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

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

Childhood’s What Makes You

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

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

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

Living Under Unachievable Expectations

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

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

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

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

Waking Up From The Unachievable

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

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

Learning to Forgive and Accept What Is

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

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

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

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

Real Recognize Real, Or, Stellar Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening to Feel Heard

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

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

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

Giving Love to Feel Enough

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

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

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

Asking For What You Need: When You Can’t Find the Words Or Were Never Taught How to Speak Up For Yourself

This is something I’ve struggled with for decades. In the family and environment I grew up in, you took what you wanted and any vulnerabilities you showed, were attacked relentlessly. Not a nurturing setting. It seemed that no matter what I did for my family, it was never enough. Nobody ever thanked anybody for the things we did for one another and when we did do something to help another out, we acted as though we were being asked too much of. In short, we acted like martyrs.

Actually, the term martyr was used liberally in our family. To think back on the ways we treated each other now makes me feel a little sick. Even the smallest need expressed was met with resentment in the cruelest sense of the word. Asking for anything from my family felt like you had just asked them to sacrifice what was most precious to them and in turn making you feel as though you couldn’t have wronged them in a more violating way. It was an intense and confusing experience to say the least.

So what does this have to do with being able to speak up for yourself? For me, it has a lot to do with the conditioning that was happening in the subtext of my familial relationships growing up. And this set against the backdrop of my trauma, has shaped the ways I’m able to ask for my needs to be met by others. Let me show you what I mean by starting from the beginning.

When Your Family Turns Their Back on You

When I was eight, my entire world changed. From what I remember, my family went from being a close knit group who spent holidays together and visiting with one another frequently, to having one of its strongest members die from skin cancer. Sending all its members scattered to the four winds. For me, my family turning their back on me happened in a most literal way.

About the time one of my family members was dying of skin cancer, another family member was pulling me from bed in the middle of the night to give me the most terrifying of talks on what it means to be a man. I have never been more frightened of anything in my entire life. From being completely alone, tiny and vulnerable, to being violently rent from a sound sleep and being yelled at in the dark by a drunk, towering, beast of a man, with no one to turn to for safety and no way to escape this fate. It was a lot to take in at eight. There’s an image that I keep that embodies this idea and feeling for me:

I’m not sure where the original image is from, but the artist definitely understands fear in its most primal sense.

When I told my main caregiver what was happening, even though I was under strict orders to keep my abuse a secret, my caregiver literally turned their back on me and never spoke about it again until I brought it up. And all this was happening while my parents were in the middle of a violent and petty divorce. Not to mention my family was falling apart due to the death of one of its most independent members. I literally had no where or one to turn to. So it was in this setting that I grew up, not being taught how to ask for what I needed most. Mainly security and a sense of belonging.

Not Being Able to Ask For Help = Making Poor Choices

So it was in this environment that my will was formed. I was mean, entitled, arrogant and bossy. And of course these were all just acts to protect myself against what I wanted most of all, which was to be loved and accepted. But we were all just running from ourselves and each other, because we were too scared of being vulnerable around those who were hurting us the most. So I ran.

I ran mostly by physically and emotionally disconnecting from those closest to me. I also drank too much alcohol and coffee to avoid my emotional world. Those who would cut me apart for showing what was considered, “signs of weakness” aka vulnerability. And one of those vulnerabilities was, relying on others for help.

I was unable to ask for help from anybody. Mostly because I thought I had to do it all by myself because I was a man and that’s what the men in my family were taught to do. This was also partly due to the arrogance I was taught by acting like a martyr every time somebody asked something of me. But mostly due to thinking that nobody should have to help me, by virtue of being a man. That I should be able to do it all on my own. And not only that, but do it perfectly. This is a scary place to be, also a very lonely one. And this was how I lived my life. Alone and scared to reach out to others.

I had sever social anxiety and the only way I could be around people was if I was drinking alcohol to dull the emotions or coffee to speed past them, with the occasional anti-anxiety med or Adderall tossed in for good measure. I’m making light, but the feelings of fear and anxiety were intense. The only way I was able to manage these feelings was by being medicated.

Fear of Connecting, to Ourselves and Others

And when there is this much fear and anxiety running around in our lives unchecked, it’s difficult to know who you can ask for help from while feeling safe enough doing it. Or to even know you can feel ways other than anxious and fearful around others and that others can help you in your healing process. This was where I had found myself decades after my initial trauma and the abuse I incurred from a life’s time worth of self-abuse and abuse from those closest to me.

So what did I do? To try and reconnect with the parts of myself and of those closest to me? The bridges that had been burned down so long ago, out of fear and spite of how we were treating each other and ourselves, had to be rebuilt. And this wasn’t easy.

I had to recognize that I was running from everyone and every feeling that had been accumulating in my life. I had almost no longstanding friendships to speak of, and left everyone that ever tried to build a loving connection with me. When I was thirty two, I left my then loving, beautiful and devoted wife, for a woman, girl really, 11 years my junior and living in the same, self destructive ways I was accustom to living from my early twenties.

And I did all this to avoid growing beyond the small, fearful life I was used to. The isolation and fear that I spent my time in, avoiding making loving connections with valued friends and family. The very relationships that make life worth living I was avoiding. So after the woman I left my ex-wife for left me, I was left with myself, to sort out the mess I had made.

Building Bridges That We’ve Already Burned: All is Not Lost

After I was left, I realized just how bad my situation was. I was alone, with absolutely zero understanding of how to live my life and no idea how to cultivate the resources I would need to get my life on track. However, even when things seem at their worst, there’s always hope.

I moved back in with my father and step-mom. One of the many relationships I had been running from. Here, I was able to start, what felt like a new life. The old me, the one who was mean, petty and condescending, was slowly eroding. More and more, I was no longer resembling that person. And probably more importantly, I didn’t want to be that person anymore.

I began listening to Tara Brach’s dharma talks constantly. I was looking for a soothing, friendly and inclusive voice. An antidote to the venom I had been struck with so many times, grown up through all those years of my childhood. I was reaching out to old friends. Starting up new conversations with those who used to be in my life and found that I had developed a real affection for these people and our relationships. Including my father and step-mom, going so far as to create family dinner Fridays. Not to mention, starting this blog which has helped to show me ways of re-parenting myself.

Before I had decided to change, I was mostly holding on to relationships out of fear for being alone and the feelings of rejection that came with that fear. So I did and acted, whatever and however I thought I should, in order to feel accepted. I wasn’t really focused on the quality of our relationships, because I was too preoccupied with how I thought the other person saw me. In short, I never learned how to speak my mind. How I truly felt or to ask for what I really needed from others. I just didn’t know how to listen inwardly. But I also wasn’t relating to my own emotions in an honest way. And if you can’t be honest with yourself, how can you begin to project that in relationship with others?

Getting in Touch With Yourself, Building the Bridge Inwardly

I started building the bridge to myself while I was with the woman who I had left my ex-wife for. I had finally felt safe enough, accepted enough, that I could begin to feel comfortable with myself. I owe a great debt of gratitude for the woman who helped me to wake up from the life I was living, even if they did end up leaving me.

It was there that I really learned how to build relationships. I started meditating regularly at that time. This was what allowed me to slow down enough to see how I was treating myself and how I felt about it. What I realized was, in a way I had become my own abuser by handing down the legacy of brutality that had been taught to me and using it on myself. This made me scared of myself and probably one of the reasons why I was so fearful and anxious all the time.

So I listened. I listened and I listened some more. There was a lot of fear I had been holing in that needed to be witnessed. There were nights where I didn’t think I’d be able to pull through to the next day. It was tough, that’s for sure. But I kept going. No matter what was coming up, I was able to sit with it and let it pass. Recognizing that what I was experiencing in the moment, wouldn’t last.

But it was hard to see outside of these feelings sometimes. This is what Tara Brach refers to as a “trance”. And she’s right. Because sometimes when you’re stuck in the middle of an emotion, it’s hard to see past what it is that you’re experiencing. But the more we train to stay when the difficult feelings arise, the better we’re able to see ourselves through to the other side of those feelings. The way out is through, as Trent Reznor so aptly put it.

Note to Self, Stop Running

So meditation is really where I learned to stop running. From myself and others. I was now building bridges instead of burning them, while learning how to listen inwardly to understand and ask how to nurture and care for myself, in the ways that hadn’t been shown to me in the past. This was quite a remarkable turn around from where I was.

I started re-parenting myself around the areas I had left neglected, as I had been neglected. I’m now focused on my career, my health by eating balanced, nutritious and mostly vegan meals. Big thanks to The Minimalist Baker for showing me how to cook for myself. I’m working out twice a week now. Shout out to Yoga With Adriene for her amazing library of free yoga videos. I’m saving and paying down debt while also planning for my retirement, which I hadn’t even given a second thought to in my early years. Another shout out to Dave Ramsey and his baby steps.

But most importantly, I’m now connecting in authentic ways with those I care about. I’m building the relationships now that I had been running from for so long because I was so scared of getting hurt again. What I now realize is, we all get hurt. You can’t avoid that. But do you run from the chance to feel loved and accepted because you’re too afraid of what happened in the past or what might happen? For me, I’ve realized that this is a waste of time.

The Future!

So now that I’m able to listen inwardly, attune to my needs and to those of my friends and family, what’s next? For me it’s living and building the best possible life. For myself and those I surround myself with. Whatever their vision is of a better future, I want to be involved. And I want them involved in the better version of my future as well.

We all have our own trials to go through, our own challenges. But don’t let those stop you from becoming the best version of yourself. You’ve got a lot to give, don’t sell yourself short. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Finding the words – 320/365” by tranchis is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Healthy Sex Life, Healthy Relationship: How You Relate to Sex Matters

I was at my workplace a few days ago when I noticed an attractive woman enter the store. My first thoughts were, “man, she’s beautiful”. Thinking back on this now, I’m amazed at how different my reactions and intentions are from what they used to be. Before I would judge the attractiveness of a woman by her body and how she looked. Now I notice more subtle characteristics of women and their personality is a large part of the whole.

This isn’t to say that I don’t find other aspects of women attractive. Such as their looks and how in shape they are. But they are for much different reasons now and a much smaller part of the equation.

Sex was All I Could Think About

In my youth, it seemed that all I was focused on was sex. The question “how do I find a hottie to bang?” was one I asked myself often. And full discloser, I did not have much game. And to be fair, I was raised in a family that held sexual desirability as their number one value. We used sex as a way to be liked and a way to gage how much we were valued. If you couldn’t find someone to have sex with, then you were doing something wrong.

This was the message that I was receiving, not only in my family but also everywhere I went. Sex was all anybody I hung out with seemed to talk about. Whenever I was with my friends, we would objectify women to some degree. Whether it was whom my friend was cheating on his girlfriend with, or what “chick” I wanted to “bang”, we had always viewed women as objects, prizes to be had.

This was not a healthy way to be in relationship. Pornography was also something that was ubiquitous in all of my relationships. From contraceptives being left on the backs of toilets in my childhood home, to the enormous pornography collections of my caregivers, to my later pornography habits, sex was the number one way we all were relating to ourselves and how we judged each other.

When Looking Good is Priority One

One of my caregivers went so far as to offer me money to lose weight. I was overweight as a teenager and had no self restraint when it came to how I fed myself. Of course, they were feeding me. So instead of being taught a healthy relationship to what I was eating, I was being bribed to learn how to for myself. These were confusing messages I was receiving. Especially as a child trying to establish my own set of values and seeing my caregivers practiced values directly in contradiction to what they said they desired.

So my health goals all revolved around how I could look good naked. Again, an unhealthy way to relate to my nourishing myself. And as unhealthy as it was to be a guide for my eating habits, it was even worse of a guide for how I valued myself and my partner in my relationships.

I put looking attractive as more important than being kind or loving. The kinds of relationships I was trying to cultivate were those based on how attractive we were and how others found me and my partner desirable. And I was constantly judging other women as more or less attractive to my then current partner.

Women had been treated as sex objects for so long in my family, mostly by the women in my family, that when it came time for me to find and develop a relationship all my own, I looked for a partner with impossibly high standards and who was critically minded. Together, between the two of us, nothing ever measured up to our standards.

Unhealthy Values = Unhealthy Communication

When you’re as concerned about how you look to others as we were, for me more so physically and my partner more ideologically, you are afraid of being seen as anything but perfect. It felt as though every expectation was being picked apart and analyzed by each other. “Am I adding up?” was my constant concern. But I was also to proud to admit I was scared that I wasn’t enough in the eyes of my partner.

I was acting as though I was beyond reproach, but really was scared of what anybody thought of me. So instead of being vulnerable, taking the risk and being open and honest with my partner about how I felt I wasn’t good enough to be with, I ran.

I thought I developed feelings for another woman and ran to be by her side. What I was really recognizing was that, the other woman was just as judgmental as my partner and I were, but they were enthusiastic about being with me. I couldn’t see this at the time, but even with my being blinded to what was happening to me and my inability to communicate, I still offered to work through our issues with my then, current partner.

Understandably, she declined and ultimately left me. And this all stemmed from us being unable to share our emotions and perspectives of what was happening in our relationship because we were too scared to show each other our vulnerabilities. Our fear was that they (our vulnerabilities) would be abused as they had in us before by those we trusted.

And I can’t help but to feel that if my number one value wasn’t based on how attractive I or my partner was, then maybe I would have been able to see them, my partner, as a person instead of an abject. Also myself as a person instead of an object. We would have been able to have conversations about other values and feelings. Like our vulnerabilities and fears of trusting others for the times they were abused in the past. All of these “difficult” conversations could have lead to tighter bonds and wiser decision making. I may even still be married.

But the sad fact is, we just weren’t ready for that level of intimacy and trust. The ability to release control of how others saw us. As if we had control of that to begin with. Instead we all just ended up hurt and me alone.

Okay I Know My Values are Askew, Now What?

I figured this out after I had already done some serious damage to a majority of my relationships. This however, wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to me. After I had been left for the second time for wanting to change the trajectory of my life, I ended up at my father’s house.

Here I was challenged to face some of those fears around being vulnerable in the presence of those who left and abused me. I’ve said before on this blog, if it wasn’t for this chance to rebuild a relationship I had been running from my entire life, I most likely would have ended up homeless.

So I started the work of cleaning up the mess I had made of my life. And the mess was formidable indeed. One of the places I began was, to start treating individuals with the respect I thought they deserved.

People as People, Not Objects

This was difficult for me because as I’ve said above, all of my role models, and I mean ALL, objectified women as sex objects and men as calloused and in charge. I had to identify the unhealthy habits I was practicing without realizing it and make a conscious effort to change what I was unconsciously doing.

One of the habits I identified to change was, I didn’t make eye contact with women I met. I was usually making a judgement on how attractive I thought they were by staring at their bodies. In my youth, I once entered my workplace and objectified the woman at the counter to my then friend by making rude gestures only to realize that it was my sister I was objectifying. This is something I’m not proud of, but that’s how I chose to live my life.

Now, I keep my eyes at face level. The person I’m interacting with deserves my attention and more importantly, my respect. I find that with a more concerted effort to pay attention to the person by not judging them, it’s easier to talk with them and I feel less pressure and as though I’m being judged.

And this is not an easy habit to break if you’re used to objectifying women the way that I had been. I find that I subconsciously want to search out different body parts or not make eye contact at all. But if repetition created my habit, it’s repetition that will break it.

Learning to Communicate How I Feel and Ask How Others Are Feeling, Not Just Acting a Part

Being able to acknowledge people as people and not objects has helped me in other areas as well. I’m more able to have open and honest conversations with people. Especially those close to me, instead of trying to be seen as someone who is likeable. I’m also able to own my mistakes now because I’m not afraid of looking less than perfect.

For example, the woman I currently work for is an excellent role model of someone who values honest communication over being seen as in control, or an authority. As a result, because of her values and because I’m able to see her as a person with value, I’m not afraid to talk about my mistakes and learn how to improve through them. This was something that was seen as a weakness in my family while I was growing up.

I’m also more confident in who I am as well. When I have a disagreement with someone, I now know how I feel about what’s happening, how I’m being treated by the other or how the other person feels. I used to fear being disliked and would do or say just about anything to feel belonging. Or I had no control over my anger and let it fly without restraint. Also something I was told was the mark of a man.

I had an argument with my father not to long ago that could have ended poorly had I chose to react the ways I used to when confronted with conflict. Instead of freezing him out after he reacted in a way that he later regretted, I was able to stand in my body and feel the full force of his anger while acknowledging that how he was reacting was not a reflection of who I am, how he sees me or makes me any less of who I already am.

I felt confident in myself, that I could take care of myself and stand up for myself at the same time. I felt as though I had an inner strength by standing up for myself instead of folding to the other person’s wishes or acting in a petty way. We were able to resolve our argument while acknowledging how we each felt. We both felt heard and that felt good.

I Thought There Was Going to Be More Talk About Sex?

So how does this all tie into a better sex life? These aren’t just disparate parts working independently of each other. So much of how we see one another and how we talk to each other forms the bonds that holds our relationships together. If you are constantly objectifying women as sex objects, including your partner, as I was, eventually they become one dimensional. And inevitably we will search out others to fill the need for novelty. This leads to an unhealthy relationship and sexlife.

But if we choose to view our partners, and people in general as multi-dimensional, then we begin to build more intimate bonds that will last beyond when we get bored with the one aspect of the person we decide to fetishize. This leads to feeling and being heard, understood and ultimately loved. And yes, when sex isn’t the sole focus of our interests, it becomes more enjoyable when you do indulge in it : ) It’s something to look forward to as opposed to what we hinge our value on.

And what brings this all together is, practice. It’s not always easy and in fact, it’s sometimes down right hard. But keep after it and it will pay off. There’s so much to discover about those closest to us that it would be a shame to ignore focus only on one aspect. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Romance & Sex Life of the Date” by Thomas Hawk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Finding Support: When you Just Don’t Know Who to Turn to

I’ve been writing a lot about how I wasn’t supported and in some ways, I still lack emotional support. Luckily I’ve come to a place where I no longer blame those who neglected me. But that sadly doesn’t ease the pain of the lack of feeling supported. I’d like to explore this area of our relationships. The place where we are looking for help from each other and maybe coming up short, but also in connecting as well. What does it (connection) look like and how do we foster the sparks that build them. Let’s start with where it isn’t found.

For me, there wasn’t any emotional support, connection, intelligence or recognition of, happening at all in my family. From what I’m able to tell as for why this was the case, there was just too much trauma floating around in our family. All of it being covered over, denied and ignored. And without support from each other, it would be crazy to dive into all of our badly hurt and unattended, traumatic feelings alone.

Dissociating From Our Emotions

So we escaped from one another. The most prevalent ways we did this was through drinking alcohol. Ways to numb ourselves from what is happening in ourselves in real time while avoiding the emotions we recognized in others that remind us of our own hurt selves. We covered over what the others in our lives were feeling by telling them how they were/are feeling also. This way, we were safe from the unexpected ideas and opinions of others while not challenging our views about what we thought our relationships and ourselves should look like. We wanted control over the others experiences of us.

This was one of the ways we avoided change and growth. Another way was avoidant, dissociative behaviors. Drinking for sure is one, but I’m mostly talking about watching t.v. and reading as a way to escape from our own and the emotions of others. This type of self absorbed behaviour is a way to disconnect from the relationships in our lives and skirt personal growth at the same time.

And as maddening as it is, to be unable to connect with a loved one emotionally, it’s most likely not their fault. This was a hard pill for me to swallow. I had a series of emotional breakthroughs, resulting in my emotional world being more clear and well defined. But when I returned to those I had lost so much time with in neglected relationships, I realized that they were in the same place I used to be. Unable to recognize and attune to their emotional worlds.

This explains why I was never able to make the emotional connections I was seeking, but is still a difficult place to be left. So the question is, how do we start to rebuild the connections we’ve lost so long ago? Or build new ones if we’ve never had them in the first place? Short answer, I don’t know. But, there are somethings I’m trying in hopes that I can start building my relationships a fresh.

Reconnecting to Ourselves and Our Relationships

This has been especially difficult work for me to do. Seeing as how I’ve had no guidance or role models in the relational realm. Everything I’m doing is either something new I’m trying, or blind advice I’ve received from a trusted therapist or source. Here are some of the ways I’m practicing personal connection, in hopes of fostering healthy connections.

Being Consistent

This is an important one for me. I had zero direction from those who were supposed to be there for me in relational role modeling. Which means that I had no one to guide or model for me how to connect in a healthy way. I either took on too much responsibility for the other person, or none at all for myself. Now that I’ve recognized that I’m in control of my half of my relationships, I’m learning to be accountable for myself in them. This is also a standard I set for those I’m in relationship with. They need to be accountable for themselves as well.

For example, I have a standing date with a friend of mine for mondays. We’re both off during the day and it seems a good time to connect. But we’ve been getting a little lax about our Mondays as of late. This usually happens by not acknowledging our standing date and letting them go by without making plans.

So, I’ve set some new boundaries in the relationship. This is a person I want to spend time with, but if the relationship is one sided, i.e. one person doing all the work, it isn’t a relationship between two people. So the new boundaries are, every Monday, one of us will make a plan for the next Monday and we’ll switch off weeks. This way, we both have an equal role in making the relationship work. Instead of one person doing the work and building up a resentment about the lack of shared responsibility. Aka, being actively involved in the relationship.

But this doesn’t come naturally for some people. For those of us who have been severely neglected, the most basic relational maintenance and upkeep are a mystery. This is why practice, patience and persistence are of the utmost importance. We sometimes need these schedules to remind us that there is work we need to do. Because if all you’ve ever looked after was yourself, then there’s a good chance you won’t be able to tell what the subtle nuances are that your relationship with another needs some attention.

This is especially true for those of us who have learned to neglect our own needs. If you were neglected and abandoned as a child, there is no way to gauge how you are being treated. If you haven’t had any guidance, this type of attunement is like putting a puzzle together blindfolded. This is where self-care becomes an important aspect of finding support as well.

Self-Care as Guidance

Showing up for yourself is more than just a trend. It’s a way to give yourself love and respect. To find out who you are and what your likes and dislikes are outside of the expectations of others. In the family I grew up in, we were constantly cutting each other down for not fitting the mold we thought they should fit into.

This was a terrifying and difficult place to try to practice self-care. In fact, it was impossible to do so. We were so busy tending to our wounds, the ones that were being inflicted by one another, that we had no space to nurture the small things that brought us joy. In most cases, we didn’t even know what those things were.

But these were the places of self discovery and care that needed our attention the most. For example, one of my caregivers would tell me I was “fat and lazy” constantly. In a way, they were correct. I was overweight and I had a poor work ethic. But I couldn’t have been more than 13 at the time. Any lessons I learned about weight management and the ability to be productive I learned from them.

So instead of recognizing that we collectively had a weight problem and that we did for others as a way to feel needed and simultaneously resenting those we did for, we called each other names. This however, made everybody feel ill at ease. We were all just reacting to whatever emotion was coming to the surface without asking ourselves, “how can we change the way we’re interacting that won’t result in pain?”

This is where being taught self-care would have been a way for us to heal these wounds and be more at peace in our own skins, together. By learning how to nourish ourselves in healthy activities and connections, such as exercise or how to manage a healthy amount of responsibility and boundaries, we could have framed our goals in a more positive outlook instead of tearing eachother down for not reaching a most likely impossible standard to begin with. The end result being, building up self-confidence and self-worth. Having a sense of being intrinsically valuable. This is the power that self-care holds if fostered.

Reaching Out Often and Fostering Relationships

Another way I’ve been reconnecting with my relationships is a pretty straightforward one. I’m actively looking for ways to connect with the people I’m choosing to be a part of my life. This may seem like a no brainer but it can be somewhat counter intuitive.

When I was in my early twenties and thirties, my friend group was already incorporated into my daily routine. I worked with a fair amount of them, I lived with a few and we usually drank at the same bar every night. This made it easy to find all my friends when we weren’t playing video games together.

But the older we got, the more self contained our lives became. We no longer shared apartments and seldom crashed on each others couches. We worked separate jobs and moved to different cities. These are all natural events over the course of a friendship, but if you let them slip by without recognizing that new effort needs to be expended in order to keep the relationship alive, you could end up as I had. With very few friends.

I found myself without friends to share exciting news or people to grab dinner or lunch with. It was a lonely place that I realized I had built for myself. So, I started where I was. The few friends I had left, I made it a point to stay in contact with them. And the more I reached out, the more they reciprocated. I even began reaching out to people I hadn’t spoken to in decades to find that we were able to pick up right where we left off.

These were welcome connections indeed. I now make it a point to stay connected with the people I’ve been cultivating a relationship with. We share recipes we’re cooking, hobbies we’re interested in, visit interesting and new places together. Make future plans, things to look forward to. Everything you’d expect from a healthy friendship.

And the difference between the relationships of my past and those of my present? In the present, we are all putting in the effort to stay in touch with and foster these connections. The bonds are stronger now that we make the effort to take an interest in what the other is doing. Our common shared interests can no longer be summed up in the phrase, “can you pass me a beer.” Not that there’s anything wrong with sharing a drink together. Only drinking shouldn’t be at the center of the occasion or relationship. Celebrating the friendship should be the most important part.

Sharing Intimacy

There was a lot of time spent in my family on how we thought we needed to act to feel acceptable. As though we needed to live up to some impossible and ever changing standard. One that I’m not even sure where it came from or how we came to a consensus on it, if everybody was so uncertain of themselves all the time. It kind of blows my mind a little to think about the origins of our standards!

But we had them none-the-less and they did a lot of damage in our relationships. So shedding those standards by first recognizing them, and actively working to deconstruct them through self-care was imperative to heal in them. Some examples of impossible standards are, perfectionism, always being agreeable and never complaining. Fostering healthy connections is my new goal to living a more connected life with healthy friendships.

And hopefully, if we work on these places of our relationships with care and attention, we’ll create a shared sense of intimacy. A place were we can open to one another and share our goals and aspirations. A place where it’s safe to ask for and receive help. Without judgement or ulterior motives. To ultimately be ourselves.

It’s difficult work, but it gets easier the more we do it. And the payout is, we have healthier, stronger and self-sustaining relationships. Win, win. So what’s holding us back from connecting in these healthier ways? Take a look at some of your friendships and see where there may be room for improvement and start there. But equally as important, don’t forget to celebrate the places where your relationships are already going well. It’s good to recognize the work you’ve already put in. Peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Cast iron classical” by Darkroom Daze is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Waking From the Trance of Living a Subdued Life: Living Life With Direction

Last week, I wrote a lot about what it meant for me to feel a lack of being liked and feeling belonging. But also the ways that I woke from what Tara Brach calls, “the trance” of not feeling as though I belonged. I’d like to revisit the ways in which I woke from how I was living while trying to feel approved of, to how I felt comfortable with and approved of myself. All of which, finally leading to a place where I’m living my life with more direction.

There were a few different routes I took to finally feeling acceptance of where I am in life. Many of which I’ve written about in this blog. But they were important paths to waking from what I felt like I needed to do in order to feel loved. So let’s start with the area of my life that was holding me back in the most immediate way, my budget.

Buried in Debt? No Problem, You Got This

There is a specific memory that I reflect back on every once and awhile when I think about the amount of debt I was in. It’s of me, sitting in my bathrobe at my desk, cup of coffee on my left and looking at all the credit cards I had, on open tabs on my browser like I was watching a stock ticker. All the while I was wondering how much higher my credit score had to be in order for my credit limits to be increased.

I was also well on my way to amassing close to 100k in student loan debt, on top of the 25k I would eventually end up with on my credit cards. This was the height of me living on borrowed money. Not to mention a dangerous mindset to be in.

Now my routine is much different. I check my account balances to make sure I have enough money for the upcoming month’s budget. And now I look forward to paying off what’s left of my student loans instead of looking for ways to increase my debt limit. Usually a cup of green or herbal tea at my side : )

Choosing to pay off my debt is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and it’s taught me so many valuable life lessons. Such as how to live on a budget, how to save for my future, what it means to live within my means, how to set up an emergency fund… The list keeps going. But these are the important lessons that I and so many more of us just never learned while becoming adults.

Willpower and Responsibility

Getting intentional with your money has the power to help you in so many other areas of living a more responsible life than just the financial sector. Such as developing a stronger sense of responsibility. And it’s an overall good place to start if you’re looking for more direction in general. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’m following the Dave Ramsey steps to getting myself out of debt. I’m not as dedicated as some of his followers are, but there are definitely some parts of his plan that have been especially beneficial for me and my path. For example, learning willpower and self restraint through budgeting.

Paying off debt has freed up some of my income for other living expenses while teaching me how to exercise self-control over how I manage my money. Right now all my available funds are going towards my debt. But the difference between my 700$ monthly minimum payments now and the 950$ monthly payments I used to make, is the difference between whether or not I can afford groceries for the month. And that’s kind of a big deal!

Paying off my credit cards alone freed up 250$ worth of monthly payments I would have been paying to a credit card company were I still in debt. Not to mention all the compound interest I was accruing. That’s about the national average for a single persons grocery budget. The worst part of it all is, I don’t really have an idea of where all my money went. Most likely on alcohol and restaurants. But my standard of living hasn’t changed much since I’ve been free of credit card debt. Which leads me to the question: What’s the point of credit card debt in the first place?

Paying Off Debt: Side Hustle

One of the ways I’ve helped to cut down the amount of time I’ll be in debt is by picking up a second job. This has been a positive for me in my life in so many different ways.

My side hustle is at a homeless shelter for families. I work only six days a month, but it will reduced the over all time I’ll be in debt by about two years. I’ve also been able to write this blog, organize my budget and to-do list, research recipes and put together shopping lists, as well as other opportunities for my future. It’s also hopefully where I’ll get a letter of recommendation for grade school when I’m ready to go back, after helping me to pay back my current debt, while funding my future educational expenses. Win win.

And not to mention, it’s fun. I enjoy the time I spend with the residents. Watching their children run around the house and play games. The co-workers I’m getting to know. It’s all been a positive experience for the most part. That being said, it’s not all sunshine and daisies. There are some days that I just don’t have it in me. This is why it’s important work a little motivation into your routine.

What’s Your Motivation?

On the days when my alarm goes off at 5:35am, and I know I won’t see my bed until 11:30pm, I need a little more than the few cups of tea I drink in the morning to keep me on my feet. This is where small reminders I’ve built into my days have helped me to stay on task, stay motivated.

Photo Bombs

One way I do this is by having a few photos as rotating wallpaper on my phone, of the things I want for myself in life. The things I’m working towards. For example, I have a couple of photos of Adrienne from Yoga with Adrienne, to remind me that there are healthy ways of staying physically fit with support from positive mentors. I also have a few pictures of Dana from Minimalist Baker as well for much the same reasons as with Adrienne. A reminder to take care of my nutritional needs in a healthy, nourishing way.

There is also an artist’s rendition of an elf, drawing an arrow from his quiver and readying himself for a fight. This helps me to remember that it isn’t always going to be easy. Sometimes you need to prepare yourself for a fight. Not that I’m advocating for violence in anyway, but bringing a feeling of being emotionally tough, resilient, is important for times when you feel like you want to give up and quit. Warrior II in yoga is a great way for me to embody this feeling. Taking up space with focus and intention is empowering.

Pin It

I also receive notifications from Pinterest a few times a day with new recommendations for my boards. Here is where I keep photos of what I want my future to look like. I mostly have pictures of beautiful living spaces. The house I want to build when I’m ready for the next step in my life. This is a space where I can just look at something pretty, inspiring, without feeling the pressure of needing to get something accomplished immediately. It’ll take time, but I also need the time to plan.

It brings me a sense of ease while also gently reminding me of what I’m working towards. Not to mention it allows me a place to organize all of these ideas and inspiration. This, organizing, also has a calming effect on me. The same goes for cleaning as well. Any chance to bring order to something, especially when it is something beautiful, is something I hold close to me. Something special. Which brings me to what I’m doing all of this for.

Friends, the Ultimate Motivation

There are a few memories from my old life that I look back on with nostalgia. Most of them are of the times I spent with close friends, at their camp in Maine. The hours spent gathered around a camp fire, with nothing to do and nowhere to be. Feeling totally at ease in the moment with good friends and good conversation.

For me, this is the reason I’m so focused on living a life with more direction. So I can make more memories like these. My friends and those I hold close to me are my motivation. But this wasn’t always the case.

The lessons I was taught, both modeled and unspoken were, people will hurt you and they are not to be trusted. This was, and to some extent is, how my caregivers chose and choose to live their life. And I followed in their footsteps.

I was mean and cold to people to keep them at a distance. I needed to be right about people to avoid the uncertainty of possibly being rejected by them. So I pushed them away first. Now I do things much differently.

Reciprocating in Your Relationships

I’m now able to share more openly with those closest to me. My thoughts, feelings, ideas and interests. This is something that is so basic, but is avoided by so many, that it kind of blows my mind.

The ways I used to be in my friendships was one sided. They were on my terms usually and I always needed a buffer between us. Such as alcohol, or objectifying women. It was just too vulnerable to talk to my friends about how I was feeling. To be fair, I had a lot of trouble knowing what emotion I was feeling. But this was because everytime an emotion came near, I pushed it away. Just like the people in my life.

Now sharing with others isn’t a source of fear anymore. For example, my employer makes a brown bread that reminds me of the happier times in my childhood. It’s also a recipe from her great, great, great grandmother. I was able to share with her that I enjoyed the bread and wanted to try and replicated it. In case she wanted to keep the recipe in her family, I didn’t ask. But she gladly offered to share her recipe with me.

This is exactly the type of reciprocation I would have run from in the past. I would have been to proud to admit that they made something that exceeded my standards and what chance there was of bonding would have died there. Me feeling as though I was superior to others stopped me from making authentic connections with others. Not to mention it was just plain mean and arrogant.

Healthy Helping

The same friend I used to go to Maine with and sit around his camp fire while talking for hours, has recently been doing some renovations to his house. I’ve been pitching in when our schedules align and this has been another way of building healthy bonds. I say healthy helping, because the ways I used to help others was definitely detrimental to creating enduring relationships.

My former self would help someone in need, but there was always a catch. I would usually hold it over them as though I was so gracious to be helping. Teasing them for it later, only with cruel intentions.

Or I would passive aggressively harbor a grudge for feeling as though I was making such a great sacrifice for them. But these were the relational maps I was given as a child. I was usually made to feel as though any need I had was a great injustice and cross to be born by my caregivers. I’ve come to realize that this was largely due to my caregivers having zero boundaries.

Now that I understand what healthy boundaries look like, I’ve been able to make better decisions concerning how much of myself and my resources I’m able to give. For instance, when I’m helping my friend with his renovations, I’m enjoying the time we spend together, literally and figuratively building something of value and worth. And that feels great for a change : )

Sounding Board

It’s also nice to have some friends you know you can talk to about anything. Those friends that no matter the topic, are down to field a call from you. Whether it’s to complain about what’s current in your life, get some advice or a new perspective. These buddies are clutch. Like a Swiss army knife, down for whatever.

I have a couple of friends who fit this bill. I think what’s been so enriching about our relationship is, we’ve been forging our own paths together in many of the same areas of our lives where we lacked direction in the form of role models.

For example, there is one couple in particular that has been crucial in helping me, and each other, in learning how to handle finances responsibly. As we reach milestones or experience one of life’s lessons, we are a consistent source of support for one another as we continue to learn how to navigate these areas of our lives. If something happens, I know I can call them up and usually feel as though I’m being supported, like I’m not alone.

And that’s what it comes down to. Feeling support, loved and belonging. So finding the right balance of self-care, care for and support from others are the elements to what makes us strong enough to live our lives with more focus and direction. They allow us to be who we really are and that’s worth more than the some of its parts. I hope you’ve found this post helpful in some way, and as always, peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Seek-Purpose-Painting” by Justin Masterson is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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