Cultivating Joy, Cultivating Friendships

When I was a teenager, I had no idea how to sustain friendships. This is not hyperbole. I literally did not have healthy friendships modeled for me, and the friendships I did have were with people who were experiencing the same amount of strain or trauma in their personal life as I was. We were all just trying to figure it out without any guidance to show us the way. So, we hurt each other. A lot.

But even with the hurts we were blindly injuring one another with, we still managed to find some lasting and comforting forms of companionship. As I’m writing this, I’m waiting for a friend at a local coffee shop. Someone I’ve known since high school. We’ve managed to stay friends through the years. Through college, career changes, babies and marriages, we’re still a resource for one another.

But this hasn’t been the case with many of the people I once called friends. I’d like to explore some of what brings us together and how to keep these bonds healthy. How do we nurture the initial spark of friendship that brings us together, to last through the years? Let’s start with the spark, and see where it takes us.

What Makes a Friendship?

I’ve said this before on this blog, that Jay-Z’s line, “real recognize real and you lookin’ familiar” has a spark of truth in it for me when it comes to describing a friendship. What I like about it is, that I think we recognize what’s familiar in one another’s experiences and circumstances. We see that we’re in the middle of something that looks familiar to us, and are drawn to one another. I suppose as a way to support each other while we try to figure it out. Two heads are better than one, as they say : ) ( :

We’re mirroring each other in a way. And I believe this brings us comfort. Because seeing someone else succeed helps give us the confidence to succeed. And if we fail, we have each other as support. Someone who can show us the positive in us while we’re busy beating ourselves up for not succeeding. And if you’re like me, you are beating yourself up quite a bit.

So having another around to help show us that we’re human, and bound to make mistakes, is helpful in keeping us more grounded and balanced. For me, it has been invaluable to have that kind of friendship. The one that tells me I’m “killin’ it”, while I’m paying back my student loans after cutting back to only working one job. This friend was also in debt until recently. We are both here for each other, cheering one another on while we work to achieve our goals. And that’s a great feeling. Feeling support from someone who knows how difficult it can be.

Maintaining a Lasting Connection

This was the difficult part for me. It was fairly simple finding people who were/are in similar situations to my own. But keeping the friendship alive was a mystery to me. What I’ve come to realize is, that we were all just surviving, and not able to think past our immediate circumstances. This lead to somewhat superficial connections.

I was so concerned with when the next panic attack was going to come, that I didn’t have the bandwidth to make plans for the future. Nor did I have the foresight to do the basics. Such as putting close friends’ birthdays in my calendar. I was just drifting from day to day without any plan or goal in mind, playing video games and drinking to numb my experience of what was happening to me. No bueno.

So, how did I change this? How did I go from just surviving to being an active role in my relationships? This took a lot of work. And it’s something I’m still working on. Let me show you what I’ve come up with for fostering friendships.

Make a List

I’m a list maker. I get a sense of joy and satisfaction just from organizing tasks, thoughts and events into a functional and attractive looking list. This is why I bullet journal. It gives me the right amount of art to organization ratio I need. So naturally, in order to stay in touch with those close to me, I’ve made a list.

This list is on my phone, and I’ve put various friends and relatives into four different groups of people. In the first group, are the people I check in with once a week. Then the following three groups are people that I check in with every three weeks, rotating through each group every week to make sure I don’t miss anyone. This way, I’m staying current with what’s happening in the people’s lives whom I care about.

Be Diligent

It also pays to be persistent as well. For example I was texting one person on my list for weeks with no response. This was kind of disheartening because this person is going through a lot of life events right now and I want to be a source of support for them. Then, during one phone call from his brother, I learned that he never responds to texts, (my preferred method of communication) only phone calls. So I called him the next day and low and behold he got right back to me with a text saying he was at work and is it important. That felt good. Like unlocking a puzzle.

Diligence has paid off with friendships for me in different ways too. I had definitely left many of my friendships to decay by simply neglecting them for a very long time. And I was a different person to most of the people who knew me before I changed. So rebuilding those connections wasn’t something that was a one and done deal. It took being persistent, but not pushy, and kind to those I was reaching out to. Hopefully letting them know that I’m not the ass I used to be.

But, this method worked. I’m now in regular communication with many of the people I was friends with from my past and I like to think that both our lives are richer for it. For example, a friend of mine that I used to cook with told me to Google search, “gross Jell-o molds” and it did not disappoint. My favorite was the ones with SpaghettiOs in them : P

Remember Your Shared Interests & Look for Experiences to Share

As far as the curriculum of friendships goes, planning events and then executing them might as well have been a trig class while I was still taking fundamentals of math. I’m an introvert, so doing things with others doesn’t come so naturally to me. I believe that in most of my romantic relationships, my partner was the one who was making plans for us. So during the seasons of my life where I’m on my own, I’ve had to find things and experiences to do, on my own.

What I’ve been trying to do is, when I think of something new or interesting that I’d like to get involved with, I scan my friendships to see who else might want to get involved. Then I shoot them a text to see if they’d like to join in. Again, this may seem obvious for many folks. But for us introverts, it’s a bit of a struggle to make that connection.

For example, I’ve been into thinking about my Polish heritage lately and am making my next self-care meal as an homage to Polish cuisine. There are a lot of mushrooms in Polish cooking so I found some recipes that looked satisfying. But the more I thought about mushrooms, the more fun I thought it would be to go foraging for some. I went once when I was a child, chanterelle picking in Vermont, and absolutely loved the experience. So I searched for foraging groups local to me then texted some people in my friend group who I would normally take hikes with. I thought combining the two, foraging and hiking was a perfect match.

If Your Friend Can’t Come to You Go to Them

If you’re like me, you’re pretty busy. Until recently I was working two jobs to pay off my student loans, and on the days I wasn’t working, which were few, I’d be cleaning and cooking for the week. This left me very little time for myself. But, I found the time to visit some of my friends who were equally as busy. Tending to our friendships was a priority for me. And I did this by getting creative with how we spent time together.

For example, one friend of mine worked at a local restaurant until recently. So on my nights off, I’d hop on the train and go visit with him while he was working. I’d grab a beer and a bite to eat while he sat behind the bar a told me about his goings on. His family and what’s been happening with him personally. It felt good catching up with him in this way. Seeing him in another light, another role. I feel like I know him better as a person now.

I have another friend who recently took a job at another local restaurant. We’ve been friends since grade school though we don’t get together very often. A couple friends of mine suggested that we go to his restaurant and visit while he bakes. A fun night out, catching up with old friends seems like a pleasant way to spend an evening : )

It’s also a good idea to be mindful of how much of yourself you’re giving in all of your friendships and be cognizant of your boundaries with them. If you find you are always doing for your friends, then maybe suggest a few changes to your rules of engagement. It’s no longer fun if it feels like a burden.

Take Risks

Also, it’s important to step outside your comfort zone. Building friendships isn’t always a walk in the park. There are going to be tough times as well as the good ones. And, sometimes meeting new people means expanding beyond what your comfortable with.

For example, a friend of mine called me out of the blue because she had tickets to a small venue to see a bluegrass band. It was on a day I had off, so I decided to go. I didn’t realize at the time that there would be close to eight of us going. If I had known I might not have gone. But I went, and had a great time. Also finding an amazing new venue for seeing music that I will be going back in the future for sure.

You are in Charge of Your Belonging

Connecting with others is risky sometimes. The pain of rejection, or being vulnerable around another is not something that is easily tolerated by many. Especially if you’ve experienced abuse or trauma. But it is necessary if we want to feel connection, or a sense of belonging. But don’t forget, you’re in charge.

It’s okay to go slow while reconnecting. That way, you’re taking care of yourself while taking the time in building your friendships. And also to take the time to know that they are healthy and genuine friendships. True friends are truly a blessing. Finding and cultivating these friendships is something that will bring us so much joy the more we tend to them. But we need to take the time to nurture them.

If you’ve found your relationships are less than fulfilling, maybe it’s time to inspect how you feel in your connections with and to others. Is the fear of pain greater than the value of your connection? If so, the relationship my be under strain. Maybe the strain of not feeling like you are totally accepted as who you are in the relationship for fear of being rejected. And being yourself is a large component of feeling genuine connection in our friendships.

So cultivate your friendships. And tend to them with a nurturing effort, and you’ll find joy in them. But also know who you are first. And true friends will help you to be the best version of yourself. Not expect you to change. Friendships aren’t always easy, but few things worth their while are. Be consistent and make your relationships a priority and they will yield feelings of comradery and joy. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “friendship” by bekassine… is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Childhood Emotional Neglect

Here’s another big topic. Childhood emotional neglect is something that has recently been on my radar. But it’s also something that, when I read about what it is and its effects, I identified with and immediately knew what it was. In the family that I grew up in, we never spoke about emotions. But what I think and feel was so damaging about this was, that when we did have an emotion openly, or displayed an emotional need, it was made known that the person having the emotion was just one more cross to be born by the other.

I would later realize that this was my parents’ inability to establish healthy boundaries around how much they are willing vs. able to give. But as a child, this sent the message that it was not okay for me to have emotions. As though my emotions were a punishment bestowed upon those who were in charge of my well being, and not an aspect of being human.

In this post I’d like to talk a little about what emotional neglect looked like growing up in my family in action. And ways that I’m coming to understand what happened to me and how I’m healing from it. Here’s a link to the site that sparked the inspiration for this post. And also, I’m not a professional, these are only my experiences and opinions. If you’re experiencing difficult emotional states, speaking with a trusted professional therapist or counsellor is advisable.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall…

When I was a child, what I remember most about my family was, that they had one look, one affect. And it was of disapproval. Seldom did my family look on one another with loving and caring gazes. If I was happy, I would get a tentative look in response. As if to say, “I see you’re happy, but are you really happy?” And on top of the confusion of not understanding my family’s responses and lack of mirroring to my emotions, I felt as though there was something wrong with me.

Their constant, judgmental stares reinforcing my deficiency in some way. So every time I had an emotion, I felt compelled to seek my family’s approval. “Is this right? Am I feeling this right?” was how I felt most of the time, in regards to how I was feeling emotionally. This would also play out in my relationships with women, later on in life. More on that later. But with this type, or rather lack of mirroring of emotions, I was left not understanding how I felt about pretty much anything at any given time.

My emotional world was a confusing maze, thanks to the emotional neglect I had been through. And one I had no map to navigate. So I drifted. I floated from one relationship to the next, one set of circumstances to another, without direction. What I was looking for was a place to feel accepted and approved of mostly. I think I was also looking for someone to tell me how to feel. But that was a lesson that was still on its way.

Choosing Relationships not Knowing How I Felt About Them

Relationships are difficult to understand when you don’t know how you feel about them. The best way to describe the experience is, that I was so afraid of not belonging, being accepted, that I was in survival mode for most of my life. Fear was the number one emotion in my world, and something I knew well. So when it came to choosing a relationship, I went along with whomever was going to tell me how and who to be.

Due to my emotional neglect, I had no idea what was expected of me in a relationship. Or even more importantly, I had no idea what made me happy in a relationship. So I chose people who, in no uncertain terms, would tell me how to be accepted by them.

In these relationships, I spent a majority of my time sedated with alcohol while letting my S.O. tell me what she expected from me. I had successfully created a space where I could exist in a sort of half numb state, where I didn’t have to live my life or take responsibility for who I am or my emotions. I was so busy being what everybody else wanted of me and feeling that I was a burden in some way, that I had no idea what I was feeling emotionally or who I was like. This was confusing.

When Fear is the Glue that Binds

And what held me together in my relationships was mostly a sense of fear. Fear of being abandoned and left alone. A fear of being judged bad or not worth being with and feeling shamed for it. The emotional neglect I endured had left me feeling so much fear, that I was paralyzed in my emotional body. Frozen solid. Too afraid to wake into the reality of what my thoughts and feelings were about who I was.

This did not bode well for my relationships. I was acting against my better moral judgement by treating women like sex objects, as well as writing people off while acting incredibly arrogant. And all to make myself seem “acceptable” as a certain type of man. The type of man I had modeled for me and was suggested for me to be, when I was a child. Needless to say, the types of women I was attracting were not women who were best suited to who I actually wanted to be.

Being Sensitive as a Man in a Relationship

Because under the arrogance and pettiness, I was a super sensitive, thoughtful and caring, hopeless romantic, who was terrified of the ways I was behaving. I was rejected by my family, for who I was, so many times that I tried forcing myself to be as they implied and modeled for me. But this was also how I came to be my own abuser.

By freezing and numbing my emotions, while behaving the ways my family did that terrified me as a child, I had become my own abuser. And in turn, I chose women who craved this type of man. Emotionally neglectful and abusive. Time and time again I would choose relationships that left me feeling worse while I was in them. Too afraid to be my sensitive self due to the fear of being rejected or torn apart for having emotions that weren’t “manly”. So I numbed them to fit into the mold of who my S.O., friends and family wanted me to be.

We were repeating the patterns of emotional neglect, from my family, in my romantic relationships. All for the sake of “fitting in” with the people I had come to fear. This was unhealthy. I wish that I could say that there was a defining moment, one where I woke from this fear and started living a life more true to my emotions. But there were some dramatic events that coincided with my awakening.

Waking from the Fear & Emotional Neglect

I drifted through my relationships and most of my life, until I was married in my mid-twenties. Our relationship wasn’t terrible by any means. We were amicable to one another and pleasant most of the time. One day, my now ex-wife came to me and said that we felt more like roommates than a married couple. Looking back now, I understand more clearly what she meant. And she was correct. But I was so numb at the time, that I couldn’t tell the difference.

My family members had acted much the same way as I was acting, so it just seemed natural to me. But what I realize now, what was missing from our relationship was, a felt sense of affection for each other. Sure physical attraction, but more the type where you would lay in bed and talk and cuddle. Being open in emotions and thoughts while being physically close. What I missed when she brought this up was, that these were the questions that would have lead to more intimacy.

But I was much too scared to be intimate in relationship then. I’m only now realizing that intimacy comes after overcoming your fears of being close to another, not before. I first needed to learn to feel safe in relationships with others, before I could be intimate with another. These lessons are usually learned with family in childhood. So in order to feel safe in relationship, I went back to where it all began. To my family.

Safety with & Among Those Closest

After my divorce and the break up of the relationship which immediately followed my marriage, I had no choice but to move back in with family. What made this move so difficult was, that I had been so thoroughly neglected by this family member, I was terrified to get anywhere near them. But I stayed.

I stayed and learned how to take care of myself, but also and more importantly, I learned how to allow myself to be supported by those I was with. I had been so used to do things my way and Feeling Supported By Communicating

And it’s during these interactions where we’re collectively reversing the emotional neglect that we had all experienced in the family. The more often we connect, the more comfortable we all feel with asking each other more and more questions. In the family of my youth, there were no boundaries. Family members would root around in one another’s belongings to try to find something, anything that was being hidden from them.

It turns out that all we were hiding from each other was love and trust. What we wanted to know, we didn’t trust that the other would be honest with us if we asked. Due to us feeling as though we had to be secretive about ourselves and our emotional states for fear of being torn apart. Fast forward to family dinner Fridays and we’re communicating more open and honestly than we ever have.

We’re concerned about each others well being. We share things we find that we think will aid each other. We’re creating community by being honest and open with our emotional states. And this is what we were missing all along. Because we were too afraid to be our authentic, sometimes scared, vulnerable selves around each other, not knowing or realizing that whatever happened we would and could be there to take care of ourselves. Care we could then extend to each other.

Finding Your Connection

I recognize that my situation is unique. Not everybody can go back to a fearful place and make a fresh start. And it was a lot of hard work on my part too. It’s not as though our connection didn’t have its difficulties. But what made it possible to reconnect again was an open mind and staying in the discomfort. Knowing it’s going to be hard but staying anyways, that’s what helped us to create tighter bonds with each other.

Emotional neglect in relationships is not easy to overcome, but it’s also not impossible to either. If you’ve found yourself relating to some of what I’ve written, please seek help. Feeling alone and isolated are two major parts of emotional neglect. And the longer we live with these feelings, the more difficult it is to come back from them. Reaching out to a professional can be a great way to open the door, if only a little bit, to start letting people in again.

Because it is in relationship where we really come alive. The love and trust that we share is life blood to our relationships. And our relationships with each other can be so rewarding. I also find that it helps to think the best of others as well. Not everybody is out for themselves. There are good people out there doing good work. It’s our job to be that person and recognize it in others. Good luck on your journey, and know that you are not alone. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Broken Mirror” by Rakesh Ashok is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

“I’m Right!” How to Sabotage a Relationship in Two Simple Words

Oh man, this is a tough one. I had a problem with needing to be right, whatever the cost, whatever the circumstances. This was not a healthy way to live. I think back on it now with empathy for my younger self because of all the fear, anxiety, doubt and lack of authentic and supportive connection I had. And, it wasn’t only me who acted this way. Every person who was close to me, save for one or two friends (thanks Jon), acted and probably felt the exact same ways I did. It is and was disheartening.

In this post, I’ll be going over some of the dynamics that I was raised with around standing your ground in being right, whatever the cost. Why I felt I needed to be right, as I’ve come to understand it, and some ways in which I am learning to practice some much needed humility in my life. And with every story, there’s always a beginning. So let’s take a look at how I was taught to view being wrong.

“I’m Right, That’s the End of it!”

When I was a child, around the age of eight, I learned very quickly that the adults in my life were in charge and had no patience for having their authority questioned. As you probably know, when you’re a child, you are prone to emotional outbursts when things don’t go your way. However in my upbringing, when a child in my family had an irrational emotional outburst, we were silenced swiftly by an often times even more volatile emotional outburst by the adult.

This was frightening to a small child. And also sent the message that emotions were something that were “uncontrollable”. So, we all let our emotions take the wheel and navigated our relationships with indignant outrage with how the other people in our lives were behaving. It was all very childish and reactionary. But, we didn’t know any better.

From my experience, I felt out of control most of the time. Looking back now at my adult role models, I can see all too clearly how they were just barely holding on to what they thought was “the right way” to do things. They had small lives that they were now in charge of and without the patience necessary to cultivate strong emotional literacy and understanding. They were dealing with all of the traumas they had endured in their youth and now they were passing down this cursed family heirloom of generational trauma to us, their children. Feeling out of control is probably an understatement.

Being Right, it’s About Control

In my family, the adult was the unquestioned authority on everything. And when somebody disagreed with them and their black and white ways of handling their relationships, they would lash out in anger. In other words, they would throw a tantrum. I can look back on this with some levity now, but the reality was, that the relationships at the time were intense and terrifying.

For example, my grandfather was a six foot something German man with a voice that hit like a cinderblock when it landed. He was not somebody you wanted to be on their bad side. And he used his imposing demeanor to exact control over those who he saw as his subordinates. Which was pretty much everybody. And, he was in charge and he was always right.

I’m not writing this to demonize my grandfather. He was my first best friend and I have fond memories of being with him. But he is an excellent example of abusing his power, because of how important it was for him to be right in order to feel in control. If my grandfather said he was right, there was no question about it. You had no recourse if an injustice happened. You just had to deal with your hurt and most likely abused self on your own. No support, no comfort. Only fear. This is how you cripple a relationship, by needing to be right to feel in control.

Fear & Being Right

This drive to be right to feel in control, in my family anyway, had the effect of us feeling fearful of our belonging, our connection. If you were proven to be wrong, then those who were under the control of those who were right, had full license to abuse the other for being wrong. It was our way of exacting what little justice we could. So belonging, to us, came to mean how can we make those who say they are right, look stupid.

This, no matter how you look at it, is dysfunctional. There’s a Radiohead song, “Just” from the nineties which was popular, that amplifies the dynamic in our family.

You do it to yourself, you do
And that’s why it really hurts
Is that you do it to yourself, just you
You and no one else
You do it to yourself
” “Just”- Radiohead

We were trying to make the other person not only feel stupid, but also alone. From my perspective, I wanted the other person to feel the ways that I felt that the other person was making me feel. Revenge for what was being done to me. And I was angry about it. But what age has taught me, is that most likely everybody else in the family was also feeling this way. Or at least in close proximity to how I was feeling. We were all just too proud and arrogant to show it.

Arrogance & Nursing the Wounds

This is where the disconnection happened, for me for sure. I was hurt. We were all hurt by each others words. If it was one thing my family did well, it was making another person feel close to worthless, using our words as weapons. This was something that I practiced as often as I was in relationship, and it led to a lot of hurt feelings. I’ve said before on this blog that my moto in my early twenties was, “bridges are for burning.” But with the wake of hurt and abused feelings I left, it’s no wonder I was running from relationships every time one came into my life. Add to that the amount of abuse I endured and it’s amazing that I’ve come this far in reconnecting.

But we’ve all got some wound to nurse. And for whatever reason, like a wounded, wild animal, we feel we need to run and hide to tend to our wounds, instead of connecting with each other to heal. Tara Brach put it best when she said, “we were wounded in relationship, and we heal in relationship.”

This makes perfect sense to me now, but when you’re encapsulated by the fear we were using to control one another, it’s difficult to see. Especially when it means being vulnerable to a person who could possibly do more harm to us. This is why it’s important to find someone or a group of people who are safe to be be around.

Finding Your Tribe

In order to heal from this type of isolation and relational abuse, we first need to feel safe. Safety for me meant being alone for a while. I was so used to living life by trying to fit in with what was expected of me, that I had no idea how abused I felt or was. I was so numb from abusing my emotions and having them be abused, that I completely lost touch with who I was. No bueno. So in order to feel safe and start a fresh, I spent some time on my own.

Then, as I began to treat myself with care and respect, I understood what it meant to feel again. Slowly at first, but as time progressed, I was able to reconnect with others again. Only this time, I did so with caution. I vetted my friendships this time on shared common interests and whether or not the person was kind. The relationships I used to seek were based on the above cycle of abusing the other and calling it teasing, or all in good fun. Now I have a handful of thoughtful and kind friends. People who I know have my best interests at heart. And that feels good : )

Finding Friends

And what I’ve found most refreshing about this new way of connecting is, people who have similar dispositions tend to find each other. A few weeks ago I was in a yoga class at my local YMCA and I met a guy who seems to be a lot like me in many ways. Even temper, thoughtful and nice. Seems like he could be a good friend. And there are all sorts of ways to meet new people.

My parents are really into geology. They take field trips to old mines and literally mine for mineral specimens. This is something that I’m not interested in, but every time they go, they have a new story about somebody they know or met while at the dig. So if you’re into something, say a hobby like hiking, maybe head over to Meetup and find out what’s happening local to you.

And it’s important to stress that if you’ve had historically abusive relationships, seek professional help from a trained therapist or counsellor. I am not a therapist and therefore cannot give advise on how to heal from past abuse. These are only my experiences. And I can say from what I’ve been through, that the aid of a therapist has helped me exponentially with my relationships.

Putting Yourself Out There

There was a clothing line in the nineties, that was popular in my high school, No Fear brand clothing. I don’t remember the actual iconography of the shirts, but I remember the sentiment: real men have no fear. This is a completely unrealistic way to view fear and emotions in general.

There’s a Mark Twain quote that I have on a mug which I bought from the museum in his former house and I have as wallpaper on my phone: “courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” I love this quote, because it reminds me that, yes, there will be times I will be afraid. This is okay. In fact, it’s normal. My job then is to not let the fear stop me from doing what I desire most.

This is what I believe is what’s stopping us from, as the phrase goes, “putting yourself out there”. The fear of connection is real and scary. I’m sure it’s different for every person as well. I can say from my experience, it was the fear of being in an abusive form of relationship. But we need to overcome that fear. As I said above, finding loving and supportive people, including a therapist or counselor, are at the core feeling safe enough to overcome the fear of connecting in a safe way. Feeling at ease with and around others, is the first step to learning to trust people to be kind again. So find that safety and you’ll find those connections.

And Don’t Forget Humility

This is no easy task when you’ve been guarded for fear of being rejected. For me, I was so used to putting up the, “strong” persona, the “everything is fine”, front that I forgot what it felt like to actually be fine. My pretending to be fine took the form of over-the-top, egotistical statements. Of course, I didn’t believe any of what I was projecting. I did so to compensate for my lack of feeling as though I was acting how others expected me to act in order to feel belonging. In short, no bueno.

So practicing humility for me, is a way to not only build myself up, but also those around me as well. For example, I make it a point to point out when somebody is doing an excellent job with whatever they are doing. Commenting on specifics about why they’re excelling. And if someone compliments me, I usually reply with, “thanks, we’re great”. I turn it around to focus on how we are working well together. Because it’s about us, not just one person.

Maybe I’m Wrong…

But I think it’s okay to accept that we’re not perfect. Release the idea that we can control how other people see us and just be. It isn’t the easiest form of self expression. Sometimes we just want to bury our heads in the sand and go along with whatever is popular. But is that right? Is that who we really are? My take is no, it isn’t.

So being ourselves really starts with accepting ourselves as we are. Not perfect, not always right and not always in control. Once we let go of these ideas, being ourselves is so much easier. So find that support. Rely on others and maybe more importantly, rely on your imperfect self. It’s okay, you’ll do just fine. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Scatter Brained and Broad Minded” by DeeAshley is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Fitting in Or Desperate for Attention? What does it Mean to Accept Somebody Unconditionally?

I’ve come to some pretty difficult realizations lately about the relationships in my life. The main take away being, I was so desperate to feel liked or accepted, to feel as though I were fitting in, I had completely changed my personality to cater to those I wanted to be liked by. And no surprises, I completely lost myself in the process. I’ll be talking about how I woke from the trance of not knowing that I was “playing a part” to feel as though I was fitting in with those who I saw as the keepers of me feeling accepted and ultimately loved. But let’s start first with the beginning, where it all started for me.

Withholding Acceptance & Not Feeling as Though I was Fitting in

I believe one of the very first lessons I learned from my family was, when they looked at me with a critical, judgmental eye, that meant that I was not meeting their expectations. And maybe more importantly, I didn’t belong. This is were much of my personality was forged. In the search for approval from those who were supposed to love me unconditionally. And as a child, if you don’t feel loved by your family, you’ll go to great lengths to gain the love that is being held back.

I can remember very distinctively, pulling back from my family at an early age because I just didn’t feel like I was fitting in or a part of my family. My sibling and cousins would often times drink in the hot tub together. Something that sound relaxing to me now. But I hid from them. Too scared to be a part of their revelry. Knowing that I would incur some emotional wounding if I jumped in with them. So I spent a good portion of my time on my own.

Because my family, including myself, excelled at withholding love from each other and doling it out, not unlike a drug, to keep the other person constantly in a state of feeling as though they were about to get the love we needed if we could just measure up. We did this to feel as though we were needed. By having someone begging for our love. To feel more valuable. But what happens when those who are withholding love, don’t know how to give and receive love?

When We’re all Uncertain of How to Feel like We’re Fitting in

What I’ve come to realize is, that nobody in my family knew how to feel loved or belonging. We had all been so afraid to open up for so long, that we just forgot how to do it. Withholding love was so second nature, that even if we did manage to measure up to some impossible standard, we’d have to raise it higher because we didn’t know how to nurture affection.

So we were all left in very lonely and confusing states. Wanting to be loved, but not knowing what to do when somebody willing, showed us that they needed to be loved. This is when we would run from the other. Wanting to love and be loved and not knowing how, but also too afraid to open up to the hurt the other would inevitably cause. These were the lessons that were passed down in my family and the ones I used to navigate all of my relationships in life.

The Legacy of Uncertainty

From friends to romantic relationships, I was trapped in this cycle of not knowing how to feel belonging, mixed with being to fearful to open to those closest to me. Eventually, I learned to fit the mold of what I thought others expected from me. In order to feel that the other saw me as worth belonging to, as fitting in, without question. But this left me adjusting to what others thought fitting in looked like. This left me unable to express myself as I truly was or wanted to be.

Though even if I was granted permission to be unapologetically me, I didn’t know who I was. I had been so focused on what everybody else wanted from me, that I completely lost who I was. And I was scared of being ousted from my friend group and family if I stopped being what was expected of me, but also feeling lonely as well. I never felt as though I could relax around those closest to me. This left me feeling as though I had to protect myself from those whom should have brought me comfort. This was what was so confusing, me not realizing I was trying to be somebody I wasn’t to be liked.

I had been taught from such an early age how to pretend to be something in order to fit in, that I hadn’t realize what I was doing. It was the norm in my family. We were so disconnected from what we truly liked and enjoyed, that we just didn’t realize when we genuinely liked something, from our authentic selves. Or if we liked it due to it being just a fad that was popular.

Fads are for Fitting In, Not Finding our Authentic Selves

This type of seeking approval was most apparent with my grandmother. She was a model in the 40’s and 50’s for home beauty products. And this experience, of gaining acceptance for her physical appearance, was one that was at the core of her identity. Everything had to be brand name and looks were more important than any other type of bond. She was also emotionally and verbally abusive.

She would viscously criticize her daughters appearances consistently and once, slammed my hand in her car door and left me there for fifteen minutes. This type of behavior is more in line with fascist dictators that with a loving matriarch. So it’s no wonder that we were all left scrambling to figure out what fitting in looked like in this climate of fear.

No body ever asked, “what do you like?” Nor did we ever ask what the other person was like. We were all too busy telling each other how we were, in order to control the them. So we would know for certain how to feel loved by them because we controlled them. And all this while judging how to change ourselves to be most accepted by those we saw as holders of our belonging. So to be our authentic selves would mean that we’d have to be brave enough to sever ourselves from the ways of belonging we had been taught. Which meant we’d be completely on our own. And we just weren’t strong enough to be this vulnerable or our authentic selves. Not on our own anyway.

Finding Support in being Our Authentic Selves

This was a tough one for me. All I knew of belonging was of what others were expecting of me. So when I decided to be my own person, I needed a new map. Luckily, we can’t ever completely lose ourselves. I had some ideas of what I liked and so that’s where I started. I think the place where this was most apparent was with the music I was listening to.

Music

No matter who I was trying to be, I was always honest with myself around the kinds of music I liked. And it’s important to be able to relate to this aspect of your personality. I know for me, that the music I listen to is usually a reflection of my mood. Fitting in, when it comes to music, was never a concern for me. My connection to music has always been an emotionally cathartic one. The tones and beats, to the lyrics and cadence, the music I relate to is usually a reflection of how I feel. And embodying that feeling is empowering. So if you’re looking to get in touch with yourself, music is a great place to start.

Fashion

As I’ve said before, I spent much of my childhood shopping with my family. Looking to feel belonging through what we purchased instead of who we are. I went through a period in my twenties where I was wearing designer clothing because it was what my friends were doing. I wore lots of cologne and drank expensive liquor, thinking this was what fitting in entailed. This lead to me feeling uncomfortable in my own clothing most of the time. Not to mention uncomfortable with myself.

Now my dress suits my personality. I dress in mostly thrifted clothing and in plain, understated pieces. For example, I’m wearing a a yoga with Adriene sweatshirt with my favorite pair of jeans and a bandana from an old work shirt and a pair of crocks for comfort. And on occasion I’ll wear sandalwood essential oil. Comfort is priority for me now. I still like the way I look, but it’s not the core of my self worth.

Friends & Family

And when it comes to friends and family, I’m finally surrounding myself with people who are accepting. I’ve lost a lot of friends along the way. Mostly due to the ways I was choosing to be in relationship with them. Now that I’m valuing my authentic self, I’ve also implemented some much needed boundaries around my relationships. This was no easy task seeing how most of my relationships were built on unclear and unhealthy boundaries.

I used to believe that any boundary, as healthy as it may have been, was a block to me feeling loved and accepted. So I would allow those I was in relationship with, to do whatever they wanted to me. This left me feeling hurt, guarded and uncertain of where I stood in their regard.

Now, the people I rely on for support all practice healthy boundaries. We are able to support each other without losing ourselves to the other. There are no longer the thousand tiny wounds I used to incur by just being in relationship. I know now that I am keeping myself safe by removing myself from relationships that are harmful to me. And those that I trust, have shown me that they are trust worthy and safe to be around. And that feels good : )

Outlets for Creativity

Finding a way to communicate my personality is another important aspect of finding my authentic self. Bullet journaling is a great example of this type of self expression. Journaling is a place where I can plan and organize. Two facets of myself that I enjoy expressing and are helping me to live the life I want to live.

This blog too, is a place where I can unpack my experiences and make sense of them. Writing down my experiences, matching feelings to them and organizing them into a fashion that’s cohesive, is the map I’m able to use to navigate my narrative. My bearings in my emotional life. Because in my youth, there was no mirroring. My upbringing was so volatile, that I was thrown into one crisis after another, without time to stop and understand how my circumstances were effecting me.

Blogging not only allows me to make sense of what’s happened to me, but also shows me how to be more of myself. And relax a little more in the process. I’m unpacking the past and making some much needed room for myself to feel at ease with all the pieces I’ve been unpacking. Getting to know myself better by relating to the experiences I’ve been through.

Finding Your Place

This type of work isn’t easy. For me, there was the fear of not knowing how to belong, followed by the anxiety of desperately trying to find a way to feel acceptance. When I realized I wasn’t going to feel accepted by those who couldn’t accept themselves, there was the confusion of what to do to feel belonging. And finally, the work I had to do to help to make myself feel at ease in knowing that I can choose healthy ways to belong, in healthy forms of relationship.

But doing this type of work is important to feeling at home in your relationships. It was for me anyway. Without feeling like I belong to the people I choose to be in my life, I feel a loneliness. Because we belong to each other. No one person is built to do everything on their own. We need each other, and it feel good to be needed. An integral part of somebodies life.

So find those people that bring out the best in you. The ones that bring you ease just being around them. This is where you’ll find your belonging. Fitting in is more than just looking good to somebody else because you say or do the right things at the right times. It’s about finding the people who appreciate you for showing your authentic self. Then we can grow in our relationships in the ways that makes us truly the best version of ourselves. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Hug” by zhouxuan12345678 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Giving & Taking: When to Draw Boundaries Around How Much of Ourselves We Feel We Need to Give

Knowing how to draw boundaries around how much of ourselves we feel we need to be giving is a loaded topic for many. This was one of the chief concerns in my family growing up and something that, thanks to the help of my therapist, I recently got a much needed new perspective on. In this post, I’ll be going into the different aspects of giving and receiving in relationship, especially with those who are closest to us, and how giving too much of ourselves can put a strain on all of our relationships. Also, I’ll be adding a few tips at the end to help forge some new boundaries. Hopefully, we can break some of our old patterns and start a new.

Guilt & Feeling a Burden for Simply Being

In my family, doing for others was something that brought up a lot of resentment. It seemed that anytime something was needed of another, there was usually an accompanying, cutting comment that came with the chore. Regardless of how small the task, or if it was even difficult, whomever was asking was made to feel a burden to the other. It was second nature to us. It was our way of acknowledging that the other had a need or needed support.

But what made this so insidious was, that these comments started immediately upon entry into our family. Imagine being 5 years old and hearing the resentment in your parent’s voice as they responded to you after you asking them for something as simple as a snack. I was barely old enough to open the fridge, let alone make something to eat for myself! But whatever the request was, the reactions were the same. The roll of the eyes and incredulously, indignant sigh while they begrudgingly lifted themselves up to attend to whatever task was being asked of them.

The term martyr was used liberally around our household to describe someone who thought they were doing too much. Usually said with venom. As if to say, “you think you’re doing a lot! Take a stroll in my shoes!” And most of the time, the “martyr” was only setting a boundary around what they were willing to do. Even as I’m typing this post, I felt guilty about typing the words “willing to do”, in stead of, capable of doing. Because in our family, if you were able to do what was asked, it was expected of you to do what was asked. Your will didn’t even enter the equation. And this mentality, breeds resentment around something as simple and possibly joy inducing as giving. So why were we so venomous towards one another? If all we wanted was to feel accepted and loved? Because our self worth hinged on how much we were doing for one another.

Self Worth & Value

In my family, we definitely had a lack of self esteem. We were always so uncertain of how we stood in each others regard. We seldom received positive feedback or reinforcement, so we were usually looking to gain some social capital in the family. One of the ways we did this was by doing things for one another. However, we were all so self-conscious about how we were perceived by the other. And with no one being brave enough to tip our hands, to show our true feelings, that even when we did something from a sincere place, we wouldn’t know because we were always so guarded.

With all of this uncertainty, it’s no wonder why we were so resentful of each other! We inevitably drifted further and further apart from the thousand tiny wounds we inflicted on one another. Our surroundings grew cold and void of affection, with fear and resentment residing in their stead. As Melba would say, it was “no easy”.

What is most difficult about how we ended up, is that we were once close. I can remember large family gatherings where children, me being among them, would run wild while the family humming in the background preparing meals and watching games. It was nice, comforting. We felt connected and vital. And all it took to rent our family apart was to hide our emotions from one another in an attempt to feel more needed and loved by the other. All because we didn’t feel we had self worth apart from somebody else’s opinion of us. Or what we were capable of doing for them. That and a fair amount of shared family trauma. So if we were so hurt by one another and all we wanted was to feel appreciated, why did we not just say what we needed from each other? Why hold our feelings so close in? I believe this was for fear of being seen as weak.

Fear of Exposing Our Weaknesses

It blows my mind to think how unforgiving we were in my family. To think about how we viewed our vulnerabilities as weaknesses to be routed out makes me wince a little. And in our family, giving was seen as a strength. But only because we made it known how much of a burden we were taking on by giving ourselves so “selflessly” for the other’s benefit. This was how we turned asking for help, into a weakness. Something to be ashamed of. Or, at least that’s how I felt.

And of course, this is something that is perpetuated in the culture. With role-models such as Rambo, The Terminator, Taylor Durden, John Wayne… the list goes on. But with role-models like these, it’s hard to escape the message that strength is the absence of vulnerability. However misguided that message is.

And just because we pretended that we don’t have our vulnerabilities, doesn’t mean that they are not there. But we pretended and covered them over whenever they would inevitably show themselves. And for what? To cover up the fact that we felt flawed because we didn’t feel accepted or acceptable. By ourselves or by the other. So how do we break this cycle? How do we find the strength that isn’t based in how much of a burden we can take on by giving ourselves to the point of emotional burnout? I think some of the answer lay in how we take care of ourselves.

Learning to Give & Set Boundaries Around how Much We are Giving After Not Knowing How to Give

Setting boundaries around what we’re willing to give is tricky business. Saying no to a task or a need is tough enough when you truly want to be helpful. Add guilt or feeling like your worth hinges on whether or not you say okay and it’s paralyzing. I used to be in the camp of not doing anything for anybody. Of course, I could barely take care of my own needs, let alone help someone with theirs. But I was also taught this sort of, lived helplessness by those who were constantly doing for me.

So it was a double edged sword. I didn’t know how to do for myself due to those who were taking care of me never showing me how. Maybe they did this for fear of feeling less valuable if I was independent. Though when I asked for something, a need to be met, they made me feel as though I was a burden for asking. So when I struck out on my on, I had no life skills or self esteem from feeling like a burden for so long. I didn’t even know how to ask for the help I needed, for the life skills I didn’t know I didn’t have. It was a difficult first few years for sure.

I don’t like to think how long I floated along in life before I realized I was lacking these essential skills. But regardless, I came to a place where I now understand and appreciate giving and what others give to me. But, like with all of the other areas in my life, I needed to set some boundaries around what I gave.

When is it too Much?

When I woke from the trance I had been under, things began to change rapidly for me. For the first time in my life, I understood and appreciated the sacrifice that those supporting me were making on my behalf. It felt good, knowing that I have this support, but also as though I needed to express my gratitude more often. And for me, acts of service is one of my main love languages. So giving for me can quickly turn into spreading myself too thin.

I need to keep an eye on how much of my time I’m giving, so I don’t over commit myself. Because this will lead to me burning out. I mainly do this by keeping a to-do list in my bullet journal, with a calendar for the next three weeks opposite my list. This way, I can allocate tasks to days on my calendar and check in on my progress.

Also, I need to keep an eye on whether the other person even wants what I’m offering or doing for them. I’ve often times found myself thinking that I’m “helping” someone with a great idea I’ve had, only to realize that they were just fine with the way things were. This is an embarrassing situation to find yourself in, so it’s best to read the room before you jump in!

Have a Conversation

This seems like a no brainer, but talking to those who are closest to you is what’s most helpful in finding out what they need. It’s also a way for you to set the tone of the relationship. As a child, I was sent the message that communication in all its forms, especially around my needs, was dangerous. Dangerous in that simply asking for something, however small, threatened my very belonging to those who cared for me.

But by asking those who you are close with what they need or what you can do to make life easier for them, you’re sending the message that, as a friend of mine used to say, “I’m here, I care.” And something so simple as having the coffee ready for your partner in the mornings because they told you they don’t feel as though they have enough time in the mornings, sets the tone for a more stress free environment. It’s these small gestures, done with love that cultivates feelings of acceptance and appreciation.

And talking about our needs also brings with it feeling heard. Something that is in short supply from my experience. I know this to be true for me, that sometimes I feel so focused on my goals, or the task in front of me, that I forget that one of the simplest gifts we can be giving one another is our time and attention. To really listen to what someone is telling us and respond in authentic and caring ways. Never underestimate the power of feeling heard and seen.

Healthy Give & Take

With the holidays around the corner, there’s no better time to jump in and practice setting some boundaries around what we’re capable of giving to each other. If you’re anything like me, you like to go all out in the gift giving department. Maybe this year, take a step back. Take a look at what you’ve done in the past and how it’s made you feel. Do you dread the holidays? Does it feel as though you’re the one who who is consistently giving directions and planning events? Maybe do some more delegating this year. Take a look at you’re budget and try to stick to it better when purchasing gifts.

And while you’re reigning in your spending and the time you’re spending on various projects, don’t forget to take some time for yourself. Treat yourself to a bath during the week. Or a special meal. Something that will bring you sense of ease and peace. Because there’s no point in fostering a healthy and happy relationship, if you’re making yourself miserable in the process. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Give, take ‘n share” by Funchye is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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