Contempt & Pride: Relationship Destroyers

I’ve been thinking about the quality of my relationships lately and have come to the conclusion that they need some work. Actually, I don’t have many relationships. This realization left me feeling angry and sad. While I was thinking about what the root of the problem was, pertaining to my lack of relationships, I’ve finally decided that contempt, pride and hyper critical judgements were the foundation of most of my old relationships. From romantic to friendships to familial, most shared contempt as being their foundational element.

The Root

What sparked this for me was a dream I had recently. In the dream I was at work, which shifted to a bus stop, as is apt to happen in dreams. I was sitting next to a friend of mine, actually I believe he was my only friend, when I turned to my right and my ex was suddenly sitting next to me. We cried together, for what we shared in the past and when I looked up, there was a throng of people between us. I asked if they were going home. They looked confused as if they knew what to say, but didn’t want to reveal it to me. Then they vanished.

I knew in my dream what my old partner wanted to say, but was to proud to admit their feelings of vulnerability. I understand that this is only a dream. And most likely my subconscious processing some old emotions. But this interaction played out a thousand times in our relationship and in our daily interactions. Both of us too proud to show our true emotions to one another for fear of being vulnerable with one another.

As to where I learned to hide my vulnerabilities from those closest to me, this was the type of relationship that I had modeled for me by my family when I was a child. The same was also the case with my ex. We were just too proud to be open with our emotions in one another’s presence. And this type of holding back, from my experience, breeds contempt.

Contempt Ends Relationships

My family members are experts in this way of being in relationship. I especially was adept at using contempt to cover over my vulnerability and to distance myself emotionally from those closest to me. But to be fair, we were so mean to one another, that it felt crazy to want to get close to anybody else. Especially after the damage we had already caused. Why would we want to go back for more of the same?

The result? We lived isolated lives with few, if any, friends we could rely on for emotional support. We had been so emotionally damaged by one another, that we were unable and unwilling to connect. Or to even know what a healthy relationship looked like. In this climate, it is nearly impossible for a relationship to grow. In fact, our family is just now starting to reconnect after decades of our fields being left fallow. And that’s only after doing a tremendous amount of work on ourselves.

So the next question I asked myself was, if we are looking to be loved by our family and friends, why are we so mean to one another? I believe that most of us are looking to feel a sense of belonging to something larger than just ourselves. Usually that type of belonging comes from our immediate family. So if we want to feel loved by each other, then why are we pushing each other away? For me, I think it has to do with survival.

Surviving Our Closest Relationships

What I remember growing up, more than any other type of connection was, a hyper critical environment. No matter what I was doing, it was never good enough and there was always some cutting remark to be made at my expense. How did I respond to this? By raising the standard so high, that nobody would be able to achieve it. Especially those judging me.

This was how I learned to put distance between me and those who were looking to hurt me. This was my way of surviving in a loveless, hostile environment. My reasoning being, if you couldn’t meet my standard, I could look down on you with contempt. That way I could feel superior than those I was judging, while keeping my distance. However, this did not work.

What happened in reaction to what I was doing was more of the same. They would in turn raised the bar even higher than I had. And I in turn would raise it again. All the while all of us looking down on each other with contempt. This was a viscous cycle that continued until someone would have the strength to break free and change the course of our trajectory.

Changing Course

As I’ve said above, this isn’t easy. When I decided I no longer wanted to live a life where I was cutting people out, I realized I had already cut almost everybody out of my life. This is where it got tough. To look back at all the relationships I had and look for what was salvageable. And there was a lot of wreckage.

As a testament to how I was living, there are many people who, to this day, refuse to talk to me. These include almost everybody I would have considered my close friends and romantic partners. But I take solace in knowing that the relationships weren’t 100% my responsibility and there for not completely my fault.

Taking Your Half

This is something my father says often when talking about blame in relationships. Take your half. Half the blame, half the resentment, half the contempt… Whatever negative feelings you’re experiencing, know that it isn’t entirely your fault.

I came to this realization a little late in the game. The realization I came to recently was, that every loving relationship that I had with somebody close, that had ended in some big way, the number one take away for me was, it was my fault. I was so used to being abandoned by those closest to me, that I just began to think that it was me who was worth leaving. This however is not the case.

The more I thought about the disintegration and breakdown of my major relationships, the more I recognized that there was a pattern in the people who were doing the breaking up. Sure, I played my part, but the other halves in my relationships were unwilling to take responsibility for their part in our breakdown.

We were unforgiving and intolerant of each other due to the thousand tiny cuts we endured, which breed contempt for one another. So when it came down to whether we were able to forgive each other, the answer was a resounding no. Or at least that’s what it seems like from my perspective. Because it was never my intention to leave any of these relationships. I was the one being left.

Forgiveness & Mending the Pain

Forgiveness is something that I am recently coming to understand as a virtue. Historically, forgiveness has not been something that I’ve ever practiced. I would hold people to their actions and misdeeds and use it against them to apply pain or make someone feel guilty. I did this because it was what was modeled for me, but also because, it’s all I knew.

All of my friends, family and partners had a zero tolerance policy when it came to making mistakes. We were expected to be more than human in our relationships. I think this has to do with how high we were setting the standards, in order to feel superior to those trying to get close to us. This left no margin for error and anything short of perfection was unacceptable.

This was most prevalent in my family growing up, but it also translated to my romantic relationships as well. In one relationship, something had happened to wake me from my emotional cocoon. From the numbness I was living under for two decades. While I was waking to these new emotions, I had no idea what was happening. For scope, imagine being 32 years old and feeling accepted and understood for the first time since you were 8 years old, after experiencing a life’s time worth of traumatic events.

Putting Forgiveness into Practice

I was terrified. Realizing I was living life in a state of numbness and waking into the full spectrum of my emotional world was overwhelming. This is where I had began to make some bad decisions. But when it came down to making a choice, when I confronted my then partner with what was happening to me and what she wanted to do, she chose to leave. Like everybody else before her. She chose to avoid confronting the real work that needed to be done. Later I would try to run to Maine to start a blueberry farm for her, but that’s another story all together.

And it’s important to note that this isn’t a soapbox for me to hop on some high moral ground. I made my share of mistakes, that’s for certain. And I’m not trying to say that my ex didn’t have a difficult decision to make. But when it came to practicing forgiveness, something she would say we needed to do often, she was unwilling to.

And again, I know that this isn’t easy work. It’s one thing to look back on what we have done and criticize ourselves for not doing the right thing with the luxury of time and perspective. But when we’re caught in the moment and the emotions are so big that we can’t see our way out of them, it’s not so easy to see things rationally. So how do we get to a place where we can practice forgiveness? Even if it’s been something we’ve been avoiding for a very long time? Practice.

Practice, Practice, Practice

I know what’s true for me, is that contempt came easy because it was what I practiced. Everyday, while I was interacting in my relationships, I was practicing distancing myself from others by feeling contempt for them. So the antidote to that? Practice forgiveness.

For me, I started by getting in touch with the people that I had lost contact with. This was no easy task. And I should say that I didn’t go into the reconnection with an air of needing to forgive the other. That in itself can be arrogant. My main intention was to open up to the other. To let them know that, as a friend of mine used to say, “I’m here, I care.” And also because we were friends once. I genuinely want my friends to be happy and successful.

Though my intentions are good, they weren’t always met with warm regards. One person that hurt me particularly badly responded with, “blow it out your ass.” Something I can laugh about now, but it still doesn’t stop me from worrying about them from time to time. Which brings me to another facet of practicing forgiveness, humility.

Being Humble

This wasn’t so easy for me to practice. I was over the top with my machismo attitude and posturing. I wanted to be seen as in charge and beyond reproach. This goes hand in hand with me setting the bar too high to be questioned about my own actions. This was also my way of distancing myself from others. But it did little in the way of making me a strong individual.

My past self would hold on to the smallest insults. Blowing them way out of proportion and find ways to retaliate to make the other person feel small. But this made me aggressive and petty. Also unable to truly withstand the little blows that life dealt me.

What practicing humility means for me is, sitting inside of the discomfort of somebody else’s hurtful comments without reacting emotionally. It’s here that I’m able to release these emotions and let them pass without looking for some way to bolster my hurt ego. From this calm place, it is easier to find forgiveness.

So my friends, here is where I leave you. If you’re like me and have more than a few relationships in critical condition, know that it’s not too late. You can still work to reconnect and salvage some of those friendships. You won’t save them all, but that’s okay too. Take what you can from the experience and know that there are more likeminded people out there to meet still. Good luck, peace & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Broken heart” by bored-now is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Self Directed Guidance: It’s Not Always Easy

Guidance was something that I received very little of while growing up. And Much of the direction I did receive was either unhealthy or toxically Masculine. The emphasis in my family was more to the tune of dominance, not gentle or loving guidance. And I held to those lessons as law for a long time. They worked in our family for the most part. It was only when I stepped outside of my family dynamic, that I understood how dominance was not substitute for learning to work cohesively as a team. Not only that but also how destructive it could be.

And I feel as though I wasn’t the only one raised with these teachings. It feels like, from my perspective that, people for the most part are more inclusive and tolerant of one another in general. I also recognize that I live in a pretty liberal and progressive state. So my views may not be shared by most. But still, we’ve come a long way as a society in the past few generations alone. It’s not too far a stretch to recognize that we’re on an upswing as far as being more humanitarian goes.

And that’s what I’d like to talk about in this post. Focusing on the guidance that we may not have learned from our culture or families, but how we can cultivate the guidance we need to navigate our day to day lives. Keeping that sense of tolerance and inclusivity, keeping ourselves open to new experiences and people. Because it’s too easy to get caught up in the negativity that is happening around us. I know this from experience to be true. So let’s find some of that guidance we’ve been missing.

Guidance is Not Static, But Fluid

This is something I had trouble with when I first started looking to follow my values or other parameters I had set for myself. I took myself way too seriously and would not budge from the stances I took. I was unforgiving. A lesson that I learned early and would also learn to regret later in life. Unforgiving, unyielding, closeminded… All of these adjectives described my perspective in viewing my world.

And from this vantage point, it’s easy to feel as though your way is the only right way. And that everybody who isn’t following your lead is inept or inferior. This is an extreme example for sure, but it’s one that I know well because it was where I had set my standard. I needed to be better than others.

And what’s so strange about this was, I think I was doing it to be liked. Accepted. Of course I offended a lot of people acting this way, so I never did gain the belonging I so desperately was seeking. But what was so strange was, that I was completely blind to how offensive I was being. It didn’t even cross my mind that I was making enemies. My goal was to be right and seem as though I knew what I was doing.

Giving Up Being Right

For me, I had to let go the need to be right about whatever was on the table. Because needing to be right leads to aggression in communication. Expressing dominance over another who, as I viewed them, were “inferior”. This can lead to feelings of superiority, contempt, smugness and other relationship killing emotions if left unchecked. And most definitely severs connection.

What I decided to do instead of needing to be right was, listen. I say decided, because it was a choice I made. And not an easy one at that. In fact, I still struggle with it sometimes. Even the day I’m writing this article, I was in a meeting at work, hearing my coworker communicate disinformation in a vague manner. My first response was one of contempt.

But the more I listened to the conversation, the more I realized they were struggling with a difficult topic. They weren’t being willfully ignorant, they were expressing vulnerability in not knowing how to provide care for a certain situation. This is where I turned it around and started listening to the context behind the conversation.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up for Not Having The Guidance You Needed

And while I was listening to their conversation with a new perspective, the first thought that came to mind was, “man I’m being a jerk”. Insensitive maybe, but a jerk… I didn’t say these thoughts out loud and what’s more, these were the ways I was taught to be in relationship.

Most of all, I don’t want to turn that aggression inward after I’ve done so much work to notice and curb my aggression from judging others. So it’s important to remember to treat yourself with the same kindness and care as you would a dear friend. Because who are we to ourselves if not friends? And that’s not an easy task

For me, what helps is practicing kindness to myself. Especially when an emotion comes up, I inquire where it’s coming from, using soft and gentle guidance in asking what I need. Why is this emotion coming up now and how can I provide care for it? The part that’s most rewarding about this process is, the more often I practice this kindness inwardly, the easier and kinder I feel. It’s quite the change from my old ways of treating myself.

How You Treat Others is a Reflection of How You Treat Yourself

The ways I used to treat myself was with a sharp and demeaning criticism. Thinking back on it now, it seems counter intuitive. With all the ways I was practicing being critical of others while acting superior, you would think that I had a pretty high opinion of myself.

And outwardly that was what I was projecting for sure. But as I said above, I just wanted to feel belonging. So most of the ways I was acting were to gain approval from others. And when I didn’t measure up to my impossible standard, I tore myself down in the same ways I tore others down.

I also was surrounded by others who were just as judgmental as I was. So our relationships were founded on a never ending cycle of judging and being judged by one another. We were stuck in unhealthy relationship with no clear guidance on how to steer ourselves clear of the constant wounding we were inflicting.

So what’s the catalyst for change that we so desperately need to break free from this cycle? How do we make the change from judgmental critic to kind and attentive listener? For me, it started when I felt truly heard.

Feeling Heard is Healing

I used to work in the food industry. I did this because I didn’t have any guidance in searching for and fostering interests that would later bear fruit in the form of a career. So I did what was easy, which was working in a kitchen. These were some pretty tough environments. Physically demanding yes, but also relationally.

We were relentless in our insults towards one another. Arguments were the norm and usually fueled by inflated egos, lots of caffeine and uppers as well as alcohol. It was an unhealthy environment to say the least.

I later would switched from kitchens to bakeries, which were slightly less aggressive, but only physically. There was still the same amount of petty arguments and hatred that was present in the kitchens I worked in. So it was in this environment, that to my complete surprise, that I felt heard for the first time since I was a child.

Coming to Terms with Feeling Heard

And I wish I could say that I felt heard and everything was alright. But the truth is, things got a lot worse before they got better. I hadn’t felt heard in so long, that when I did, I was flooded with all of my neglected emotions. Ones I had been ignoring for decades and that I just hadn’t been given the guidance to know how to handle them with the care and sensitivity they needed.

At first, I felt elated. I couldn’t believe that somebody was paying attention to me. And what’s more is that they seemed to like me for who I was. This came as a shock, because as I said above, I surrounded myself with people who were just as critical and condescending as I was. To be liked without the judgments was a whole new experience for me.

Making Poor Choices While Learning How to be with My Emotions

So I ran towards that feeling. All I knew was that I didn’t want to let the source of that feeling get away. This was where my poor choices came into play. I hurt a lot of people in the process of running towards what felt good and ultimately was left by the person who made me feel heard. This was the last thing I wanted to happen.

But it gave me the chance to stop running long enough to feel what had been neglected for so long. I was able to learn to sit with the uncertainty, of not feeling belonging, not feeling lovable. And I was able to do it with Kindness.

This kindness was something that awoke in me after I had felt heard again. I was learning how to listen to myself and my needs and in turn, learning how to give myself the guidance I so desperately needed to manage my emotional world. These were the lessons that I was never taught. On how to listen, be kind and love myself.

Love is Something Given From the Inside Out

And it was from this place of feeling heard and listening that I could feel love. I needed to feel loved first, with somebody else, before I could know it intimately in myself. It was then that I was able to practice it with myself, by listening to my emotional needs with kindness and then practice that same love and listening to and with others.

But it is a practice. It’s something that you need to cultivate in order for it to become second nature, strong. And to cultivate love, you need to give yourself the boundaries and structure necessary, to give guidance to your emotions. Because love is strong, but if you let other emotions take hold, they will crowd out and smother the seeds of love.

It Helps to Find Others Willing to Listen

And none of this is possible without finding people who are willing to listen and mirror what you are wanting to cultivate. With my old friends, I was practicing contempt and judgment. Now I’m choosing friends based on how supportive they are. This took some getting used to as well. But it is worth the transition to feel a deeper connection than bonding over how attractive we found some woman. Or how much we drank the night before.

I have a photo on my desk of me with friends of mine. We’re at their wedding in a small town in Western Mass. They had just gotten married and we are pumping our fists in the air. These are the people I think about when I think of support, unconditional. They are kind and always willing to listen when I need an ear.

Friends like these are essential to helping give our emotions the guidance to be the best version of ourselves in a kind and loving way. And they’re out there. But you need to do some digging. So practice in yourself what you’re looking for in others and you will naturally attract those who will compliment you.

This can seem abstract too. When you talk about guidance and kindness as a “practice”. But it’s something that’s a felt sense once you understand what to do. So keep practicing! Don’t be discouraged if you still feel judgmental or are feeling unkind to yourself and those old feelings come bubbling up. As I said above, the more you practice kindness, the easier it becomes. Like second nature. Peace : ) thanks for reading.

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

Moving Past The Past and Into Forgiveness

Moving past the past and into forgiveness. I’ve spoken a lot about the situations and circumstances of my past on this blog. But what I’ve come to realize is, that for all the work I’ve done on coming to terms with what happened in the past, I haven’t really forgiven the major players in the story of what has happened to me. I suppose I needed the time to understand how their actions effected me. But what I’m coming to realize is, that the more I focus on what has happened, the more I stay trapped in my past feelings and patterns .

So with this in mind, I’d like to move past the past and look towards the future, by forgiving those involved in my past story. I want to start by taking a look at the circumstances of my past, those involved and try to use what I’ve been practicing in this blog and extend a little forgiveness to those who’ve wronged me. So let’s see if we can’t move past these road blocks that’ve been holding me back and I imagine others in my situation as well : )

Respecting What Has Happened, Not Forgetting It

For me, forgiveness wasn’t something that was taught, well ever really. I can’t recall one instance in my family where a person admitted that they were wrong. Let alone us forgiving someone for doing something hurtful. This sent me the message that, admitting you’re wrong, as well as apologizing to and forgiving others, is a sign of weakness. And in my family, we used mistakes against one another to feel superior, by making the person who erred look foolish and feel small.

So it was in this environment that I learned to navigate the landmine filled maze of my family members emotional spaces. It was confusing. I was constantly being hit with verbal shrapnel, exploding from one of my family members mouths, all the while nursing one wound or another aimed to maim. And I learned to use the same tactics they were employing, to protect myself from what they were doing to me. It was a frightening environment to grow up in to say the least.

But Dragging Your Past With You Will Weigh You Down

So it was with these lessons that I forged a future for myself. Using the same tools I had learned to use to survive my family in my youth. But this lead to an unhealthy way of living. I couldn’t let my guard down for long enough to build trust with anyone in order to form lasting, healthy relationships. And those that I did call my friends, didn’t stick around when things got difficult. Because we were all using the same lessons to hold our relationships together, there wasn’t much of a substantial connection between us to begin with.

And those bonds we thought we had with one another, were really chains keeping us connected to our past ways of staying “connected”, though not necessarily with each other. We were constantly demeaning one another to look and feel superior while drinking, with the occasional drug use thrown in for some added avoidance of how we were being hurtful to one another.

What we were really doing was avoiding the tender parts of our relationships. The parts where we may have felt insecure about how we looked to each other. Or whether or not we felt a sense of belonging and basic support at all. God knows that we didn’t get it from our families. So we were left on our own to sort out how to feel a part of something larger while being held down by the chains of our past.

So The Past Was Difficult, How Do We Move Past It and Into Forgiveness?

This was/is the tricky part for me. Getting through the feelings of, “I should have gotten what I needed from those raising me”, wasn’t easy. Looking back at what I experienced and where I am now, there was a lot to process, but also a lot to be grateful for. And that’s definitely a great place to start. In realizing that it wasn’t all bad.

Moving Past the Negative Experiences to Look Toward the Positive Ones

I’ve been lucky enough to have had some unique and wonderful experiences along with the difficult ones. I find that when you’re in the middle of remembering the difficult past, it’s hard to see those that were involved as anything but a bad person, or some sort of monster. And there are some monstrous deeds that sometimes are too difficult to process on our own, for sure. But that doesn’t mean that we should allow those deeds to dictate how we live out the rest of our lives.

Or to make wise choices on who we allow to be a part of our future experiences. But it’s important to recognize that there will be good times again, and that if we set some boundaries and choose carefully who we allow access into our lives, we can look forward to happy and fulfilling times : )

Boundary Setting

An example from my life, in trying to rebuild some of the past connections with those who’ve hurt me is, that I’ve been making a habit of trying to stay in touch via text or group chat more frequently. This may seem like a small step and something that most of us do on the daily anyways. But for me and my family, we seldom talk to one another. And when we do, we use words as our preferred weapon, to keep the other at arms length.

This was something I hadn’t realized how bad it had been until only a few years ago. I had asked a family member to meet me at a local whole foods, so we could get lunch and catch up on what was happening in our lives. They agreed and we met in the café area on a day we both had free. We were a little nervous at first, having not seen each other in a long time. But things started out fairly normal.

We asked one another about how things were going, what we’d been up too and how other family members were doing. It all seemed to be going fairly well until they started belittling and making fun of me in the same judgmental fashion that we would poke and prod one another in the past. This was most likely to see where my boundaries were and what they could get away with. It left me feeling confused, a little hurt and sad that we weren’t able to meet without trying to wound the other.

This was something that we used to do, especially when we would drink together. We would be a few drinks in when inevitably the anger that had been seething just beneath the surface, of all the years of neglect and abuse, would come spewing out of our mouths in the form of resentments, judgements and insults, aimed to tear the other person down. And nobody was safe once we got going.

I’m not sure how we got to this place, of feeling that it was okay to be so free with our resentments towards one another in the cruelest ways we could muster. But we had been practicing that way of being for a long time. Now, for me and my safety, I’m choosing how much of the conversation I’m allowing into my life by being a part of it, though only on my terms.

I text on a semi-frequent basis, but also know that I’m able to put down the conversation if it takes a turn for the abusive. Now that I am no longer practicing that type of connection, I see how corrosive that type of resentment can be in relationships. I’m choosing to keep myself safe by setting the boundaries of being able to pick up and put down the conversation on my own terms.

There will be times in the future where I’ll be more flexible in how someone wants to direct the conversation, for sure. But until we can prove that we’re going to treat each other with respect first and foremost, I feel good about taking care of myself in this way. Respecting myself by respecting my boundaries. For more on setting healthy boundaries, this article written by John Amodeo on “Psychology Today” does a beautiful job of explaining what boundaries look like and how to maintain them. Good read, highly recommended.

When To Relax Your Boundaries

While forging these new relationships, it’s important to remember that the end goal is to have a mutually respectful, but also enjoyable experience with one another. This is unlikely to happen if our boundaries are turned all the way up to ten on the dial. Though this maybe necessary when you’re first forging these bonds as I am.

So if you’re rebuilding these bonds, go slow. Give it some time to see how the other person responds. A few questions to ask yourself while you are trying to create new connections may be; are they listening to me when I ask them to change or stop the direction of the conversation? Are some old patterns of connection resurfacing and are you both able to recognize them without getting wrapped up in them? Does the other person acknowledge that the old ways of connecting are unhealthy and do they want something different?

These can be difficult areas to explore, but if the answer is yes to these question, then after a little bit of time and practice, maybe you can begin to relax some of these boundaries and feel a little more free and open in the relationship. Maybe allowing a playful gest into the fold without taking it as insult. These interactions will hopefully come more and more naturally to those in a relationship that is mutually respectful. Then you may be able to enjoy each others company without feeling so guarded. Or as though you have to protect yourself and your emotions.

Relaxing Our Judgements

Judgements aren’t all bad. We make judgement calls all the time that effect our day to days regularly. I think where we get hung up on being judgmental is, when we substitute another’s negative judgement of our character as the truth of who we are. This was something that we did on a consistent basis in my family.

One of the ways we tried to control each other was through our constant and cutting judgements of one another. However, this only leads to resentment, which is corrosive to relationship building. So how do we take care of ourselves in the face of other’s critical judgements of us? Well I think it starts with us feeling solid in ourselves and our belonging, while setting aside the harsh judgements we’ve dispensed in the past.

I jumped on the judgement train at first to keep myself safe. I was being judged so often and feeling subsequently so small for it, while simultaneously watching my judgers hold a smug and superior air about them, that I felt the only way to get some power back was through judging others in the ways I was being judged. This, however, did not work as planned.

My judgements lead me to feel judged in my relationships. And in my experience, this type of judgement leads to resentment. But now that I recognize how I was feeling while I was being judged, and why I chose to pick up that tool and use it as a way to keep myself safe, I can now understand and recognize that what was really happening with those who were critically judging me was actually a deep sense of them not feeling belonging in our relationship.

For example, if a family member chose to make fun of me for my weight, say they called me a human garbage disposal as they often would. My caregiver was often made fun of for their weight growing up as well. And it’s then I’m able to see that they were insecure about their weight and how they were treated because of it. In a way, they were trying to shame me into making a positive change, however backward their attempt may have been. So now that I see where they are coming from, it’s easier to be more forgiving of their ridicule. Seeing how it stemmed from them feeling a lack of belonging.

Finding Belonging Through Forgiveness by Giving Up The Ghosts of Our Pasts

And for the most part, that’s what it really comes down to. Finding a sense of belonging. In a strange way, we were just trying to belong to one another. Through all the harsh judgements, the resentment and anger, we just wanted to feel like somebody wanted to be around us. That we were worth being around. And this is why I’m choosing to forgive those who’ve hurt me in the past.

I know that they want to belong just as badly as I want to belong. And nobody is going to feel like they belong if we keep holding our acceptance of one another just out of reach while we’re trying to buy ourselves some time to find a way to feel loved and belonging. And we know that we can’t live up to some of the impossible standards we’ve set for others. The ones we use to pretend that we are better than others because, by virtue of having that standard, we are better than the other just for having it.

Instead, I’m choosing to accept that I’m not perfect and that nobody is. So why hold it over somebody else’s head as prerequisite for belonging? For me, it’s just not worth it. So if you’ve found yourself in a place where you’ve been reliving some of the patterns of your past, know that you have it in you to move past it. Be a new you, forge a new path. As Rumi said, “be melting snow, wash yourself of yourself”. Wash yourself of the bonds holding you to the past and let your past, be in the past. You’ve got your life to live, go and live it. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Forgiveness” by Neshika Bell is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Addiction: It’s Not Only to Substances

I’d like to talk about something that is a little close to home. It has to do with addiction. While I was growing up, there were a lot of vices at my disposal. Alcohol was a big one, and I partook in my fair share. Marijuana was around, too. Though I never really indulged in weed as I did in alcohol. But there were also others that were even more prevalent. And some that may make a few people a little squeamish. And FYI, this article will be dealing with more adult themes, so if you have a little one around or you are at work, you may want to save this for later.

Addiction to Pornography

The addiction I’m referring to is what was my addiction to pornography. I was introduced to porn at a very early age. By the time I was eight, I found the world of sex in a way that was unhealthy to say the least. This also happened to coincide with a time in my life that I experienced a good portion of the trauma I endured. So what made an already confusing experience, being introduced to material five to six years early, I also had no one to talk to about what I was experiencing.

I think what made the situation so strange was, asides from how young I was introduced to pornography, was that it was something my caregivers valued. One of the ways I know this is because when I found the magazine they said, “don’t make the pages stick together”. I also grew up surrounded by role models who consistently objectified women (even the women!) while having their own pornography collection.

But Whatever You Do, Don’t Talk About Pornography

But it was also something that was never spoken about after that comment. Not in any way that could be seen as healthy guidance. Except once to tell me that pornography wasn’t real. I imagine they were talking about the content or story line. But that’s what made it so confusing, they never really said. So I was left to figure it out on my own.

But the main issue with this was, I was already isolating from others due to my trauma and the only direction I was able to glean was from my caregivers habits and the internet. And if you didn’t already know, the internet is filled with pornography for those who are looking. So there I was, isolated from those closest to me and repeating the cycles of my trauma by constantly looking at pornography.

Bad Experiences With Sex

I mostly self-soothed by drinking alcohol and looking at pornography. Two things I learned that my caregivers valued most while bringing pleasure. There were also times where I would go to strip clubs with my friends. Looking back now, it was an awful experience. I remember one trip, sitting at the end of the stage where the dancer was preforming. She had a tattoo of Whiney the Pooh on her ankle. I asked what the tattoo was for, and she responded with, “it’s for my dead daughter.” And that’s not to say that the dancer is a bad person. Or to pass judgement on her in any way. But the entire experience was something that was sad, a little depressing and uncomfortable to think back on.

It’s also worth noting that the clubs I went to were not like the ones you see in videos. How they are usually glorified. They may be different in other parts of the country. But here in New England, they are seedy, dirty and not a place that provokes a sense of revelry. But regardless of where they are, I believe there are better places to connect with people where sex isn’t the focal point of the experience.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships to Sex & Pornography

And again, that’s not to say that we aren’t able to have healthy relationships with sex. And I’m not here to tell people not to go to strip clubs if that’s their thing. I’m not proselytizing abstinence either. I believe that people can connect in healthy ways that involve sex. And it isn’t something that should be feared or used to make a person feel shamed or less than for any reason. This is what I’m advocating for. Not to keep sex a secret, but to talk about it open and honestly, and early on.

But when you are introduced to this world at such a young age, without boundaries and without any sort of guidance from caregivers, it can be a confusing place to try to navigate on your own.

I hadn’t realized how unhealthy my relationship to sex and pornography had become. After all I had been doing it for about two decades. It was something that had become an addiction. Part of my normal routine and was supported by all my caregivers.

Avoiding Responsibility By Using Pornography & Feeling Isolated

While I was looking at porn, I was ignoring almost all of the other aspects of my life. I wasn’t connecting with my friends and family. I was spending large sums of time by myself. And I was avoiding living my life and all the responsibilities that came with it. Either playing video games or looking at pornography during the day. This was what I did, while consuming lots of coffee in the morning and drinking lots of alcohol during the evening to avoid feeling the fear of being disconnected from my family and friends.

All of this isolation directly affected all of my relationships. But the one that it affected the most was with my then wife. I had spent so much of my time and resources insulating myself from my relationships, including my ex-wife, that I had allowed them to devolve into polite cohabitation. My ex-wife, while we were married, even came to me once and told me that she felt as though we seemed more like roommates to her than husband and wife. This should have been a wake up call. But I kept on using pornography to avoid feeling connection in our relationship. Not because I didn’t love her, but because I was scared to love her. I didn’t feel safe loving her.

Looking at Pornography Compulsively to Feel Safe

And to add even more confusion to what I was going through, the more often I looked at pornography, the more varied the types I was looking at became. I won’t go into detail, but I was looking at things that were by no means what I was interested in. And it makes me uncomfortable to think about it now. I’ve heard that when someone is addicted to something, they will take their addiction to the furthest possible extent. And that’s what it felt like for sure.

And when I stopped looking at pornography, my desire to look at the types I was also stopped. But what was left was a large amount of guilt, shame and confusion. I was asking myself, “why did I look at so much?” And feeling tremendous amounts of shame about it. From what I’m able to tell, it was a way of pleasure seeking. The only way I had to feel good about wanting to feel connection. It wasn’t safe for me to connect in person with people, so porn was the next best thing. But I also left a lot of my relationships to whither and die in the process.

Rebuilding in the Aftermath

And this is where I found myself. After I left my wife, I had almost no one I could call support. And this wasn’t all due to my porn addiction. But it was one of the main and many ways that I chose to disconnect from my relationships. I was left to rebuild my life almost from scratch. This was a painful place to be.

But I did it. I had to give up my unhealthy ways of living first. I had to start out fresh. Rebuild. It was also comforting to know that I wasn’t alone. According to The Recovery Village, about 40 million Americans visit pornographic websites on a regular basis. That’s about 13% of the population! And about a 1/3 of all internet downloads are related to pornography in some way. Those are some pretty big numbers. So if this is happening so often with so many people, why aren’t more people talking about it?

Let’s Talk About Sex & Values

From my understanding, there is a lot of shame around the topic of sex at large. Between sex being glorified in the media and ignored at home, no wonder so many people are looking for ways to better understand a world we seldom talk about. Or should be with those closest to us. The more we are open and honest about our relationship to sex, the easier it will be to find comfort and ease in them as we mature.

If we’re more open about sex as a topic in general, it will also have the added benefit of teaching people from an early age that people aren’t to be objectified. We aren’t “things” to be treated differently, depending on how they look or the value we give them in a sexual way. Because once you adopt a specific set of values, based on looks or appearances, you then judge just about every other person you meet by that criteria. Then it becomes easy to write someone off as not having value or not worth your time because they don’t measure up to your values.

Finding Your Own Beauty in Yourself & Others

Because there is so much more to life than being attractive to someone else’s standard. And as it’s been said for ages, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Just because someone doesn’t look the part to a popular standard, doesn’t mean that that person is incapable of finding love or even feeling attractive to their own standards or someone else’s idea of what it means to be attractive.

When we don’t talk about sex and pornography, we leave the difficult conversation of what it means to find out who we are and what we’re attracted to, to be dictated by an industry designed to devalue people as individuals. And especially if we’ve developed an unhealthy relationship with pornography, we are then consuming a lifestyle that is being dictated to us by an industry that is objectifying and therefore, devaluing people at large. Our thoughts immediately judge the people we meet on how attractive they may be. Instead of who they are as a human being.

Using Judgements to Devalue the Other

I know this to be true for myself. I couldn’t go anywhere without looking to see which woman was the most attractive. It could be somewhere as mundane as a train station and that part of me would kick in. Scanning my surroundings to find the most attractive person there.

This was something I had learned from my caregivers, but it is also something that is valued by most people. Most of what my caregivers spoke about in regards to others was how someone looked. How overweight they were or some aspect about their appearance. Usually it was in a negative refrain. So it was only natural that I picked up right where they left off. This is something I’ve worked very hard to change. This way of being left me feeling as though nobody would ever add up to my standards. Which left me feeling even more isolated from others. More so than I already was thanks largely to the trauma I experienced.

Giving Up the Ghost

I’ve spoken a lot about the unhealthy relationship I had with pornography and the adverse effects it has had on my relationships. I’d like to talk about how I stopped being so judgmental of others, while giving up the ghost of my old habits.

As I said above, I gave up looking at pornography about ten years ago. I had fallen in love with a woman at the time and from that point on I had started living my life more fully. I had used porn to disconnect from people. So it was only natural that once I felt connected again, I no longer needed the safety net of an artificial relationship.

It was difficult at first. Learning how to navigate relationships again after being so secluded from others. And as I said above, it wasn’t only the porn I was using to isolate. But reconnecting with others without constantly bringing up my and my caregivers checklists of standards, was something I needed to get used to. Because being in healthy relationship with others is really the ultimate desired outcome of giving up all the ghosts that were keeping me disconnected. What I found helped the most was, my meditation practice and being surrounded by supportive people.

Meditation & Support

With my meditation, I was able to see the thoughts for what they were without reacting to them in a judgmental way. Just thoughts. After all the basic teachings of meditation is separating judgements from your thoughts. Also that you are not the contents of your thoughts. This is a difficult lesson for sure because we take our thoughts so personally.

Your Thoughts

I wouldn’t do or act on most of the thoughts I have throughout the day. And if I could choose the thoughts I have, I wouldn’t choose to have most of the ones I do have. And as Tara Brach says our thoughts have no shame. This is useful in realizing that your thoughts are not personal, they do not make you who you are as a person.

So when something comes up from your past that you may feel shame about, it’s useful to know that it is only a thought. The feelings that come with the thoughts may be a little more overwhelming. But allowing the feelings to be, while being kind to yourself and acknowledging that the thoughts are really happening but not true, not who you are, should help to make the shift from shame to acceptance.

The more I was able to label my judgmental thoughts, the easier it was to let go of them. They still come up, after all we don’t control our thoughts. But they are easier to handle knowing that they aren’t personal and that they are fleeting.

Feeling Support

The second was being connected in supportive relationships. Feeling a sense of connection with people who cared about me and whom I cared about helped me to feel part of something larger. I no longer felt the need to isolate from those who were closest to me and who care about me.

This is a difficult process. And if you’ve dealt with trauma, this is not something to go alone. The feelings of reconnecting again to emotions that can be overwhelming is a terrifying experience. Tara Brach speaks about the importance of taking medication as a necessary step to establishing safety inside the body. It isn’t always wise to dive right in to the raw emotions of the trauma without using some sort of buffer. I had a lot of help from a professional therapist and the relationships I had established were much healthier than those of my past.

Having healthy relationships as a resource definitely helped me to navigate the raw emotional life I was avoiding by previously using pleasure seeking habits. Knowing that I have a group of people I am able to rely on gave me the confidence I needed to feel through the raw emotional life that was growing unchecked.

Other Resources

I also have other resources to count on as well. Knowing that I am able to take care of myself now. In ways that I wasn’t taught to or was even able to when I needed in the past is one. The healthy ways I’m choosing to connect with my emotions instead of disconnecting from myself. From my yoga practice to my running routine, I’m finally understanding what it means to take care of my physical and emotional body. In ways that help me to navigate the difficult emotions that come up in relationships.

For instance, if I’m having a difficulty with a relationship at work, I can remember a particularly difficult run I’ve had. Or a tough time on the mat, but still found the strength and courage to finish. This courage leads to more awareness and courage in relationship. And also helps me to stay more present while navigating the current circumstances.

This, paired with staying present in the emotions as they come up and being kind to myself, especially when they are difficult, has had a huge impact on my emotional resilience. Knowing and trusting that we can weather the storms of our emotions is crucial to making the changes towards healthier choices.

You Are Not Alone

If you’re having difficulty with a similar situation it’s important to know you’re not alone. By nature sex is difficult to talk about and pornography is seldom if ever discussed. The link above is to an evidence based research group that deals specifically with addictions. It can just be helpful knowing that you are not alone and there are people out there willing to help if you need it.

Here is a link to Tara Brach’s website and her acronym R.A.I.N., recognize, allow, investigate and nurture. Some of the steps above I speak about are a rendition of this practice and have helped me countless times while dealing with difficult emotions.

And if you have any comments, I’d love to hear them. This is a difficult subject to talk about but it’s one that pretty much everybody deals with. If we could have more open and honest discussions about sex, pornography and even gender roles there would most likely be a lot less prejudice.

Having a healthy relationship with sex and even pornography is possible. But it takes communication and skill to talk about it in a nonjudgmental way. Hopefully by bringing up this subject, we can shed a light on a corner of our lives that have spent too much time in the dark. I hope you’ve found this article to be useful in some way. And maybe if we all bring this topic a little more to the forefront, there will be less stigma attached to it. Peace, and thanks for reading 🙂

Image Credits: “xXx” by Suki♥! is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Updated: 9/29/22

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