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.

Giving Up What We Think We Need To Get Through The Day: “It’s No Easy”-Melba

I’ve spoken a lot about the different methods I’ve used to get through my days in the past. They mostly consisted of drinking too much coffee in the mornings, between 4-6 large lattes a day and alcohol at night, usually 5-6 drinks. And on occasion, I would take an Adderall or muscle relaxer to speed up or slow myself down. I used other methods as well, such as food and pornography, to escape my emotional world, which were also detrimental to me living a healthy, well balanced lifestyle.

Now I realize that as far as addictions go, mine were on the milder side. I never fell into the harder drugs, and for the most part they never interfered with my day-to-day responsibilities. What it did do however, was decimate most of my relationships. The most important one being with myself.

I had no idea what I was feeling most of the time because I was too busy running away from what I was unwilling to confront. My neglected self. First by others, but then I picked up the legacy and ran with it using the methods that were taught to me. I’d like to talk about this neglect, and how I perpetuated it by using what was shown me, and how I broke free from the cycle of neglect, mostly using self-care. So if you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and help yourself a little sooner than I did myself. Let’s start by taking a look at the environment I grew up in.

Control and Belonging

I was raised by a rowdy bunch. There were quite a few of us in my early childhood, and we would get together often. We were loud and opinionated which wasn’t so bad, but we were also mean and drunk most of the time. This was no bueno. Children were dealt with swiftly and using harsh actions. I learned from a very early age that it wasn’t in my best interests to show up on my caregivers radar.

It seemed as though the children in my family were always being punished for doing something against the will of our caregivers. I realize now that it had more to do with my caregivers feeling a lack of control in their lives, so they needed to control those around them, starting with the most vulnerable. This imparted the lesson on me that, to be an adult meant to always be in control.

This is a dangerous mindset to be in, because being in control for my family meant, controlling those around us and our emotions. We employed multiple tactics to achieve our desired goals. Among them being, drinking coffee and alcohol to control our emotional states, while also carefully withholding our love and affection from one another in an attempt to manipulate the other into treating us or seeing us in the ways we wanted them to. As you’ve probably guessed, this did not bode well for any of us.

As a result of our attempts to control our surroundings and each other, we cut ourselves off from just about everybody in our lives. We withheld our emotions from one another so much so, that we became little islands, paralyzed by the fear of being seen as needy, weak, stupid, undesirable… you name it and we most likely had an insecurity surrounding it. And slowly, we spoke to and saw each other, less and less as we moved through the years. Drifting apart like islands in the stream.

Our reasoning being, that if nobody could truly know us, then we’d be safe from their critical judgements and cutting remarks which were omnipresent. But in the process, and what we didn’t realize was, that we also cut ourselves off from ourselves. The pieces of each other that are ingrained in our beings, the habits I learned from my caregivers, I then learning to hate those same habits in me, which left me feeling isolated and angry.

Isolated because we avoided each other and angry for not feeling accepted by those I was behaving like. Not to mention how confusing this all was to sort out. So confusing in fact, that it took me until my late 30’s to sort it all! And that was after I decided to stop running from my emotional world and the put down the habits I was doing to avoid them.

Coffee to Speed Past the Feelings, Alcohol to Numb Them

I’ve said so many times on this blog how I used coffee to speed past my feelings and alcohol to numb them. Of course, I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time. I only knew that there was an awful lot of pain that I hadn’t reckoned with and that I would use just about anything to keep myself from feeling it.

I was enamored of drug culture when I was younger, around my teenage years. This was a time where, ideally, I would have been guided by a loving community of family and friends, to navigate the strange times of changing feelings and journey into adulthood. Instead, I ran from both changing, and adulthood. Mostly because I was still looking for the security in my belonging that I had lost in my early childhood. In short, I didn’t want to grow up for fear of resembling my abusers, the “grown ups” in my life.

So I took whatever I could to run from it. Caffeine was cheap and widely available, so I drank a lot of it to speed through my day. Alcohol was equally as available and more than effective enough to numb out the feelings I was running from, so I drank, a lot. There was also the occasional Adderall and muscle relaxer when caffeine and alcohol weren’t enough. But these were the status quo in my family growing up. Accompanied by a fair amount of critical judgements and you have the environment I was raised in, massively unhealthy.

What to Do When You’ve Found Yourself Alone

And these were the methods we chose to isolate ourselves from one another. When the cost of getting too close, was too much to take. Running became our number one tactic in keeping ourselves safe. And rightly so. With the amount of abuse we were dishing out to one another, it’s amazing that any of us are still talking to one another, however little that may be.

But in order for me to get to this place, I needed to do a lot of work. First off, I needed to find some resources, otherwise the sheer amount of loneliness, and work I needed to accomplish in order to feel stable would have been overwhelming.

This mostly took shape in the form of me giving myself the care and attention, that I would give to somebody I cared about deeply. Something I was shamed for doing by those who raised me. Anytime I asked for something for myself, I was made to feel as though it was more than just an inconvenience, I was personally using the other or taking advantage of their “kindness” just by having needs. I’ve said before on this blog, the term martyr was used liberally around taking care of each other’s needs. We were as ungrateful and spiteful as we could be.

Taking the Time to Unlearn Old Habits

And it was here that I needed to do a lot of work to unlearn the ways I had been behaving. I was mean and spiteful, arrogant and condescending, ungrateful and felt as though the world owed me something and used people like objects. Focusing only on what I could get from them, not on how we could care for one another. No wonder I had no close friends.

What really got me to change my old habits was a combination of learning to sit with and through my emotions without the aid of some substance to help me run from what I was experiencing, mostly through meditation, then caring for myself as they, my emotions, came up. As I’ve said above, I was shamed for even thinking about caring for myself. So even the act of learning to be kind to myself was quite the feat.

But that’s what I did. When I felt worried or overwhelmed, I took the time to stop, ask how I was feeling, recognize and allow the feeling to be there, then I was able to care for myself by asking myself what I needed. Tara Brach has a great resource called R.A.I.N., and it’s what I use to navigate difficult emotional states when they arise.

Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture

It starts out with R, which stands for Recognize. I simply recognize what is happening in the moment, as it’s happening. Then the A is for Allow. Whatever is present for me, I allow it to be Just as it is, no judgements. I is for Investigate. This is where I ask the emotion how it needs me to be with it. Do I need to respond with kindness, or does it just to be witnessed? And finally N is for Nurture. This is where I take the time to be the parent for myself that I never had. To show myself that I care about what’s happening in the ways nobody had shown me before.

This is a powerful tool and one that, when used regularly, has the ability to change the ways we see and interact with ourselves. And it does take some time. The big changes don’t happen in one fell swoop. As Tara would say, it takes many rounds of R.A.I.N. before it becomes a learned behavior.

Building Trust

And eventually what happened for me was, I started to trust myself. I could trust what was happening, the emotions that were coming up in the moment without running from them and into some mood altering experience. And this trust was paramount to building a stable foundation for all of my relationships to rest on. Most importantly the one with myself.

Because while I was running from myself, I was showing myself that I was not worth the time and effort to care for and nurture my own needs. And if I didn’t know how to be there for myself, how was I going to show up for somebody else? I just didn’t have the tools for that job before I learned to slow down without a substance.

So I practiced. I practiced showing up, and staying when it got tough. I cooked my self-care dinners on Tuesday nights, even if it was a budget friendly recipe and I enjoyed a beer with my dinner. I kept up with my yoga practice and meditation, even though I was working between 50-60 hours a week and was spent at the end of my work day. I cleaned and cared for my surroundings even though sometimes it seemed like that’s all I was ever doing, was ticking things off the list. But the efforts I put in were important for me building consistency.

I was so used to being left, time and again, by everybody that ever mattered to me that I had no consistency, nothing stable to rely on. So I needed to create that stability I sought, for and with myself, by building these routines that I stuck to no matter how tired I was. I was showing up for myself when everyone else said it was too much to stay. And here’s where the trust started to form.

Once I realized I wasn’t going back to the same old ways of living, I began to feel things again I hadn’t felt in years. I was learning to relax on my own, without the aid of chemicals while also appreciating the accomplishments I was achieving. I was growing up and it felt good.

So if you’ve found yourself in a place where you’ve been running from your emotional world for too long, don’t worry, there’s hope still. It may not be easy, and it may feel impossible at times, to overcome these feelings of being run down, anxious or fearful. But it’s not only possible, it’s doable.

Start somewhere small. Take stock of the areas in your life that have been neglected a little, or need some love and attention. Then make a plan to get involved with your own life with more sustainable resources, like exercise and self-care nights, whatever shape they may take for you.

Cut back on the caffeine and alcohol intake if you feel like they are getting to be too much. Get in touch with your body and see what it needs by spending some down time with yourself. Whether it’s in nature or in a clean room with some candles burning. Learning to listen to yourself is invaluable to building a relationship with yourself. Like my boss says, “be the driver of your life bus, not a passenger”.

And be consistent. The more you show up for yourself, the more you send yourself the message that you’re worth the time and effort, and most importantly that you care about yourself. Pretty soon, you’ll be a whole new version of yourself without the vices you once relied on for support. And most importantly, never give up on yourself. You just may surprise yourself with who you become. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Beer glass” by Bruno Girin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Rebuilding What’s Been Broken: Why I’m Repairing The Broken Bonds From My Past

With any amount of luck, your past will not resemble mine. I’ve left more than a few broken relationships in my wake through the years I’ve been on this planet. But in my defense, I was never taught how to foster and nurture, caring and loving bonds. It just wasn’t in my upbringing.

But regardless of how I got here, they are still my broken relationships and therefore, my responsibility to do what I can to make right what I neglected and abandoned so long ago. In the following, I’ll go over what some of my past experiences were, how I realized I needed a change and what I’m learning about repairing the relationships I’ve neglected. Let’s jump in.

Where To Even Start

I began the work of setting my relationships right a few years ago. I can’t really explain how I got to the place where they had been neglected so badly except, it was how I was taught to treat them. I was left alone in a house, raised by television, until I was old enough to realize that I didn’t have to stay inside anymore. It was then, in my early teens, that I began roaming around the city I grew up in, looking for ways to drink or have a good time, avoiding going home to the neglected and abandonment, in a house that used to feel like a home.

So instead of building lasting friendships and tight bonds with others, I was looking for someone to buy me alcohol so I could avoid the pervasive loneliness I was living with for so long. I think the worst part about it was, I didn’t even realize that that’s what I was doing. It just felt good in the moment, drinking to avoid feeling. But I’m sure most people feel that way when they’re in the middle of making a bad choice. Like eating that extra pastry or skipping this workout just this once. For me it was drinking that extra 4-5 beers or popping a pill.

But what I was really avoiding was, the hard work I needed to put in, in order to get the return I desired, lasting friendships. I was an expert at this. I was drinking to avoid coming home to my emotional world and racked up enough debt to keep me busy paying it off for years. And along the way, I think I neglected all of my relationships almost to the point where I had nobody to rely on. This was a frightening place to be.

Arrogance: The Relationship Destroyer

When I saw the mess I had made of my relationships, that’s when I realized something needed to change. Not to mention how lonely I was feeling. I was lonely because I had been pushing everybody away to protect myself from getting hurt. By them leaving me or tearing me apart as most people had done to me in my past. And one of the ways I isolated was by acting arrogant, better than those around me.

I went into this a little in last weeks post about impossible standards. My caregivers had held me to such a high standard, that there was no way that I would ever meet it. So instead of admitting that I wasn’t “good enough” for my caregivers by failing to meet their standards, I chose to adopt the same method of keeping people at a distance as was being done to me. By acting as though nothing were good enough to meet my standards.

I hadn’t realized that my caregivers were acting from the same hurt place of feeling insecure as I was, or that I had learned how to disconnect from others through them. I only knew that I felt like I wasn’t enough to be loved. So I was scared of other people “realizing” the same thing I had felt and endured, not realizing it wasn’t my fault. We were all too arrogant to let our guard down for long enough to realize that, we all wanted the same thing. To be loved and accepted by one another.

And this is how I neglected just about every relationship I had. Too afraid to connect, too scared to be alone. These were confusing times filled with anxiety and a pervasive loneliness. But things changed for me when I thought I fell in love with a woman. Something changed in me that woke me and suddenly made me realized that the ways in which I was living were truly unsustainable.

What Really Matters

It was in this life changing relationship that I truly felt heard and seen for the first time since I was abandoned in my childhood. This is when I came to understand that what really matters isn’t how somebody else sees you, or what they think about you, but instead it is about the quality of the connections you have with these people.

Most of my connections with others were based on how I wanted them to see me. Which was really whatever they wanted me to be, so I could feel liked, accepted and approved of by them. It was all a game on the most superficial of levels. I thought that if I looked or acted a certain way, the way that I saw those I was seeking attention from act, that I would then be loved and accepted those I was acting like.

But what I didn’t realize was, that they were just acting the part also. Not really knowing what to do to feel belonging. So they did what they saw others do that gained them acceptance. It seems so silly thinking about it now, because it’s something a simple, direct and honest conversation would have resolved. But we were so insecure in our belonging that we were scared to death to even broach the topic.

Instead we just did the dance of trying to follow whatever trend was popular in hopes that someone would accept us for our rendition of it. When I thought I was in love, I thought I was feeling the recognition of being seen for who I was, not the person who was hustling for others approval that I was putting on, and feeling accepted for the authentic person I thought they saw in me. But they really fell in love with the version of me that I was acting as, not who I was.

The relationship ended in a way fitting to how it began. But it made me think about how I had built my relationships in the past and how I wanted to build them going forward into the future. I’ve come to the understanding that, our connections to one another, in authentic and intimate ways, are really what matters most.

But I also understood that, you don’t write people off. I recognized the changes I went through, how difficult they (the changes) were to initiate and endure as they were happening and the resiliency I cultivated in the process. And if I could do it, than others could do it too. This is what made me reach out to the people that had once populated my past self’s life and ask for a fresh start.

Authenticity

What I’ve come to understand about what being authentic means to me is, that I never really wanted to be mean or arrogant in the first place. All the ways I was acting to find approval from those I sought to feel belonging with, wasn’t really who I was. I wasn’t mean, nor did I want to be mean. I wasn’t better than others and acting that way was exhausting and lead to me feeling isolated and judged by others.

These were the barriers I needed break down in order to be in authentic relationships with people, hoping that the bridges I burned along the way weren’t so damaged that I couldn’t repair them.

I started by reaching out to those who I used to be good friends with in the past. This was surprisingly fruitful, as I heard from some people I hadn’t talked to for at least a decade or two. This is where being friends with most of the people I knew from my past on Facebook came in handy. All I had to do was send a message and see if they would reply.

And I began talking to quite a few people this way. But this time, instead of complaining about somebody or something, finding comradery in misery the ways I used to do, I asked them questions about what was happening in their lives and explored common interests we shared. Which, not surprisingly, we had quite a few. This is when I realized that we were friends for a reason. Our shared interests were the foundation of our relationship and why we were able to stand the test of time. This realization felt good : )

We were now exploring who we were in ways that made us feel more connected and a better representation of who we were as people. Sure, we would still commiserate from time to time, about the difficult things in life. But we were no longer basing all of our interactions in this mind frame. Life was more than the difficult experiences we had to endure. It helped that we were also grown adults now, instead of self absorbed teenagers too : ) And this level of authenticity lead to another dimension of feeling belonging. And that i of building intimacy.

Intimacy

When I talk about intimacy, I’m talking about the feeling of being close with another, and not only in a sexual way. Sure, there is that facet of knowing somebody, but it isn’t the ONLY expression of feeling soothed by another’s presence.

This was however, not the message I was sent as a child growing up. The physical act of making love was what was most valued in my environment. Especially when it was connected to how somebody looked physically. This left us all feeling like we didn’t quite belong because it all hinged on the condition of us being attractive. As Melba would say, no bueno.

So when I started rebuilding the relationships from my past over again, I was now focused on our shared interests and how we could turn those into shared experiences. For instance, my stepsister loves to hike. I love to hike. So I’ve recently connected with her and made plans to hit the trails together.

This not only gives us the chance to experience something we both love together, but it will also give me the opportunity to apologize for not being the bigger brother I could have been, had known then what I know now. And hopefully, we’ll start something new. This reminds me of a line from a Peter, Bjorn and John song, “Object of My Affection” that goes, “just because something starts differently, doesn’t mean it’s worth less.”

And that’s just it, the chance to start something new. It doesn’t mean that it’ll be perfect, or that the pain from the past will magically go away, but we have the chance to make something stronger. And hopefully in the process, be happier for it.

Why We Should Even Bother

And this is really what it comes down to. We change and build healthy relationships so we can have a better quality of life. o we can be in a more positive disposition more often. We’ll create better memories that we can revisit down the road together. In short, fuller, happier lives.

So if you’ve been neglecting the relationships from your past, or just feel as though you want a fresh start, a chance to rebuild your relationships for the better, there’s no time like the present. Get out there and reconnect. Be honest with yourself and those you want to connect with and you’ll build intimacy from authenticity. And these are the relationships worth building. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “True Lies” by Jack Parrott is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Your Self Worth Is Not Determined By How Much You Do For Others or How You Are Perceived: Why Listening Matters

This is a difficult lesson for a lot of people, including myself. And how well we learn it depends on a lot of varying factors. From how we were treated in our early childhood to the ways we see how we’re able to effect our surroundings and make changes in our lives. If handled poorly, we can be paralyzed by fear for not adding up to our learned expectations. And these standards or expectations can sometimes feel impossible to meet.

Childhood’s What Makes You

For me in my childhood, I was told this message on a regular basis. There was a constant stream of criticism and negative judgements and a finite amount of praise or positive reinforcement. In fact, I only ever remember receiving one compliment from one of my caregivers in my childhood and it was based on how attractive my calves were. This did not make for a caring or warm, nurturing environment.

I was however, told how lazy I was regularly and regardless of whether or not I was doing what was asked of me. A task that usually took the form of a chore of some sort. And to add insult to injury, I wasn’t shown or taught how to do the tasks that I was being called lazy for not doing correctly, with any amount of patience or thoughtful guidance. It was just expected that I should know how to do the task and do it perfect. This is the definition of an impossible standard.

So with all these negative messages and impossible standards I was being pummeled with and measured against, how did I find my way out of the trap of beating myself up for never feeling enough? Short answer, I didn’t for a long time. I continued to abuse myself and others in the same ways I was abused.

Living Under Unachievable Expectations

These dangerously unreasonable expectations I was raised with, followed me throughout my life. I was using the insanity producing sentiment of, “is that all you are capable of?” to pass judgement on everything that not only I was doing, but of those who were close to me as well. I almost always had a condescending attitude towards what others were doing and nothing anybody did was ever good enough.

What I feel was most confusing about these impossible expectations I held and those holding me to them was, that there was nothing backing them. They had no foundation, but I held on to them with conviction. Never questioning why I was measuring everything/body up in this way. But I was holding onto this way of being while being gripped with a sense of fear that if I didn’t meet my own impossible standards, I would be abandoned again as I had felt I was in my childhood.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my caregivers were acting under this same convictions of feeling unworthy of feeling belonging. For no other reason than because we were withholding our acceptance of one another from each other. We were keeping the very thing we wanted from ourselves by holding it back from those we were judging so harshly.

This is probably what is meant by we have the keys to our own prison. But if the keys are so buried under the rubble of our unreasonable standards, how do we even know what to look for? We need a guide, or a role model in the first place to begin the search for our own release from out of our prisons of unreasonable expectations and critical judgements.

Waking Up From The Unachievable

This is no easy task. I was so inundated with the ideas of perfection that were floating around in my head that the unachievable seemed reasonable. And this is a dangerous head space to inhabit. I was acting mean, entitled and made sure everybody within hearing range knew what my thoughts on the matter, whatever it was, were.

I was so entrenched in my unsustainable beliefs, that it took an act of God to wake me from them. This act came in the form of a woman. I met, and thought I fell in love with a woman who made me change my entire way of being. The relationship didn’t start out in a way that was romantic, or even healthy. But she taught me a few lessons that were essential to me changing the person I used to be. The most important one being how to forgive.

Learning to Forgive and Accept What Is

As I’ve said, we didn’t start out on the best note, but we were infatuated with one another. For me, the term, “real recognize real and you looking familiar”-Jay-Z, resonates with me because it describes the feeling of recognizing the same type of hurt in the other and knowing how to care for it. This, I’m convinced, is what was happening with us. We would have been much better as friends, but the alure of helping each other to heal from our similar wounds was much too strong to let our relationship just be casual.

So we stayed together. And again, we were tested every step of the way. Some things happened that I won’t go into detail about, but they were comprised of what usually bring most relationships to a bitter end without any chance for reconciliation. And I was asked to move past them in the first month of our relationship.

This wasn’t easy, but I was willing to come to terms with them, confront them and heal from them. Even giving up things I loved for her sake, hoping to make it a little easier for her to bear the cost of her actions. But all my efforts were for not as she continued to spiral down. Again, not easy to watch.

But I don’t for a second regret the changes and sacrifices I made on her behalf, mostly because they ended up making me a better person in the end. And for that, I am grateful to her. But forgiveness was easy when I felt heard and seen for the first time since I was a child. Real recognize real has a powerful effect on those who’ve been neglected, and it was just the remedy I was looking for from feeling as though I was never adding up.

Real Recognize Real, Or, Stellar Communication

The ability for me to learn how to forgive myself and others, for not meeting my impossible standards and just about every other infraction, perceived or real, came down to how well I felt as though I was being heard and seen and then reciprocating to that. And feeling heard and seen really comes down to how well we communicate with one another.

So the lesson I learned in that relationship was, that for me, communication and feeling heard and seen were most important to feeling enough. This may seem like a no brainer, but for the chronically neglected, this set off all sorts of lightbulbs. The ability to be recognized in my emotions and having someone react to them in real time was what had been missing from my emotional world for what felt like my entire life.

It felt so comforting to be held in a space of feeling heard instead of the feelings of not adding up to the others expectations, that I would do just about anything to hold onto that feeling. This is what made forgiveness so easy for me. This space of feeling heard and seen allowed me the courage to overcome the feelings of hurt and sense of being done wrong and not adding up. And it’s from here that I was willing and able to build a healthy relationship.

These were the tools I was missing, was never taught by my caregivers in my youth. No wonder my relationships all failed in the past. But I also learned from our relationship that, just because I was ready to communicate open and honestly with my partner, didn’t also mean that she was ready to. So in the end, our relationship failed. Though this time not for lack of me trying to make it work.

Finding the Right Person Being Willing to Do the Difficult Work of Communicating

As I’ve said above, it can’t just be one person doing the work of communicating. If this is the case, there will most likely come with it a feeling of unrest, of not feeling heard and not quite knowing why. This was how I felt when I was unable to communicate my feelings to my partners. And in my case, I chose partners who were outspoken and knew exactly what they wanted. They wanted somebody who would come along for the ride while they made the decisions and I was looking for someone to do the work of living my life for me.

It seemed like a win win, but this type of control over another usually leaves one person feeling as though they have no control over their life and as though they aren’t doing enough to feel loved. For me, I was feeling listless and left wanting more. More out of my life, out of my relationships, more belonging. I was drinking a lot to numb the dis-ease of these feelings of lacking and feeling isolated. This was a lonely place to be.

So now that I know what was lacking from my past relationships, what’s changed? How does what I know now change the ways I see and choose my relationships in the present? For starters, I’m more aware of the people around me and their ability to listen to what I have to say.

Listening to Feel Heard

A partners ability to listen to feel a sense of being enough is now at the top of my list of desirable attributes. Before I was looking for one thing only, and that’s how good looking my partner was. This seemed to be the only thing that mattered to me, but looking back now it was the number one value that all of my caregivers could agree on. You could do terrible things to others, but as long as you were attractive, it was okay.

Only, this type of foundation in a relationship leads to connections based on superficialities that do not last. It also breeds resentment from my experience. There is a feeling of distance between each other that translates into the question, am I enough? This is because our emotional worlds are usually left unattended, uncared for by our partners and probably ourselves. And if you don’t feel heard or seen in a relationship, then you have what I’ve described above. Something that is based on control over the other and feeling as though you have to do more or be more to feel loved. The sentiment in this type of relationship being, I have what you want and you’d better do as I say or or fit my idea of you or I’ll take it away.

But if we listen to each other, attune to each other’s need, then we begin to build true intimacy. Feeling heard brings with it a sense of feeling loved and belonging. So being heard and listening to one another is a way to feeling belonging to each other. Finally feeling enough for the other person. The sentiment in this type of relationship being, I hear you and I’m here for you. This is how we build connections that are strong and lasting. Not withholding love from the other to feel belonging, but giving love to be open to receive love.

Giving Love to Feel Enough

So in the search for healthy relationships, we don’t have to push ourselves to give as much as humanly possible to feel loved and accepted. This is a trap that we get caught in usually because we already don’t feel as though we’re enough as we are, in order to feel loved. Instead of focusing on what we can do for others to feel loved, instead focus on how do we accept ourselves and others as we are. Then we’ll be driven to do for ourselves and others, only not from a place as Brene Brown so aptly puts it as, “hustling for approval”, but because we want what’s best for ourselves and our loved ones.

So if you feel as though you’re not adding up in some way, or have to do more in order to feel loved and belong to and with another, slow down and take a look at why you feel this way. Question what you’re believing about yourself and your belonging. You may just find that you’re already enough. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Impossible standards just make life difficult. #fortunecookie” by dziner is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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