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.

Withholding Love: Growing Up Unlovable

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

Making the Choice to Withhold Love

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

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

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

Predictable Results, Feeling Lonely Not Love

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

The Armoring

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

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

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

Finding Yourself and Your Love Again

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

Being Bold Enough to Learn to Trust

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

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

Role-Modeling Destructive Behavior

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

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

Role Modeling Loving and Trusting Behavior

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

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

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

Finding Love Again

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

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

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

Family Dinner Fridays

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

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

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

Seeing Communication as a Weakness

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

“Love is Stronger Than Pride” – Sade

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

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

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

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

Addictions: Giving Up What We Think We Need To Get Through The Day

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

I never fell into the harder drugs, and for the most part, what I did never interfered with my day-to-day responsibilities. What it did do however, was decimate most of my relationships. The most important one being with myself.

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

Control & Belonging

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

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

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

Consequences of Trying to Control Others

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

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

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

Coffee to Speed Past the Feelings, Alcohol to Numb Them

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

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

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

What to Do When You’ve Found Yourself Alone

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

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

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

Taking the Time to Unlearn Old Habits

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

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

Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture

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

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

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

Building Trust With R.A.I.N.

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

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

Practice Makes Per… Pretty Good

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

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

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

It’s Never too Late to Start Healthy Ways of Caring for Yourself

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

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

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

Consistency Matters

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

Image Credits: “☕️ coffee ―the right way ☕️” by anokarina is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Updated: 1/20/23

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