not realizing who I was becoming. Spoiler, it wasn’t who I wanted to be. So if you’ve found that you are lacking in some moral center, or want to explore your values some, know that it is totally possible and you are probably already practicing some of what makes you, the best version of yourself.

For some more reading on the subject, my therapist introduced me to the 8 C’s and 5 P’s of IFS. This is a quality list of values that aren’t hyper masculine or gender specific. So they’re perfect for starting out on your journey to discovering what your values are and how to cultivate the ones that look, well, like they have some value to you. And know that it is never too late to cultivate the version of yourself you want to be. All you need to do is get out there and make it happen. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

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

Women’s Rights: What They Mean For a Man Raised With Less Than Accepting Values

I’ve written a lot about toxic masculinity on this blog, but I haven’t spoken about women’s rights very much. This is mostly due to me feeling as a man, that it isn’t really my place to speak my opinion on the subject. But with the recent ruling of Roe vs. Wade being overturned, I feel that it’s important for me to show that there are men who support women’s reproductive rights. Especially in this polarized culture we’ve been entrenched in. So on that note, I hope to move the cause forward if only to show support for those in need of some. Let’s take a look at where some of the values I was raised under were forged.

Women’s Lib, Stuck in the 50’s

This was where most of the lessons I learned as a child took root. About three decades before I was born. In my family and in the popular culture at large, women were mostly viewed as sex objects. Everything from TV shows to work place culture. It was most definitely a man’s world and women were objects to be won or used according to what the man’s need was.

My family held to these values with fervor. My grandmother was a model in the fifties and took to the culture with a sense of pride. It also seemed to be what she developed her identity around as well as raising her four daughters in the same vein. Women’s rights weren’t even on their radar when making choices about themselves and their families’ future.

The women in my family, instead, spent a lot of time shopping. Mostly for clothes, but I feel it was more of a way to bond. Over a shared experience. I’m not saying that they were shallow or trying to speak negatively about their characters. Shopping can be fun, but it was something that we took to the extreme. It came to define us as who we were. Consumers. And that’s how we avoided the ways we were ignoring the unbalanced power dynamics that were playing out in our family’s culture and the culture at large.

Why This Type of Neglect is Dangerous

And it was a shame that they chose shopping as one of their main outlets of self expression. Because the women in my family were and are smart and talented people. My mother is a talented artist, though never pursued her interest in the subject. In a way, it felt as though, from my perspective that, they were holding back an important aspect of their self expression by buying into the norms of forfeiting their women’s rights. All in the name of feeling comfortable or safe.

I was raised and surrounded by mostly women in my childhood. This, I feel, gives me a unique perspective on what the culture was, in my family anyway, around how women viewed and interacted with their worlds. I also feel as though I received a fair amount of traumatic abuse at the hands of the men in my family. Another area where I’m able to relate with women maybe a little bit better than most men.

I received two very polarizing views of the world through my family. There was the toxically masculine side where drinking scotch and beer to hide your emotions, while objectifying women as sex objects was the norm. And on the other side, there was Friedan’s model of the Feminine Mystique. Where women had sharp tongues to gain what little control they could wrestle away from the men, while drinking equally as much to cover over the pain of not feeling heard.

And that’s the reason why this type of neglect is so dangerous. It takes away the voice that the women in my family, could use to speak up for their rights. When you place your power in someone else’s hands, you then become concerned with how to get it back. Not realizing that you have had it all along. So now that we’ve found ourselves in this position of skewed power, how do we bring some balance back to the social equation?

Bringing Balance to Women’s Rights

From my perspective, a few different issues need to be addressed in order to create a more fair situation for women. Firstly, men need to be more comfortable with women as independent individuals, and second, woman need to collectively work towards breaking the stereotypes and shed more light on the ideas that certain roles aren’t only a woman’s duty. I.e., child rearing, taking care of the household needs and being less career focused. These are already outdated views, but how do we take what’s already happening and make it more the norm?

Men and Their Views Matter

This is a difficult aspect of this problem, because men have been traditionally in the position of power. And if most men were treated as I was by my family, were women were forced to use manipulations to gain a sense of power, than the men raised in these environments would have a less than ideal view of the women in their lives. This was what I experienced growing up and the lens I used to view the relationship in my life for a long time.

I’ve said many times before, that women were viewed as an object to be had in the culture I was raised in. Personhood and women’s rights weren’t even taken into consideration. I know that for me, I had to first come to see women as people all their own. With personalities, hopes and dreams. And this was difficult, because I had experienced a fair amount of abuse from the women in my family.

But what I needed to realize was, that the pettiness and manipulations weren’t traits of women exclusively. But that of people in a position of being oppressed. If somebody feels as though they have no say in their life, than they will naturally do what they’re able to, in order to gain some control of their situation. And this was a strange place for me to be as a white male. Because I felt as though I had no power or control over my own life.

Feeling Powerless to Change What Is

This seems counter intuitive, but being raised by women who felt they needed to manipulate in order to gain a sense of power back for themselves, left me feeling powerless. What made this so confusing was, that being a white male, I was told time and time again that I was in charge. Though never feeling I actually was.

All the bravado and over-the-top machismo attitude I put on were all for show. It felt as though I had no control over the elements of my life and that the important decisions were being made for me. I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living because I had no guidance to help me to find my path. So I went to college way to early, racking up a ton of debt for a degree I am barely using. I was married to a woman who I sought out to tell me how to live my life. As my mother had before her. And all the misguided steps along the way were learned from family that were in a constant power struggle, looking for their own sense of agency.

And I’ve seen close to the same situation play out with other men as well. We were looking for someone to live our lives for us. Instead of finding a partner to share our lives with. And with everybody feeling so powerless, nobody was feeling as though they could live a more fulfilling life. It always hinged on the other person.

Perspective Change

For me, I needed to realize that I was my own person first. The one in charge of making my own life decisions was me and my partner was not a replacement for my mother. I didn’t need a strong female voice to tell me who to be. I was already me. Regardless of what I was told to believe. But I needed to spend some time on my own in order to know this as truth for myself. I needed to get some practice in making decisions that made a difference in my life, to help me to move forward and realize my agency. This helped me to realize I was the other half of the equation in the relationships I had previously been in.

And this was how I broke from the ways I had been viewing women and their roles. By breaking the cycle of unhealthy relationships that had been modeled for me and that I was reliving. This helped me to see women as more whole, independent beings. But this wasn’t easy. And if more men are going to wake from the idea that women’s rights aren’t important, we are going to need more positive male role models to guide us. As well as healthy female role models who’ve come to know their own power in a healthy way.

Women And Their Power

And for women looking for women’s rights to be more equitable, they may want to find the same conflict of gender specific roles they’ve been tethered to and come to know them as human roles, not defined by gender. For the women in my family, this meant knowing that they are more than what they can provide for their family. That they are more than how attractive they are and their personalities are worth being explored and developed.

Finding Support and Breaking Old Ties

This means finding out and addressing the issues that the individual woman is wrestling with. The fashion and beauty industries are two big entities that have been telling women their value hinges on how attractive they look. This is just an example of old messaging that maybe still effecting some women’s actions on a daily basis.

They as well may want to feel and know that they are in charge of their own lives and have a say in what happens to them. This comes, I believe, with finding like minded people. Men and women to support and collaborate on making the world we live in a more fair and just one. Finding male partners who are an equal part of the child rearing process is one example. Also knowing that a woman’s career is just as important as a man’s. Finding work that matters to you and that you can make a change for the better, is a motivating aspect in life as well.

And knowing that all things domestic, do not fall under the category of a woman’s duty. This means finding a partner whose view of domestic duties goes beyond the scope of what they were in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

Women’s Rights Matters

And it’s from here that we can really understand that women have so much more to offer than what we’ve been telling them they are capable of. All the women I know have something unique and beneficial to offer the world around them. But it starts with us. I know this may be a bit difficult to hear coming from a white male’s perspective. After all, I’m part of the group that have been repressing women for a very long time. But I truly believe that women not only should have a say in what happens to them, but must in order to be happy and fulfilled.

With that in mind, I’m mostly speaking to the men who are reading. All I ask is that you take a look at the views you’ve had cultivated for you. Specifically on gender roles and gender stereotypes. Are they hurting women? Do they make you feel as though you lack something? That you’re less of a man if you don’t live up to them? If so, these are the areas we need to work on to be more fair and just. I hope this has been of some help. It’s not easy looking at ourselves and seeing the work that needs to be done. But it’s possible and know that you are not alone. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “women’s rights #blackprotest #czarnyprotest” by gregor.zukowski is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Aggression and Dominance Are Not Benchmarks of Masculinity

I’ve been dealing with some pretty heavy topics lately, so why change the pace now : ). I want to talk a little about anger and aggression, how they were related to dominance in my past and a little about how to avoid them taking control of our actions and internal, emotional worlds. This is a tough one for many, including myself, so if you’re sensitive to the subject, take it slow. Good advice for many subjects for sure.

When is it Okay to Display Your Temper?

In the culture I grew up in, in the eighties and early nineties, it seemed that losing your temper was no big deal. People were pretty angry a majority of the time. And if they weren’t already angry, they were apt to fly into a rage with expedience. At least, this was how I remember many of the role models in my generation being.

But we were also idolizing characters from action movies who were supposed to be the epitome of masculinity. I remember a scene from one such movie, I believe it was “Rambo 3”, where Rambo cauterized a gunshot wound by breaking open a bullet, placing the gunpowder on his wound and igniting the powder! This seems a tad unreasonable to me : ). But those were the times that we were living in. And every boy and man alike, that I knew at least, wanted to be that type of man.

This type of bravado was the norm and something to aspire to in the culture of my youth. And this is nothing new, to be sure. My father will sometimes tell me about the westerns he watched as a child. Clint Eastwood being another unreasonable role model for a young child. Though when you grow up around this type of violence, it’s bound to leach into your personality some. This being said, we also have control over our own actions and the ways in which we relate to our emotions of anger and our aggression.

Parenting and Aggression

And this type of aggression was definitely present in my family’s parenting styles. And I don’t want to make this a post about how unjustly I was treated a child. I’m not holding any grudges against those who mistreated me. It was common practice back then and I can only imagine the fear that comes with raising a child. That said, I gave both my parents a run for their money when it came to parenting me. It couldn’t have been easy, that’s for certain.

But what happens when we are consistently showing our aggression to exercise dominance over those we love? From my experience, losing your temper without attuning to those you hurt, if done often enough, leads to feelings of severed belonging. This was most definitely how I felt, and the more I speak to my parents, the more I’m realizing it’s how they felt too. So why did we choose fear, dominance and aggression, over tempered and patient guidance?

I’m sure that fear is a large part of the picture, but fear from what? I can remember being torn apart by my grandfather, verbally, when I was very young, four maybe five. I believe that was one of the many pieces of the puzzle that turned my idea of family from something that was warm and caring to something terrifying and anxiety provoking.

A Legacy of Brutality

I believe my family held on to this parenting style so tightly because it was all they knew. They were too wrapped up in their emotions of anger and feelings of loosing control that they couldn’t see that there were other ways of doing and being.

For anyone that’s been caught in the grip of an emotion, you’ll know that it’s no easy to see your way out of it. We’re so focused on what’s happening to us in the moment that we can’t relate to anything outside of our experience at the time, before or after. And I believe this is where my parents found themselves when they were using tactics such as aggression and dominance to control their surroundings.

I imagine they were feeling in over their heads. Responsible for the little lives they brought into the world and on top of that, the guidance they received from their parents was probably just as brutal, if not more so. For this reason I can empathize with those who have experienced this type of aggression.

Changing the Ways We Relate to Our Aggression

Though, even though we may have been relating with each other through use of force of will or trying to control using aggression, it isn’t how we have to be with one another. We can choose to relate to one another with kindness and loving attention. Easier said than done, right? So how do we make the change from feeling our only option is loosing our temper to relating to others with kindness? For me, it started with slowing down long enough to understand what I was feeling, while I was feeling it.

Slowing Down the Pace

I used to drink a lot of coffee. And on occasion I would take an Adderall to help me through the day. This was however, unsustainable. It left me unable to recognize how I was feeling while I was in the middle of having an emotion. All I felt was the buzz from whatever I ingested and in a way I was really running from what was right here. Which most of the time was a lot of fear and anxiety. So what was I so afraid of?

Most of the time it was connecting with people in an authentic way. I had been so cut apart from my family growing up, that I was massively ashamed of the person I was. Not realizing that their critical judgements of me, is not who I am as a person. But I was so focused on the uneasy feelings that I didn’t have the bandwidth to take in new information. Information that could have helped me to feel more at ease with my emotions.

Meditation Helps

I stopped drinking coffee a while back, maybe seven years ago. This helped to slow my pace down long enough to know how I was feeling. I drink a cup of tea here and there, but for the most part I’ve given up my caffeine intake. It isn’t always easy, but I feel better when I’m more in my emotional space. And around the time I gave up drinking coffee, I also started to meditate. This helped immensely with coming to know my feelings.

The longer I stayed, the more I was able to understand what was happening to me in the moment. I could now give names to the emotions I was trying to speed past before. And it feels good to finally connect with my emotional world again. Something that hasn’t been the case since my early childhood. It’s something that takes a lot of patients, but once you’re able to sit with your emotions, it’s as though a whole new world opens up to you. But once you slow down, how do you know what to do next? In order to avoid falling back into old familiar patterns of aggressive ways of being? For me, it started with recognizing what was happening to me, while I was experiencing it.

Patience and Asking Inwardly, The Answer Usually Will Come to You

What I’ve been doing, as a way of recognizing what’s been happening in my emotional world while slowing down enough to recognize what’s happening is, when I feel an intense emotion, I pause. After I let the emotion pass, I then sit with my experience of what just happened. Then I ask why it’s here, what does the emotion need?

A great example of this, and one I’ve come to understand more recently is, sometimes when I here a child’s voice ask a question, I suddenly feel a sensation in my groin and throat. My groin due to me experiencing my initial abuse, and my throat because when I told my caregiver what happened, they turned their back on me. So the sensations are really trying to tell me that, my emotional self is still waiting to be heard by my caregiver, long after the time for attunement has passed.

Afterwards, I like to take a page from Tara Brach’s book and nurture the emotional self that’s hurting. This step is crucial for building the trust that was severed so long ago. First, by my parents, and secondly, by myself for picking up treating myself the ways they left off. I assure myself that I’m safe and secure. I remind myself of the ways I’m taking care of myself now. My workout, my cooking healthy meals and taking time to achieve my financial and career goals. All in all it has been so healing to nurture myself after the waves of fear subside. It’s been a really gratifying process.

The Frustration of Not Feeling Heard

Another way that the fear comes to manifest in my day to day is, when I’m texting. I use swipe-to-text, so often times my words are misspelled when the auto correct doesn’t always work as intended. This brings up a primal fear in me though. Something that is more unsettling than just a spelling mistake. And I believe it has to do directly with, not being able to communicate myself in the way I feel I need to.

This is directly linked to my parent turning their back on me when I told them about my abuse. But now, instead of reacting from a place of anger and slamming my phone down or seething with anger, I stop, recognize what’s happening inside of me and where it’s coming from. This is the time where I can see the fear for what it is, the fear of not being understood and feeling unsafe because of it.

And this is something that we all have a mild anxiety about. Not feeling heard or seen. Our feelings not being attuned with to some degree. This is natural, and something to be nurtured and cared for. That being said, it isn’t always easy. These are the times where we may need to practice a little self-care, after experiencing a wave of unsettling emotions.

Self-Care And Nurturing Your Emotional World

For me, I have a list of resources that I know I can rely on to sooth myself when I need a little extra boost to keep me grounded. Here’s a copy of my list:

Resource list: Don’t feel like you have to settle for something lesser. You deserve the best possible life. Be persistent.

Herbal tea. Friends and family. Journal. Clean living and work spaces. Music. My plants. Smiley faces. My blog. Hot showers. Candles.

Values:

  • Kindness to myself and others, be forgiving, don’t talk badly about others or myself.
  • Physically fit and a healthy lifestyle so I can avoid injury and stay healthy. Another way to care for myself 🙂
  • Patience and calm
  • Women are not sex objects
  • Hard working and take pride in my work. Do a good job whatever I’m doing. Don’t cut corners.
  • Honesty
  • Stay away from drugs. alcohol is okay once and a while.
  • Find the time to relax and take care of myself.
  • Be humble, watch my judgements of people.
  • Stay clean and organized
  • Don’t over consume, less is more.

I added a list of values to my resource list due to me needing a reminder of the ways I want to be in the world. It isn’t always easy to follow, but it’s worth the while. And I feel better for it : )

I hope you’ve found this helpful in some way. As always, I’d love to hear from you and maybe some of your fears and resources. And remember, you’re not in this alone, we’re all in this together. Peace, : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Anger” by Isengardt is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

How to Know What Support Looks Like if You’ve Never Really Had It In the Past

Support and feeling supported was something that didn’t come to me naturally. This was mostly due to me feeling like a burden to my caregivers, whenever I expressed a need or a want. The term, selfish was tossed around all too liberally when we spoke about one another and how we expressed our needs. It seemed that no matter what we were asking, it was always too much.

I’d like to go into what the act of support feels and looks like, for me, in this post. If you grew up in an environment similar to mine, you’ll likely feel that anytime you express a need, you are putting somebody else out for just having this need. This is unhealthy. But if we’re never taught what healthy support looks like, then we simply don’t know what we don’t know. Though it is possible to feel supported in healthy ways. All it takes is some hard work and the right people : )

What Does Support Even Mean?

While I was growing up, there was a large emphasis placed on the rugged individual. Someone who could hold their own, usually a man, no matter what the situation was and that we don’t need support from others. We were expected to do everything on our own and do it perfectly. This is/was unreasonable. I didn’t know this at the time, but I was also idolizing action heroes such as Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from, “The Predator”, not realizing how unrealistic these ideals were.

I used phrases such as, “man up” in my youth, implying that if you were a real man, you’d be able to handle it, whatever “It” was. And this vein of thinking was carried throughout my family, as well as in popular culture at the time.

My parents got divorced when I was eight years old and I think I got the same speech from every male family member at the time. It was them saying to me, “you’re the man of the house now Adam.” I had no idea what this meant, and I’m guessing that they didn’t either judging from how they were acting as “men”. I was a boy, trying to understand what was happening to my family at the time. The prospect of being in charge was terrifying to me. And on top of that fear, my family was now my responsibility!? I had no idea what to do with this information at such a young age. So I disconnected from my family. Retreated into video games and stayed out late at night, avoiding coming home to the mess that was being left unattended.

When Your Environment is Corrosive to Support

In the environment that my caregivers created, we told the other how they were feeling. We never asked any questions about the other’s emotional states, or did any sort of mirroring. We never asked one another, “how did that make you feel?” When we did talk about emotions, it was usually in a way where one person was telling the other, what they were feeling. For example, comments such as, “you were just so selfish, pissy or narcissistic” were injected into our interactions without asking how the other person was feeling. We just told them how they felt, but if we dug a little deeper, behind the reactions, we most likely would have seen the hurt and neglect we were inflicting on one another.

And if we did speak about emotions, they were usually the more difficult ones such as anger. We did not have a vocabulary for what we were experiencing emotionally, because it wasn’t safe to explore our emotional worlds around each other in order to develop a language. This was due to us being viciously demeaning and mean to anybody who was foolish enough to let their guard down and share an emotion.

And it’s important to foster a safe place around our emotional selves if our goal is to create a supportive environment. This was something that we just didn’t know how to do, had never been taught how. Luckily, there are some resources for learning how to foster a supportive and nurturing environment. One where we can feel safe exploring our emotional experiences without trying to control them in ourselves, or maybe in my case and more importantly, in others, which I’ll be getting into towards the end of this post. But this type of environment is a difficult and crazy making place to be, if it’s all you’ve known about navigating emotions and receiving support.

Losing the Support I Once Knew

It was around the time of my parents divorce that I began to preform poorly in school and get into trouble more frequently. Since what I had known of support was no longer available to me, I just fell off the grid, so to speak. Everybody was so wrapped up in their own experiences of what was happening, that we were no longer available as a source of support or caring for each other. There was a lot of bad blood left during the process and everybody knew every detail.

We continued drifting apart, not even really knowing how to support one another even if we had decide to wake from our own emotional experiences for long enough to see that our family had fallen apart. We were quick to point out how someone had done harm to another, but not to help each other through the difficult emotions that came up from those hurts. And that’s assuming that we would know how to be there for each other if we could see what we were doing to one another.

So we all avoided contact, seeing each other only when we had to. This was our way of keeping ourselves safe from the wounds of the past being brushed up against by an old memory or from a current interaction. And it was in this environment that we forgot how to be support, for ourselves and another.

Licking the Wounds

We were so busy protecting ourselves and our wounds from one another, that we forgot how to be a support for somebody else in a healthy way. This was clearly for fear that we would find ourselves betrayed in the same ways we had in the past. Traumatic ways that left us wounded and untrusting. But we were also isolated, focusing only on the hurt as a reminder of what it means to get close to another. A defense mechanism that was much too built up to let anybody past.

And it was in this way of focusing on past hurts that we avoided growing beyond our smaller, wounded selves. Even now, 34 years later, we still have issues connecting due to how we’ve treated one another in our shared histories. Forgive and forget is a practice that is definitely not alive and well in my family.

But it’s also these mindsets that keep us locked in our old patterns of not being able to move past the emotions that feel too heavy, too scary to confront. For me, it’s a sense of feeling abandoned by those who were supposed to care for me. Leaving me alone at such a young age and then telling me I was in charge was a terrifying prospect to an eight year-old! So what am I doing to move past the old wounds and live the healthiest version of my life? It starts with taking ownership of my life, just as I find it.

Finding Support by Owning My Present

For me, I had to sort through a lot of poor choices I’ve made in the past. Regardless of how I was left, without guidance or to show me healthier ways of navigating my world, they were, and are, still my poor choices.

And I’m not beating myself up over the choices that didn’t have my best interests at heart. I’m owning them in a way that acknowledges I made a poor choice, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances. This gives me the comfort of knowing that now, that I am in a different place, one where I know how to ask for help, find resources and rely on people, I can make the healthier decisions that will move me forward in my life. And this is what I mean by support.

Types of Support

Debt

Support looks like, to me, finding people like Dave Ramsey when I was 100k+ in debt from the poor choices I made in the past. Following his advice on how to get out of debt, while I watch myself achieve my goals, slowly but surely, paying down what I owe.

And teaching myself how to make and stick to a budget. This was no easy task. Even when I was throwing as much money as I could towards my debt, I was still racking up $700 grocery bills, mostly in the form of taking trip to Whole Foods. That’s close to $500 a month I could have been putting towards my future! It was here that I learned the discipline to stick to the boundaries and limits I desperately needed to set for myself, in order to live a sustainable lifestyle.

Friends & Family

In terms of my relationships, support looks like asking the people who have hurt me in the past, to get together once a week and make dinner. To talk about who we are as people, revisit the past in a safe and comfortable setting, while forging new relationships with each other. Also, knowing how and when to take a rest when needed, from those close in.

Also, keeping in mind that I need to ask direct, clear questions, especially around how the other person feels. This also extends to me speaking up about how I feel during our interactions and knowing when it’s time to give the relationship and the conversation a break if things get too intense.

Internal & Emotional

While I was revisiting some of the ghosts from my past while writing this post, I was feeling overwhelmed with all the memories that were coming up. So instead of pushing past the feelings, ignoring and neglecting them in the ways they were ignored and neglected in me, from my past caregivers, I stopped, I asked what I needed for and from myself and the answer came, to take a walk by the ocean. So I stopped, listened to and attuned to my own emotional needs to take a break, and walked down to the ocean.

Reaching Out

These may seem like basic steps, but for those of us who have been severely emotionally neglected and abused, this is like learning a whole new language. And it’s difficult. In my situation, my caregivers had no idea how to attune to their emotional worlds, or listen to their own needs. They avoided themselves and their emotional needs at all costs, using denial and alcohol to subdue their internal worlds.

So it was necessary for me to reach out to somebody who had experience with healthy ways of helping me with and accepting my internal emotional world. I’ve been working with a therapist for a few years now, and the help I’ve received from her has been invaluable. Mostly just a safe place to explore how I’m feeling, while also giving names to my emotional experiences. Also having her validate that they (my emotions) are real and valid. Again, basic but so important if you’ve never had this type of mirroring and support.

Friends

And finally, friends are so important for our sense of belonging and need to feel heard, loved and supported. As I’ve said in previous posts, most of my friendships were based on the good times, avoiding the difficult work of supporting each other during the difficult ones. So when those times came, it didn’t take long for those bonds to break under the weight of hurt feelings.

I don’t speak to many of the people that used to populate my past, but the friends that did stick around for me are very dear to my heart. I literally don’t know where I’d be without them, one in particular being there for me at just the right time and place. It’s also important to feel a part of something more than just our own internal worlds. Best not to let the squirrels run to wild in the trees of our minds : )

And It Gets Easier

These are my experiences with what support looks like. If you feel as though you are in a place where you lack the support you need, go and find it. I wish someone had told me this a long time ago. I spent too many years wondering without direction, not knowing what to do with myself in my life. And it’s worth remembering too that, no one can go this life alone. It’s hard enough even with the support! So if you’ve experienced a general lack of feeling and being supported, know that it’s not to late to do something about it.

Find a therapist, make regular visits with friends or maybe try reaching out to some of the friends you have on Facebook you haven’t talked to in a while. Find a group to be a part of with shared interests. Building relationships can be tough work, but it is so worth the while. Start sharing yourself and good things are bound to come of it. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Hug” by Hans-Jörg Aleff is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Isolation and Being a Man Shouldn’t Go Hand In Hand

The Man Standard

I spoke about this some in last weeks post, about what it means to be a man. My experience, while growing up in the eighties, was a very polarizing one. Views and mindsets were on the verge of changing to be more inclusive, but there was still a stronghold of intolerance that shaded everything a stark black and white.

The lessons I gleaned from the opinions modeled for me were, men acted one way and women acted another. There were no shared emotional experiences or characteristics. In my family, men were hard, in charge, responsible for everything and got what they wanted, when they wanted it and could resort to force to get it if the other did not comply.

Women on the other hand were objects to be won, raised the children, had no responsibilities, said and did cruel and cutting things with impunity as long as they did whatever the man wanted from them. Spoiler alert, this did not end well for anybody involved.

Why is that so? Because this way of being bred an awful lot of resentment. And if it’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that resentment is corrosive to relationships. I say corrosive because it seemed as though every action was being judged and criticized while every intention was called into question. And at the heart of this resentment was the limiting ideals of who could feel what or could be who they were, aka a human being with emotions, outside of the polarized views of the expected roles of who men and women should be.

This, was, crazy making. I’ve talked about my abuse before on this blog. An experience that shaped my future interactions with people, making me meek and timid around others. My timid nature was the subject of a lot of ridicule among my caregivers. I was called “sensitive”, which under the regime of my family, was a trait that men simply didn’t have.

It didn’t matter to them that I was traumatized at an early age and habitually abused and neglected. The reasoning being, if I were a real man, I should be able to handle it and do it on my own. This was/is an unreasonable expectation of anyone, especially from an eight year-old. But I soldiered on under these expectations, not realizing the damage they were imparting.

Doing It On Our Own

I’m not sure where this standard originated, but it’s one that’s been alive and well for a very long time. From my experience, asking for help was akin to showing vulnerability. And vulnerability was seen and preyed upon as a weakness. In my family anyway, if you showed that you weren’t able to handle something on your own or asked for help in anyway, the other person would show a deep sense of resentment.

Mostly because we all already felt like we were stretching ourselves to thin. So the burden of one more request was sharply felt in the form of resentment. But also because we never thanked anybody, or showed gratitude for anything anybody ever did. We definitely had a martyr complex and did not hesitate to proudly display this to others.

So instead of normalizing relying on and asking for help from others, I was taught that this was an act of aggression. One of disrespecting the other’s time and resources. In reality, I was just too scared to ask for help and to feel the scorn of any would be aid. But since fear was another emotion that men weren’t supposed to feel, I pretended that I was better than asking for help. This was how I tricked myself into believing that asking for help was for the weak.

Weakness Ain’t So Weak

But this wasn’t something that was unique to my family. This was a cultural phenomenon. For example, most all of the Rambo movies were about just this. One man fighting against all odds to make right the situation. Also, Arnold Schwarzenegger from “The Predator”, was another solo male role-model. Doing it all on their own without any help and leaving a wake of destruction wherever they went.

When I was young and felt like I could take on the world, these were definitely two dangerous role-models for me to have. Learning that having to rely on others is a form of weakness, is no way to navigate challenges that come up in the day to day. But this was the playbook I was given. And one I jumped at the chance to emulate. Everybody I looked up to was doing it, why couldn’t, shouldn’t I?

What I hadn’t realized at the time was, that most of the male role-models in my life were scared to death of some sort of version of coming up short. Whether it was due to social pressures, pressures from their loved ones, societal expectations… The list goes on. But instead of owning these limitations as “unreasonable expectations”, the men in my life chose to fake it till they made it. Only, there wasn’t anywhere to go. This however translated to a lot of drinking, belittling others and an awful lot of machismo bravado. And all of it designed to show how independent and manly they were, not realizing they were seeking somebody else’s approval. This did not work in their favor.

Most of the relationships in my family failed in one way or another. Family gatherings became strained events, where we would all inevitably drink too much and talk about those closest to us in demeaning ways. There was an awful lot of hurt feelings and bruised egos as well. And everybody was too scared of one another to share how they actually felt and what was on their mind. It was a suffocating environment to grow up in.

Making The Change: From Man-Up to Cool-Down

When I was in high-school, as I said above, I was meek. I was quiet and timid but also outspoken in other ways. I did not go to classes, and made a few enemies along the way. One of them was a bully, but no ordinary one. Once, when I was confronted and cornered by this bully in the hallway during a class we were both skipping, she punched me in the eye while here two oafish friends held me in place. I had a black eye for a few weeks and on top of that, I had to tell everybody that a girl beat me up.

This was tough for my 15 year-old ego at the time. Especially growing up in the culture I had. If it was one thing that men didn’t do, it was get beat up by a woman. One of my caregivers even came to my defense and said, “what were you supposed to do, you’re not supposed to hit a woman.” There’s a lot of thing that aren’t right about this statement. Among them being, nobody asking why I was getting beat up in school instead of going to classes. But they were too ashamed of my “sensitive” nature to ask the important questions and set things right.

So asides from being taught that it wasn’t okay to be “sensitive”, how did I find a way to take better care of myself even with the years of harmful lessons I was taught? It started with embracing my sensitive nature and calling it for what it was, me being a man having emotions.

Emotional Experiences: From Traumatic Fear to Just Plain Afraid In a Good Way

The road I took wasn’t a straight forward path. There were a lot of twist and turns and quite a few ignored emotions that needed to be felt. When I started “driving my own life bus” as my boss likes to say, I had to swallow my pride and admit that I had made a mess of the life I was living. Not asking for help from anybody left me alone and with few options as far as how to move myself forward.

I moved back in with family members and had to learn how to be a part of a family again, only this time in a healthy way. And this was difficult. The more I was around my family, the more old emotions were coming up that I had been running from. This was when I began dissociating. I would feel an intense emotion come on, and my mind and body just wouldn’t be able to handle it. So I checked out. People have described it as there being nothing behind my eyes, empty. That was the traumatic fear I was unable to fully feel.

But the longer I stayed with the feelings, meeting my edge and softening, the more I could embody them without dissociating. This took a lot of work in the way of, self-care, learning to be able to trust others, accepting support from others and trusting myself that I wasn’t going to carry on the legacy of the lessons that were taught to me.

Practice Makes Perfect: Wait, Maybe That’s an Unreasonable Standard

And what made this work possible, was a whole lot of practice. My default settings were to rely on the harmful lessons of my caregivers past. I had to consciously work to recognize when a situation would arise where I was operating under old, unhealthy ways of being and willfully work to change the course of my old teachings.

A great example of this is the ways I used to view women. As I said above, I was taught that women were objects to be won. This also meant that they were only to be seen as objects and their purpose was to fulfill desire. This meant sexual desire in my family. So my default teaching was, when I saw a woman, I immediately put her in one of two categories: attractive or unattractive. In my family, this was the extent of a woman’s value.

I hadn’t realized how demeaning this was because I wasn’t really driving my own life bus. I was acting on auto pilot, mostly for fear of being rejected by the people who where teaching me these unhealthy lessons in the first place.

So I first had to recognize that these views I held were unhealthy. This came with getting to know the women I was already relying on in my day to day relationships as first; people with emotional worlds all their own, and second as smart, funny, caring and loving individuals. To my surprise, they were fun and loving people with loads of personality and lots to contribute to just about every area of life. This is a bit of hyperbole, as I’ve always had a respect for women.

But treating them as equals was something that went against my initial teachings and something I had to actively recognize, when I was judging them solely on their appearance. Because how can you really see someone as equal if you decide their worth boils down to how hot they look in an outfit or naked?

So I was relying on the aid of these women to teach me how unhealthy my views and lessons learned were, by them being amazing and strong women. I was also recognizing the judgements I was making that were popping up in my mind as they were happening, while also challenging them in the moment.

This was tough, I’m not gonna lie. And I can see how some would choose to bury their heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t need their attention. But the quality of my relationships has grown exponentially with these women and I’ve learned so much just by being around them. For example, my boss is an amazing woman who’s, started her own business after leaving a successful career in finance where she traveled around the world while raising a family. She’s like an unstoppable machine and I’m pretty sure who Merion-Webster had in mind when they defined the word and phrase, “capable” and “excels in every area.”

I could go on and I want to take this opportunity to thank all the women, especially those who go unrecognized, for putting up with people who I used to resemble for as long as you have without killing us. You are much stronger than we’ve ever given you credit for being : ) Thanks.

So the new lessons I’m choosing to live by are, men don’t have to go it alone. There are loads of people that are more than willing to lend a hand, women being among some of the the most capable. And asking for help is not equivalent to weakness. If you’ve found yourself in a situation similar to mine, know that you are not alone. It takes some work to break free, but it is most definitely worth it. I’ll leave you with a song that’s given me strength on my journey. Peace 🙂 and thanks for reading.

Strength, Courage and Wisdom. India Arie

Image Credits: “Lonely Man” by Nickeeth Lopez is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.

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