“Why am I Pushing Myself So Hard?!” Who’s Standard are We Measuring Up To?

This is something I know all to well. I’m going to share something in this post that I haven’t yet shared with you all, but I think I’m finally ready to take the plunge. I’ve been living up to others standards for my entire life. And it all started on one fateful night in Vermont, 33 years ago.

When I was eight, I watched a close family member die slowly from skin cancer, due to the chemicals she was using for her screen printing business. It was difficult to watch. I remember the seizures she would have and my caregiver holding a metal spoon in her mouth to stop her from swallowing her tongue. Her jagged teeth were evidence of these actions, that left such a vivid imprint on my younger self’s memory.

While she was dying, my family made regular trips to Vermont to be with her and her family while she was passing. It was during these trips where something that would shape the rest of my life happened, and it was based around somebody placing an unreasonable standard on the shoulders of an eight year-old.

During these visits to my family members home in Vermont, we would spend many nights in that beautiful verdant greener. It was during these nights, that another care taker would visit me in the early morning hours.

I would be sound asleep, when suddenly I felt water being poured on me from the outside of my sheets. I opened my eyes to find my caregiver pouring water on my groin. They then pulled me from bed with fervent anger and a flurry of confusion and wet sheets, and scolded me for “wetting the bed”, towering over me in the dark and using whispered, harsh, cold and cutting tones about what I’m not sure of, because to this day I still don’t remember what they said to me. But I know that it had something to do with how to be a man.

I’m not sure the amount of times my caregiver visited me in the night, but it was always confusing, terrifying and left me feeling so alone and so confused about what it meant to be part of a family. Something I’m still coming to terms with to this day.

One night, he pulled me to tell me how good a job I had done because we felt like a family while making dinner. Another as I said above, he poured water on my groin and told me I had wet the bed. I didn’t have feelings for what I was experiencing at the time, but it was intense, terrifying and beyond confusion. I can remember looking in the mirror while I was in the bathroom, cleaning the “urine” off of the sheet I had “wet” and not knowing what was happening, what has happened and what to do about it.

And later, when I told my main caregiver what had happened, they turned their back on me. Leaving the eight year-old me alone on the landing, with no where to go but back to the hands of those who would continue to abuse me. This with the other trauma I was experiencing at the time, lead to a lot of confusion around what it means to have a reasonable standard.

I’ve been living with that standard for my entire life. I’ve only recently begun to take a deeper look at where that feeling is rooted, and in what I’m believing about myself and my belonging. It’s left me with a lot of uneasy questions about how I had been living my life and whose life was I actually living?

As it turns out, I spent most of my life living up to what I thought was expected of me. And what I thought was expected of me was to live life like Jim Morrison. This was the lifestyle my caregivers had adopted and one I had picked up the torch from and ran with. That’s one of the reasons why the lyrics of Lana Del Rey’s song, “Gods and Monsters” struck such a chord with me. “Living like Jim Morrison” was my and my family’s mantra, and the entire reason I started blogging in the first place.

This blog has become a place for me to reparent myself. To learn to live a life that is healthy, and set to my own standards. So what does it look like when you’re living under somebody else’s standards? Let me share with you my experience of what I was going through and how it shaped the ways I saw myself, others and my relationships.

Signs You’re Trying to Fit Someone Else’s Mold

For me, fear and anxiety were the most prevalent feelings. I was always in a state of fear or anxiousness, and it was mostly due to not knowing how to be or behave around others, in order to feel loved and accepted. I drank to numb the fear and kept to myself to avoid the possibility of being rejected by them.

So for me, the feelings of fear were clear indications that I wasn’t comfortable with who I was, because of how I had been raised to believe I wasn’t enough. I had been sent so many spoken and unspoken messages about how people should be, and receiving so much criticism at the same time, that all I knew was that I wasn’t adding up to others expectations. And with no direction, I floated along, absorbing these criticisms and never feeling like I could be accepted for who I am.

That’s where I needed to decide to reject the standards others were putting on me. This wasn’t easy. And I needed help from others along the way as well. I started by finding out what I liked. What are the things and activities, and who are the people I enjoy being around. I needed to find out what my resources were so I could better understand who I was so I could find out who I wanted to be. These are the new standards I had set for myself by finding out who I am as a person.

This is where my values began to take shape. And when I found out what my values were, who I was began to take shape. Some of my core values being, kindness, gratitude, being gentle, hard work and being helpful to others. These are a few of the aspects of what makes me who I am and in turn gives me a standard to rise to.

Resources As Accepting Help

I had to learn how to accept help, not only from others, but also from things like medication, or even a morning cup of tea. This was a tough lesson to learn because I wasn’t willing to accept help from anyone or anything. I was arrogant in that I felt as though I could do it all myself, and do it perfectly. This, however, lead to an amazing amount of stress and anxiety. Without the help of others and things, we’d be incapable of accomplishing anything in our day to day. Our goals would be left unmet and our lives would be left unattended.

Here I’ll be listing a few resources that have helped me along the way, to take care of my body and work towards achieving my goals. So if you’ve been looking for ways to attune to your self and body, after you’ve stretched yourself too thin, here are a few ideas that have worked for me.

Teas

This is a big one for me. As I’ve said previously on this blog, I used to drink up to 5-7 lattes a day and as many beers at night. I was avoiding coming home to my feelings and my body. And after all the abuse I’ve endured it’s no wonder.

So lately I’ve been in the habit of drinking green tea in the morning, and something that is stress relieving at night. This way I still get a little help in the mornings when I need the extra boost, and the tension eased when the day is through. Without going overboard, too far in one direction or the other. I usually drink jasmine green in the morning and Yogi Tea, stress support in the evenings when I’ve had a long day.

Friends and Family

This seems like a no brainer, but if you’re not used to asking for help, it can be difficult to see friends and family as people to listen to you when you need an ear, or just a hug if you’re feeling lonely. This can be especially tricky if you’re on the outs with some family. A situation I know all too well. This is why it’s especially important to stay in touch with those you are closest with and is so important for your mental health and well being.

They can be there to support you when you are feeling at your worst, and you them. They are good for advise and guidance when you’re feeling a little like you don’t know which direction to go or what to do next. And also they’re there for the good times and bad. So you have a shared history of what you’ve been through together which helps to build tighter bonds.

Yoga

This one is an important one for me, as it helped me to realign with my body and it’s needs. Exercising and feeling good about my body has done me a great service for helping me feel safer in my body. A place I was too scared to go to before. Once I started to feel the progress I was making in my practice, I was also feeling more confident in the movements and even in the discomfort of some of the poses. It also helps to know that the sensations don’t last forever. And yoga has helped to bring me to terms with some of the dis-ease around my body.

Therapy

Helping to talk out what you’re going through with someone who is there to listen without the judgements that we may get from others who are close to us is important. Licensed therapists and LSWs are a great resource in helping us to sort through what’s troubling us and can give us good insights as to how to help with our situation.

I’ve been seeing one for a while, and they’ve been there for me through some tough times. Also it’s important to find one who is a good fit for you. Each one has a different style and you may not find the one who is right for you on the first go around. I think I found the person I’m with now after visits with two others. There’s also a growing community of online therapists now as well, if this fits into your schedule better.

Accepting Your Own Pain

This was difficult for me, as there was a life’s time worth of pain and loss to accept and tend to. I’d been avoiding it for so long by speeding past it with caffeine and medications, and by numbing it with more medication and alcohol. What was so difficult about it all was that I didn’t even really know I was doing it. I was self medicating on instinct, like a habitual impulse to push away the pain. It’s strange to think about now, but it makes sense that I didn’t want to feel what was difficult. But as the saying goes, sometimes it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees.

Forgiving

This one was important, and one I’ve come to terms with recently. I first had to forgive myself, for pushing myself to hard, but also forgive those who abused or neglected me, whose footsteps I followed in the lack of care of my own needs. Meditation helped me to come to terms with this one. I needed the time and space around the feelings that were too intense to feel at the time to be able to understand them, where they were coming from and who their origin was with. Myself or someone else. Only then was I able to understand and forgive what was coming up. And this was difficult to do and to recognize at first.

But the more I meditated, the easier it was to recognize when a feeling would come up that was either something I sped past or froze in my youth. The more they came up, the easier it was to first, feel them, but second, to stay with them as they were happening. I could then forgive them for coming up, but also ask for forgiveness from myself for avoiding them in the first place. It wasn’t easy, but the longer you stay with them, the easier they are to be with them.

Conclusion

Whatever your standard maybe, don’t give up. You have more strength and wisdom in you than you believe. I like to think of relying on help from others as the Buddha’s wisdom of relying on sangha, or the group of people closest to you. And that if you ever doubt your true nature, remember that you have Buddha nature. An awakened heart and mind. So let all your feelings, even the difficult ones, just be. Accept them as they are and stay with them.

Image Credits: “y2.d40 | worry lines” by B Rosen is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Knowing When to Walk Away: What do You do When Your Boundaries are Being Violated

This is a difficult topic, especially for those who have very little understanding of what boundaries are. This is a place I knew well, and time after time I would find myself in situations where I, or somebody else was taking advantage of personal boundaries. If you’ve read my last post on “shoring up your personal boundaries“, you’ll know I’ve been in some pretty iffy situations.

This, and the last post, were inspired by a place I was recently employed at. The ways in which the employer has been treating his employees is something that, well inspired this post on self-care in regards to boundaries. I’ll be going over some red flags to look for if you feel your boundaries are being taken advantage of and also, a little on what you can do if your boundaries are being encroached upon. I’ll be focusing mostly on the workplace, but some of these examples can be applied to other contexts as well.

Red Flags

If you’re not used to being in relationships with healthy boundaries, it can be tricky to see the red flags that pop up when your boundaries are being violated. Some are fairly obvious. But it can be insidious in how subtly some use them to take advantage of others. Some examples are, emotional blackmail, criticism without constructive feedback, being unwilling to give clear and concise direction while communicating needs and using misinformation to misdirect from the issues that need focusing on. These tactics aren’t new, but they make unhealthy relationships. So let’s jump in with emotional blackmail.

Emotional Blackmail

Let me start out by saying that lying in and of itself is a clear indication that your boundaries are being taken advantage of. If you, or somebody you work with, or for, is in the habit of not telling the truth, then some serious attention needs to be given to what the circumstances are and why it’s happening. This happened to me most recently at a job I left not so long ago.

I was talked to by the owner of the small bakery I worked in, at the time, and written up for not mixing the starter on the scheduled time. This was something that I had brought to the owners attention, as I was willing to take full responsibility for my mistakes. But where the violation of boundaries took place was, the owner said he was writing me up for the second time I had forgotten to do this task. I was clearly being lied to, and when I pressed for the date of the original infraction, he was unable to remember the time.

He was unable to give me any detail as to when the first time it happened was, though made reference to my mistake often after he said I had. He was saying that I had done more than what was actually done and was using it to make me feel as though I should be concerned about my job security. This is where emotional blackmail comes into the equation. It seemed as though, from my perspective, that his goal in lying to me was to make me feel as though I was on thin ice in regards to my job security. By making reference to it often, he was attempting to capitalize on my feeling as though I’m not worthy of my job title, bakery manager at the time, or that I should be lucky at all to have a job.

Asides from this being a stressful environment to work in, it also is a way to manipulate those who work for you, to feel as though you are worth less than you actually are. This may lead to people working harder to feel as though they have to make up for feeling deficient in some way. Not asking for pay increases for standard of living or increased responsibilities. But most importantly, it also leads to resentment.

Everybody I worked with had something bad to say about the owner. There were an awful lot of hurt and abused feelings. Nobody was happy where they were and everybody made it plainly clear how they felt. Yet nobody would sit down and have the tough conversations around why. I attempted, but was met with arrogance, actually much in the same ways I used to act. It wasn’t unfamiliar, but that didn’t make it any less difficult to bear.

In these situations, it’s best to take the high road. Ask a lot of clarifying questions and try not to lose focus on what is at the heart of the situation. In my case, I wasn’t a bad person for making a mistake, it was only a mistake. Keep focus on the present and leave the past in the past. And most importantly, don’t let someone else attempt to define you by the mistakes you’ve made. We’re all only human, and humans make mistakes.

Criticism Without Feedback

Criticism without constructive feedback. This is a tough one for a lot of people, and rightly so. Without constructive feedback, criticism, especially if given often, is just another way to bully someone and create an unclear and unachievable standard. This was the case with my last employer. The owner was constantly finding fault with everything that everybody was doing, while being vocal about his opinions to everybody.

For example, there was one woman who I baked with who had been baking there for the better part of two decades. Before she worked there, she owned her own bakery. She was a good baker, and did her job well. But regardless of her baking prowess, the owner would often criticise her by calling her the “queen of steam”. If you don’t know, you use steam in the baking process by injecting the oven with water to create steam, right before you put the loaves in to bake. The steam gives the crust a shiny look to it while developing the crust. The owner was constantly implying that she was too heavy on the steam.

Later when he criticized my bake, I asked him some clarifying questions around what the standard should look like. He gave reference to the woman’s bake I mentioned above, saying it should look like hers. This was confusing because all I’ve ever heard him say about her bakes was how they weren’t good enough. So I was left with no direction on what he wanted from me, and only the feeling of not doing an adequate job, regardless of how good my bakes looked. And everyone that worked there that baked was an excellent baker, including myself. So there was no clear standard of what he expected from us. Only criticism.

Lack of Clear and Concise Direction

This was at the root of a lot of the miscommunication and confusion at my last place of employment. Information that was important for us to do our jobs in a timely manner was not provided. And there was no lack of us pursuing this information. It just wasn’t provided. For whatever reason, there was never any direct line of communication from what the owner wanted, and what we were supposed to do.

This also left us in the uncertain place of not knowing if we were doing the right thing. Or if we were ever meeting the expectations of the owner. We were always left in the uncertain purgatory of not knowing. This also breed a sense of distrust with those in charge. Without clear communication of needs, there was a lack of trust and we were left feeling unsupported. There would be changes made last minute and if the changes weren’t made, usually do to the needs not being communicated in a timely manner, than people would be reprimanded for not doing what was asked.

This lack of support also led to resentment on the part of the employees. There was an incredibly high rate of turnover, compared to other places I’ve been employed. There was a consistent rotation of managers before me and the one I took over for, left from the frustrations I’ve mentioned above. The lack of communication directly led to a lack of feeling supported which directly impacted the turnover rate of employees. Not to mention the amount of hurt feelings and emotions that were taken advantage of. All of which could have been avoided if there had been clear direction and support.

Misinformation and Misdirection

This can be an especially difficult boundary violation to navigate. While I was at the last place of my employment, as I’ve said above, I was written up for forgetting the starters and then lied to about forgetting it for the second time. In the same write up, as for mixing the starters late, it was also mentioned in the write up that my bakes didn’t meet their standard.

This came as a surprise, as I had no prior warning about the quality of my bakes. No body had ever brought to my attention that my bakes looked off in any way for the entire time I had worked there. There were also only two people present while I was being spoken with, but there were three supervisors on my write-up. One of which I wasn’t aware was my supervisor.

All of these “additions” to what was a matter of mixing a starter late had the effect of misdirecting focus from what the actual issue was. I was being written up for mixing the starter late which turned into being spoken to by three supervisors and the quality of my performance was being brought into question.

These should have been brought to my attention in separate conversations and also when they happened, not by surprise and in conjunction with one another. The experience left me uncertain as to what was expected of me, but also wondering, if it was so important, why was it being brought up so late? Especially since I, like most people I believe, want to do the best job they’re able to.

Using fear and misdirection to manipulate a person to work harder because they fear for their job security, leads to feelings of resentment and confusion. Resentment for the feeling of being in an environment where it’s unacceptable to make mistakes and confusion because the standards are constantly changing. There was no clear way to discuss what the issues actually were.

What Can We do About It?

With all of these abuses of boundaries taking place, it may be difficult to know what to do or how to act. With your attention being pulled in so many different directions, it can be difficult to know first, how you feel about it happening, and second what to do about it. For me, it helped to take it slowly. As I said above, I asked a lot of clarifying questions, gave them the benefit of my doubt and made sure to follow up with those who were the decision makers and give support to those I was able to who were looking for direction. Some are easier to do than others, but with some perseverance, it can be done.

Clarifying Questions

As I said above, clarifying questions goes so far into finding out what specific expectations are being asked of you. The more specific, direct and often your questions and communications, the less likely it will be that there are grey areas or feelings of uncertainty.

This may be difficult for a few reasons. First, if your supervisor is being evasive, than it can be tough to get a clear and direct answer from them. And second, if you’re shy or don’t like making waves, than asking questions can make you feel as though you are being a burden on those you need clarifying from. And nobody wants to burden the boss.

But this is where it is so important to be persistent. Asking the right questions and knowing precisely what’s expected of you will only help to improve things for everybody.

Give the Benefit of the Doubt

This one is tricky, because it involves a lot of trust where trust may have been abused in the past. But going into a situation thinking you are going to be taken advantage of leads to being guarded and unreceptive to change. And the situation may be that the person who is showing some of the red flags may be under a fair amount of stress. Life happens, and it’s best to be able to help out those who need it instead of being too quick to judge them as being neglectful or malicious in their actions.

It also helps to stay positive in these situations. Bringing an attitude of resentment to the issue won’t help to resolve the problem. It also takes a toll on your own well being. And in situations where your boundaries may be being violated, it’s important to take care of your needs and well being.

Following Up

Following up with your concerns and questions are still important aspects of meeting your needs, especially if you’re being avoided. This shows that you are invested in finding a resolution, but more importantly, sending the message that you are going to advocate for yourself and your teams needs.

This also helps to keep those who are in charge, accountable for their actions or inactions. This way, you’re taking care of your own needs by respecting yourself enough to advocate for your needs while also sending the message that you deserve respect and acknowledgement of your needs.

Giving Support

This one is important. Giving Support to those you are able to helps to provide a sense of working to achieve a shared goal. Teamwork. This is especially important when there isn’t support coming from where it should be coming from. As I’ve said above, a lack of support leads to resentment. And if we pass the buck along to those we work with, we only end up resenting one another. In this case, nobody feels taken care of. And if we can take care of each other along the way, it helps to make everyone feel a little better.

Conclusion

It’s not always easy, but if you’ve found yourself in a situation where your boundaries are being violated these steps should help you to navigate them with some confidence. And if you do everything you’re able to, and you still find that you are being taken advantage of, your best bet may be too leave the situation entirely. It’s what I did with my situation and it worked out for the best. But give it some serious thought and try not to let your emotions rule your actions.

My motto in my teen and early twenties was, “bridges are for burning”. This was due to feeling hurt by those closest to me. But it was an attitude that left me alone and without any support. Just because someone has taken advantage of you, doesn’t mean that they’re a bad person. Who knows what their history holds, and if it is anything like mine, I can relate. But also, being open to the idea that people can change, helps to soften the blow of your boundaries being violated. That doesn’t mean that you should allow them to be violated, but to take care of your needs, maybe by walking away from the situation, but not holding any anger or resentment towards those who hurt you while taking care of yourself.

I hope this has helped in some way. As always, peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: Walking Away by Matt Henry photos is licensed under

      CC BY 2.0

Do I Know What My Boundaries Are? How to Tell if You’re Boundaries Need Shoring Up

Boundaries are another area I spend a lot of time on in this blog. The main reason being, if you were raised in a situation where boundaries were constantly being violated, then it can be difficult to know what is, and is not acceptable behavior. This was the case with my upbringing. I didn’t even know what a boundary was, and even worse, I confused a lack of boundaries for affection in some cases. This was a very unhealthy emotional place to inhabit.

Luckily I’ve learned a lot about what healthy boundaries are, and what they are not, but it took a lot of putting myself in some pretty iffy situations. Lessons that I could have probably learned in a much healthier fashion than how I had. But lessons learned nonetheless. In this post I’ll be talking about how to find where your boundaries lay, and also how to tell when they’re being encroached upon. These are difficult waters to navigate when you have no bearings in the way of role models. But there are ways of finding your bearings. It’s not impossible, but it is trying. And in trying times I like to remember the saying, “we were built for this”. Let’s find some healthy boundaries together : )

Where Are My Boundaries?

So as I said above, these can be tricky to find. If you’ve been immersed in a situation where a lack of boundaries were the norm, than knowing where you end and another begins isn’t always clear. Or maybe your boundaries were too rigid, too defined. This can also be as suffocating and a fearful place to be. Either way, if you’ve been left in one of these boats, you’re gonna need to find another vessel. Luckily there are places to find out what a healthy mix of boundaries looks like. Let’s take a look at being raised with no boundaries first. These can be, I feel, the most confusing.

No Boundaries:

Being raised with no boundaries can be a very confusing place to grow up while trying to navigate your young world. For me, no boundaries meant; being mean to others with callous disregard for their emotions, eating anything and everything I felt like when I felt like it, picking up vices like smoking and drinking at an early age (14) and knowing no restraint in these areas, using others and confusing a lack of boundaries for affection.

These are polarizing ways of being and were mostly caused by a lack of healthy role modeling of appropriate boundaries, also known as, neglect. I was mostly looking to feel loved by my neglectful caregivers by acting the ways that I watched them behave. My caregivers were mean and rancorous, so I was mean spirited and rancorous. It’s what I thought it meant to be grown up, mature. Later, when I realized that my role models were acting like Jim Morrison, I knew I had been mislead.

Being raised with no boundaries came with a feeling of desperation. The lack of connection for me was the cause of my desperation. My thoughts were consumed with what I could do to feel a sense of love and belonging with those around me, by doing things that were clearly disregarding my best interests. For example I stopped going to school at around age 16 and by then was drinking quite a bit as well. I never exercised and my diet wasn’t stellar either. And I did this all because I was looking for some way to belong to something that would give me a sense of comfort and security. Not realizing all the while how far I was straying from the habits I could have cultivated to create that sense of security and comfort for myself.

And the worst part of having no boundaries was, I confused a lack of boundaries for affection. I assumed that any chance for contact was good, seeing as how I never connected or bonded with my caregivers. I figured if I let them do what they wanted to me, the greater chance I would have of being loved by them. For me that meant they could say whatever they wanted to me, go through my personal belongings whenever they felt, invade my personal space on a whim and treat me as though I weren’t a person with basic needs and rights to personhood.

This set me up for failed relationships with the women I would later choose to be in my life and a lot of feeling as though I was never enough. That I needed someone to treat me poorly because I felt I wasn’t good enough to be in a healthy relationship, which left me feeling uneasy in relationships and lucky that a woman would even consider being with me. This perpetuated the cycles of poor boundaries and low self esteem and I acted in arrogant ways to cover over my feelings of inadequacy.

The end result was a lot of burned bridges and a staggering amount of unhealthy habits. I had no career prospects, had ended the most stable relationship I had been in for eight years on a whim, and had no idea what my future was going to look like. For all intents and purposes, I was one unfortunate event away from being homeless and completely without resources. I had made a life’s time worth of poor decisions and most all of them could be traced back to being raised with no boundaries or very rigid boundaries.

Rigid Boundaries:

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, my other caregivers had very rigid boundaries. There was no touching, we never talked about how we felt. There was never any conversations about who or how I was as a person. Preferences, likes and dislikes weren’t discussed. We never had any conversation that went deeper than the state of the weather and we barely saw each other as well. Any chances that we had to build a relationship was thoroughly crushed by the oppressive frigidity of the nature of our relationship.

These types of boundaries left me feeling as though I wasn’t good enough to be around. As though there was something wrong with me. Though nothing was ever explicitly stated, there was an uncomfortable air of feeling deeply wrong for some reason. Again, a sense of desperation set in as I tried to figure out why I was being rejected, only this time the rules had changed. I felt empty and as though I wasn’t good enough because there was a lack of trust on my caregivers part.

I had no idea that the lack of trust didn’t stem from me. Only that the rigidity, the stiffness of the boundaries made me feel as though, if I wasn’t behaving properly, or didn’t show the lack of emotion my caregiver displayed, than I wasn’t good enough.

Either way, I was being rejected again for some reason, but I had no idea what it was or what I was, or wasn’t doing. But I did know that some attention was better than no attention, so a lack of boundaries was more “nourishing” than being completely frozen out.

So in my youth I chose to emulate my caregivers that resembled Jim Morrison, and live a destructive lifestyle. I would later make the switch to becoming rigid in my boundaries, basing my values on how much I could sacrifice while thinking in black and white terms. But no matter which path I chose, I still didn’t feel belonging. This was where I came to realize just how unhealthy my boundaries and my relationships truly were. This is something I’m still coming to terms with. But I’ve picked up some resources along the way that have helped me to make some sense of my relationships. Let’s take a look at a few.

Finding the Balance:

I have a few photos on my phone that rotate and serve as my wallpaper. They are: two photos of dogs I want, a photo of yoga with Adriene, a photo of the Minimalist Baker, Tom Hanks, a picture of the bedroom I would one day like to build in my future home, and a photo of Tupac Shakur. The reason I bring up these photos is because they’ve come to represent a sense of balance in my life. Things that I’m aspiring to, and where I’ve come from.

The photos of the dogs helps to remind me of the possibility for companionship, unconditionally. I’ve never seen a dog look at a person and say, “I can’t wag my tail at you, you’re too ugly.” They are just little fluffballs of loving energy. This helps to remind me that no matter how rigid boundaries have been in the past, there are always sources of healthy connection and affection. I just need to find them and choose them.

The photo of Adrienne reminds me that there are people out there doing good work. They don’t have to sacrifice themselves to be liked or accepted and in fact are loved and accepted for pursuing something they love doing. They are also a source of positive energy and motivation. Also helping me to look out for my best interests in regards to decisions about my health. Yoga has taught me how to care for my physical self without pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of. Taking care of myself on the mat is a way for me to respect my boundaries around what I feel I should be accomplishing, when I feel my boundaries are too rigid. I.e. pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of achieving. I know that the purpose of my practice isn’t to push myself until I pass out. I’m there to listen to my body, and respond to its needs with care. Push my limits, while also listening to what my body is telling me.

The same is true of my photo of Dana from Minimalist Baker. She has seen me through some tough times, while helping me learn how to cook for and care for my nutritional needs while not sacrificing the flavors I love. I owe them a great deal and am constantly grateful for what they’ve taught me. Dana was the start of me understanding what healthy boundaries looked like in regards to food and nutrition and I eat a healthier diet thanks greatly to her.

Tom Hanks is there mostly for the roles he played in the movies I grew up watching. There was a time where he was the only responsible role model I had. I watched as he showed care for the people he was acting with and in a stable and responsible way. He was never abusive, mild in temperament and shared freely his emotional world. These roles showed me that it wasn’t unreasonable to have a reasonable expectation of a person. That it was normal and healthy to have healthy boundaries.

And growing up in a void of healthy role modeling meant that there was nobody to talk to. The T.V. was my closest family member and all this made for a very lonely upbringing. I was never really sure of what I was feeling, and the lack of connection was, looking back on it, criminal. I’m surprised that I made it as far as I did, and relatively unscathed. Relatively.

Which brings me to Tupac. Tupac is on my phone to remind me of where I came from. As the man said, “everybody and their lady got a little bit of thug in ’em”, me included. Which is funny because I was and still am mostly hippie : ) Tupac reminds me that when I feel those rigid boundaries begin to creep in, the ones that tell me I have to be as good as humanly possible or fear for my life the repercussions of some unknown authority, to ease up.

Everybody has a little rebellious streak in them, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, if you let that side take the reigns as I did, situations can get out of control quickly. But stifle it too much and you’ll become paralyzed by fear.

So whether you’ve had poorly defined boundaries, or too rigid boundaries, there are ways to find a new way of being that leaves you feeling as though you are in charge of your life, while also being able to let go a little. But it takes work. Boundaries unfortunately don’t build themselves. But with some dedication, and a few good role models, it’s possible.

So if you’re looking to shore up your boundaries, start by choosing some healthy role models. Are there people you are drawn to that seem to have a healthy grasp on their life? Start here. What are they doing that you admire, are drawn to? Do you have behaviours you are unhappy with, or wish you could change? These areas may be worth exploring a little more as well. Maybe find someone who has been in your shoes before. What are they doing, how have they changed?

I hope this has been helpful to you in some way. It isn’t an easy path, to nurture something that has been neglected for a long time, but it’s worth it in the end. Stay strong, and remember, you were built for this! Thanks for reading : ) peace.

Image Credits: “Blurring Boundaries” by Karthick R is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Living Your Life: Self-Care

Self-care is something I’ve written quite a bit about on this blog. And fortunately, there are a bunch of ways to practice it. But finding healthy routines that are sustainable, and not getting caught in the trap of finding what feels good in the moment is a difficult one to navigate. And unfortunately, the more unhealthy habits are something that is usually passed down by those closest to us. There was no class in high-school, when I went anyway, for teaching us how to take care of ourselves and our needs.

This is an unfortunate truth for those of us who didn’t have the support to find out how to practice this skill. It is also at the core of how we grow, and become the best versions of ourselves. That’s why I go over it so frequently in this blog. Because I believe the more we take care of ourselves, the better we our at taking care of our environment. Immediate, but also globally. In this post, I’ll be taking a look at some of the ways I practiced unsustainable self-care, and the healthier habits I’ve picked up in their stead.

I think the first way I learned how to practice self care was by playing video games and watching T.V.. These aren’t inherently bad habits in anyway, but they are ones that I definitely used in unhealthy ways. I was using them, video games especially, to dull my senses. To “zone out” my surroundings so I didn’t have to interact, be a part of what was happening to, and around me. But I was also introduced to video games shortly before some traumatic events in my past took place. So in a way I was playing them to escape the chaos of what was happening in my life. It was a defense mechanism.

But they were something that I did for decades of my life, to avoid those closest to me. I was well into my thirties and still playing games like World of Warcraft for hours a day. If I had gotten a second job and worked as many hours as I played, I’d have a healthy retirement fund by now. It also took a toll on my marriage as well. I was spending more time with a video game than with connecting with my then wife. This makes me sad to think about, but I also recognize that I was still in protection mode. I still hadn’t realize that I wasn’t able to trust those closest to me, and that I was perpetuating the cycles of my past. Looking back, there was a lot of pain that wasn’t being recognized or even known about, first by me, then by everybody I was pushing away with an arrogant disposition.

But that’s the nature of what happens after we experience trauma. We go into shock and dissociate. I was definitely dissociated from all of my emotions, save for the very strong ones such as pain and anxiety. The times I wasn’t feeling these emotions, I was doing whatever I could to numb myself incase they came rushing back in. T.V. is another good example of dissociation in my case. I spent so many hours of watching others live their lives out on the screen, only to avoid what was happening to and around me. Another way for me to zone out, aka dissociate.

But again, I was still only trying to protect myself, the best ways I knew how at the time. Using this method, I could still be around those closest to me, without actually having to connect with them in a meaningful way. I could be around them, and keep up the appearance of being a functioning member of my community, while still keeping largely to myself.

And the same was true of alcohol and medication. For me, being numb was safer than being present. This was because there were so many ways I was afraid of being hurt.

But all the while, using all the different modalities I could find to dissociate, I was really seeking to numb the fear of being with those closest to me, but also with myself. The relationship I was most frightened of was of being with myself, and the ways I had picked up the habits and ways of abusing myself, in the same manner I saw my caregivers abuse themselves, but also the ways they in turn abused me. Like a cursed family heirloom being handed down from one generation to the next.

And all the while, while I was avoiding and numbing my relationships and my feelings, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t building the most important relationship, with myself. I had no idea outside of alcohol, video games and T.V., what brought me a sense of joy. I had no idea what I liked as a way to treat myself asides from using unsustainable methods and just plain hiding from my feelings and other people. This was kind of a shock when I realized how disconnected I was from who I am.

Luckily I wasn’t completely in the dark and without any resources. I knew that I liked music. Still a great source of comfort for me. Also one that has been there for me, in one form or another, for most all of my life. I can remember the first time I ever heard and loved a piece of music. I was probably not more than four or five, and I had just gotten my first alarm clock. Not that I had anywhere to be back then, but I remember scanning the stations and exploring my new device. I came across a piece of classical music and was mesmerized. The violins in particular were what stuck out to me. From that day on I knew I loved music.

But it was exactly these types of memories, this type of intimacy with myself that I had lost or forgotten. The moments of, “I enjoy this, this makes me happy”, was something I had lost touch with shortly after my trauma and then again when I was actively seeking to numb myself with whatever was easy. Aka, video games, T.V., drinking and medication. These were definitely not easy places to inhabit emotionally. And I usually felt as though there were some unattended emotions just waiting around the corner.

And there were. Lots of them. I still hadn’t dealt with the feelings and emotions from my abuse and the trauma I endured. How could I have when I was actively seeking to numb them for so long! So it wasn’t until I stopped doing those things that were keeping my emotions at bay that I truly began to feel, and understand the emotional life I was leaving unattended.

I first started with lessening my alcohol consumption. This was a difficult task, seeing as how I was drinking five to six drinks a night, just to wind down. But I did, and I’ve felt healthier ever since. I’ve replaced my nightly beers or mixed drinks with a few cups of herbal tea. This way I can relax and unwind without being intoxicated. I can stay present in the moment instead of zoning out.

It’s important to remember too, that this is a big transition. Or it was for me. I sometimes feel as though I’m drinking too much tea. This is where it is important to reality check myself. Having three, sometimes four cups of herbal tea is not the same as having four mixed drinks. I like to think of this part of me as Freud’s classic super-ego. This is also incidentally the part of me that is a perfectionist. The one that sets unreasonable standards and then will beat me up for not achieving them. This can be dangerous if left unchecked.

I’ve also been eating healthier overall, and leaving one night a week where I plan and make a special meal for myself to wrap up my work week. This way I am eating healthier foods and making healthier nutritional decisions, while also treating myself to something tasty that I am looking forward to making during the week. I also plan some sort of dessert into my special meal. So I feel as though it is a little break from the norm.

When I was drinking as much alcohol as I was at night, I was 50 to 60 pounds overweight. And the food I was eating was definitely not thought through in regards to their nutritional values. I was overweight and felt unhealthy most of the time. So the time I spend now on taking care to nourish myself brings me a sense of ease. One where I’m looking out for my health, but also finding foods I enjoy cooking and eating and that taste phenomenal as well. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to sacrifice the things I like to take care of my needs.

Yoga is another way I incorporate self-care into my routine. With the amount of T.V. and video games I watched and played, I needed to get my body moving, and reconnect with the parts of me that had been stagnant for far too long. And it’s worth mentioning that it took me a while to figure out a routine that was healthy, yet took care of my need to move and connect with my body in a healthy way.

For example, when I first started doing yoga, I was going to two 60 minute classes a week on top of running 10 to 20 miles as well. My workout routine has evolved from then and until recently I was working out three days in a row, two yoga and one run day without a rest inbetween. My cycle was three days on, four days off. This was okay, but it left me feeling depleted, drained. I enjoyed the workouts but the intensity of doing it all in one block was too much. Again with the super-ego : )

I’ve since switched to a workout every other day, with two days off in a row at the end of my week. This way I have a chance to relax a little between workouts, while also not feeling as tired on a workout day. I also look forward to my workouts more often now. Knowing that I’m taking care of my need to rest between workouts is a huge step towards me being able to listen to and care for what my needs are, all the while learning how to listen to what my body is telling me.

I’ve also been paying attention to what my body needs for rest more frequently as well. I used to stay up late, and for no real reason other than I wanted to watch more T.V.. I was usually idly wasting time, doing and gaining nothing from the extra energy I was expending doing nothing. I now go to bed when I’m tired, or at least recognize when I am tired without trying to cover over those feelings with alcohol or caffeine. It’s amazing what your body will tell you when you’re not trying to drown out its messages with something to get in the way of listening.

Another way I’ve been trying to implement some self-care into my routine is in an unlikely place but one that needs some attention nonetheless. My budget. I got into a lot of debt when I was in my twenties and thirties. Credit cards, student loans, if it was money someone was willing to lend me, I was willing to take it. Now that I’ve been paying off my debt, I’ve kicked it into overdrive and have been going hard. Again with the Super-Ego.

I picked up a second job and am funneliung all available funds towards my debt, via the Dave Ramsey method to get out of debt and live your life. I was going so far as to not buy a cup of tea or coffee on the mornings I was working 18 hour days including a three hour commute! This was a bit much.

You’ll be happy to know that I now buy myself a tea once and awhile, but I also plan on budgeting a treat for myself while I’m paying back my debt. I plan on treating myself to a massage for every 10k I pay off in loans. This way I’m still focused on my goals, but also have something to look forward to while I’m in the midsts of working two jobs and doubles. This can be stressful incase you’ve never been in this boat : D But also necessary to keep some balance and not feel completely burnt out.

These are a few of the routines I’ve developed in helping to live a healthier, more balanced life. I’ve stopped watching T.V. almost completely, but plan on watching some as I don’t want my super-ego to get out of hand in this area either. Having healthy habits isn’t always easy, but it’s possible and rewarding. So if there is something that you feel you’ve been leaning on too much, maybe try replacing some of it with a healthier habit.

Exercise is a good one to start with because a lot of what you need to start is free or cheap. Yoga with Adriene is a great resource if you’ve been thinking of yoga as an outlet. And if running is something that’s piqued your interests, all you need is a pair of shoes. And remember, you don’t have to make major changes all at once! Living a healthy life takes time and practice. Don’t give into the super-ego : ) Take your time and you’ll be in good shape. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Juicy Mountain Retreat (Göcek, Turkiye 2018)” by paularps is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Living Your Life: Relationships, Romantic

Here’s another topic that I was completely in the dark about. Along with friendships, romance and intimacy were so far from my definition of what a healthy relationship is that I’m amazed I was able to find anybody at all to share my time and experiences with. But as I was taught to develop friendships via poor role modeling, something I went over in my last post, the same rubric was also true of my romantic relationships. Only instead of looking the part by being popular or in charge, I was taught that sex appeal was the most important attribute and way to be valued in a relationship. This was unhealthy, though at the time I didn’t know any better or any other way of being in relationship.

So I chased this impossible standard that was laid out for me. Looking back at how I saw myself in my relationships, I’m not even sure what it was that I was seeking. I had an unrealistic image of what I thought I should be, and no real guide or understanding of how to get to where I thought I should be. And most of the time I think I was just chasing a feeling. Comfortably numb, as Pink Floyd aptly described it.

And if I wasn’t getting the connection and intimacy that are available in healthy relationships, does that mean my partners were also void of these experiences? Or was it a one sided phenomenon? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but my former wife told me before we split up that she had felt safe with me. I felt unsafe most of the time so maybe it was a one sided experience. What I do know for sure is that I had problems feeling intimate and close in relationships, especially with romantic partners.

And I suppose some of this understanding comes from a question of perspective. What does intimacy mean to different people? One popular dating app I am currently using has this as a question for matching purposes, “does intimacy mean sex”. For me, the answer is definitely no, though, that’s what it has meant in the past. It’s an aspect of intimacy for sure, but the way the question is worded suggests you can only be intimate with those you are having sex with. And that seems too close to confusing sex for love to me. Especially being raised by people who’s number one value was sex appeal. This feels much like the environment for conditional love.

So what did I do to over come these doubts blocking me from feeling intimate in my relationships? It took a lot of feeling uncomfortable in my relationships and trust that I would eventually feel a sense of comfort and ease in them. It wasn’t easy, and it’s something I’m still working on. But it’s also something that I can feel myself getting stronger in, and have seen noticable differences in my moods and relationships.

I started by first, reaching out. This may seem obvious for those who have healthy relationships, but for those who have been in abusive or conditional ones, it can be a daunting task to open up to another human, not knowing what to expect. I’m currently using a couple of dating apps, and one way I’ve been reaching out is through sending messages to people I feel I would match well with.

Just the act of letting someone know you are interested is the first and most important step. The environment I grew up in was a very cold one at times. We learned to hold back our emotions and feelings of affection for one another, almost as a way to punish or keep the other person wanting what they can’t have by making it seem as though our regard was unobtainable. But the older I get, the more I realize that this is most likely due to being too scared to open up and be our emotional and vulnerable selves around one another. The feelings of being unlovable were too painful to expose to one another so we hid our feelings and felt ashamed of who we were seen as.

And these were the types of romantic relationships I sought. Where sex appeal was the most important attribute and a relationship that I didn’t have to be responsible for. Either for myself or for my partner. I wasn’t looking out for my partner because I felt as though I had to be constantly guarded to protect myself. I’d later find out that I was hyper vigilant due to the trauma I experienced in my childhood, but while I was experiencing it, I had no idea what it was that I was experiencing. Only that everybody was a potential threat, especially those closest to me, like my partner.

And that’s not to say that there weren’t times where I felt intimate. But these times were not a priority to me in my relationships. I was mostly seeking pleasure, the way I would drink to numb feelings that were too raw. These are the same ways in which I viewed relationships because it was what was shown to me. To switch this way of viewing relationships, as something I used to give me pleasure, I began to accept the people in my life, myself included, for who they are.

Now I no longer look to fit an image of how I think my life should look in order to live up to some comparison, to how I think others will most likely accept me. I’m making decisions based on who I feel I am. But this takes some digging to get to. There were a lot of different voices from my past trying to strong arm me into believing I wasn’t good enough just being me. And even worse were the voices of my past abusers telling me their projected images of who they thought I was. This mostly came in the form of toxically masculine standards and the ideas of what it means to be a man.

And of course, I took these messages into my relationships. Trying to live up to the pre-approved standards that were laid out for me to adopt as my own. But they didn’t work. And more importantly, they didn’t suit who I was. I thought I needed to be loud, in charge and have strong opinions. To be in control of every situation and never show weakness. I needed to be hard in order to be the “man” I thought I was supposed to be.

But of course, this lead to me being largely unable to feel my emotions. This is ultimately what lead to me being unable to understand and seek out qualities of intimacy and tenderness in my relationships. And this was the major reason my relationships ultimately failed. I was incapable of responding to my own, and my partners emotional needs with tenderness through the emotional walls I had built to keep others out.

Now that I’ve learned from my past mistakes, I’m viewing looking for a partner in a different light. My values shifted. Instead of looking for a woman whom is attractive and has sex appeal, I’m looking for someone who is loving and caring first. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be physically attracted to the woman I eventually fall in love with, only that the quality and ability for us to connect in a loving way is more important than how she looks in a pair of underwear.

One of the habits I’ve been doing to change the ways in which I think of and view relationships is, I’ve created a values list. This is a list of attributes in a partner that I value. Some examples are, loving, caring, kind, beautiful, loyal, creative, adventurous, sexy. Notice that being attractive is still on the list, only this time it isn’t the foundation of what I’m looking for in a partner. Being loving, caring and kind precede beauty. But attraction is still important in a match. Only now I have a healthier perspective of where it is as a priority.

As I’ve said above, I’ve been on a few dating sites and have developed a few habits around when and how often I use them. I’ve recently listened to a podcast called “Deeply Human” where the first episode was on dating. The host of the podcast was interviewing a doctor who studied the process of making decisions. He said that if we are given too many decisions, then we have a difficult time keeping choices in perspective. We tend to take the best qualities of each potential match, and compare them to who we are looking at. The result being, that the more potential matches we look at, the more likely they are to not add up to the conglomerate ideal we’ve mashed together from disparate parts.

With this in mind, I’ve begun to pair down the amount of potential matches I’m looking at in a given session. The doctor on the podcast suggests to only look at between five and eight potential matches. I’ve also limited myself to messaging only three potential matches at a time. This way I’m reaching out while also giving each match the attention they deserve without feeling overwhelmed.

And it makes sense to put some boundaries around this area of my life as well. I know that if bring an unreasonable amount of intensity to dating, then I’ll end up feeling desperate and as though I’ll never find someone to be with. And this is a very scary and vulnerable place to be. So slowing down helps to keep my values and priorities in focus while I’m looking for a partner. Win, win.

It also helps with self confidence as well. The more profiles you read, the more you can’t help but to compare yourself to those your looking to match with. It’s kind of like the social media effect, where you are constantly comparing yourself to the very best of what your friends are posting and maybe feeling as though you’re coming up short.

The same goes for dating apps. Everybody wants to show the most amazing aspects of their personality, lifestyle and careers. If we look at the positive self projections of others for long enough, we may feel like we’re not good enough for them, not adding up. And we all have our things, nobody’s perfect. Slowing down is also good for keeping some much needed perspective in an environment where everybody is trying to sell their best selves.

These are the habits that I’ve come to cultivate while looking for a partner. I’m sure it’ll look a little different for everybody, but it’s good to have some foundation, to know what your looking for and so hopefully, when you do meet the one that’s right for you, you’ll recognize them for who they are. And one last bit of advice, be persistent. The road may not be easy, but I believe there’s someone out there for everybody. Peace : ) good luck and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Dates?” by .::RMT::. is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0