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

Self worth 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, to 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, tanking any self worth we may be trying to build. But for most, it usually starts when we’re children.

Childhood’s What Makes You

During my childhood, I was told the message of not being enough, on a regular basis. There was a constant stream of criticism and negative judgements, with 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. 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. Nor was I shown any amount of patience or thoughtful guidance on how to do anything that was asked of me. 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 and was crippling to my budding self worth.

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. All to hide the lack of feeling any self worth.

Living Under Unachievable Expectations

These dangerous and 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 what those who were close to me were doing as well. I almost always had a condescending attitude towards what others were doing. And nothing anybody did measured up to my impossible standard.

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. They felt as little self worth as I was feeling. And we were all trying to hide it from each other.

This is probably what is meant by we have the keys to our own prisons. 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 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 saturated with the ideas of perfection that I was pummeled with in my youth, that the unachievable seemed reasonable. And this is dangerous thinking. I was acting mean, entitled and made sure everybody within hearing range knew what my thoughts on the matter, whatever they were, 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 lessons being how to forgive and feeling self worth.

Learning to Forgive & Accept What is

We didn’t start our relationship in the best way, but we were infatuated with one another. 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 wanting 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, 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, forgive 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. Not easy to watch for sure.

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.

Forgiveness Starts with 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 to myself and others. And feeling heard and seen really comes down to how well we communicate with one another. This also helps to foster self worth.

So the lesson I learned in the above relationship was, that for me, communication and feeling heard and seen were most important to feeling self worth. This may seem like a no brainer, but for the chronically neglected, this set off a large lightbulb. 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 it’s from here that I was willing and able to build a healthy relationship. One built on a mutually felt sense of self worth.

These were the tools I was missing. The ones I 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 also. So in the end, our relationship failed. Though 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 only 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. This is not conducive to listening. 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, a lack of self worth and left wanting more. More out of my life, out of my relationships, more belonging. I was drinking too much to numb the dis-ease of these feelings. Of lacking and feeling isolated. It 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 heard 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. The lesson being, 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 brings up the question, am I enough? Do I have self worth? This is because our emotional worlds are usually left unattended to, 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. Conditional love.

But if we listen to each other, attune to each other’s needs, 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. Feeling enough for the other person. The sentiment in this type of relationship being, I hear you and I’m here for you. Unconditional love. 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 & Self Worth

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. Instead of focusing on what we can do for others to feel loved, let’s 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 we do so 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, self worth 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 : ) & thanks for reading.

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

Updated: 1/20/23

Asking For Your Needs to be Met: When You Can’t Find the Words Or Were Never Taught How to Speak Up For Yourself

Getting my needs met is something I’ve struggled with for decades. In the family 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 needs 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. 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 in 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, 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 experienced fear like I did those nights. 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 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. 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 my needs to be met. 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 running from ourselves and each other. This was due to us being 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 emotions. 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. This was due to me being 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 to embody 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 me 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. And 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, With Ourselves & Others

And when there is this much fear and anxiety in our lives unchecked, it’s difficult to know who you can ask for help from while feeling safe enough do so. Or to even know you can feel ways other than anxious and fearful around others. Or how to ask for your needs to be recognized. And that others can help you in your healing process. This was where I had found myself decades after my initial trauma and 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? To meet some of my needs that had been neglected out of fear? The bridges that had been burned so long ago out of fear and spite, of how we were treating each other needed to be rebuilt. This was no easy.

Rebuilding After Fear & Trauma

I had to recognize that I was running from everyone and feeling that had been accumulating in my lifetime. I had almost no longstanding friendships to speak of. And I also 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, 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 living. I was trying to be the man who had no needs, and could do it all on his own. The isolation and fear that I spent my time in, all in the name of avoiding making loving connections with valued friends and family. The very relationships that make life worth living. 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. To finally sort out my needs and how to get them met.

Building Bridges That We’ve Already Burned & Finally Getting Your Needs Met, All is Not Lost

After I was left a second time, I realized just how bad my situation was. I was alone, with absolutely zero understanding of how to live my life, how to meet my needs 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 was a seedling hope.

I moved back in with my father and step-mother. 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 the years. I was reaching out to old friends. Starting up new conversations with those who used to be in my life. And I found that I had developed a real affection for these people. Including my father and step-mother. Going so far as to create family dinner Fridays where we all gathered and cooked together once a week. Not to mention, starting this blog which has helped to show me ways of re-parenting myself I was desperately in need of.

Connecting Out of Fear

Before I had decided to change, I was mostly holding on to relationships out of fear of 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 my needs of 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 practice honesty 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. Finally I was in a place where I had 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 leave me in the end.

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 embracing the legacy of brutality that had been handed down to me, and living under that rule. This made me scared of myself and 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 difficult, 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. This is what Tara Brach refers to as “the 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.

Stop Running & Reparent

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 and my needs. Reparenting 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 they had been neglected by others. 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. Something I hadn’t even given a second thought to in my early years. Another shout out to Dave Ramsey and his baby steps for showing me how to take care of the financial sector of my life.

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 in the future? 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.

Updated: 1/13/23

Paying Your Bills & Debt: How Being Buried in Student Loans Can Help You Get a Handle on Your Financial Life

I’m in debt. I’ve talked about my debt before on this blog, but with the COVID-19 student loan forbearance ending at the end of this year, I’ve decided it was time to take the deeper dive into finding out what my best options are for repayment. And I was a little surprised with what I found out. I’ll be going over some of the specifics about my situation, but also what I’ve discovered along the way. It can be overwhelming, when you’re staring out of the deep hole you’ve dug for yourself. But there’s hope. And I should say, it’s totally doable. You just need a plan, a positive attitude and a little help : )

The Short Road to Nowhere

If you’re like me, you borrowed a lot of money during the height of the student loan lending frenzy. I ended up with close to 87k in student loan debt that I am in the middle of paying back. And I went to an in state school! I was completely clueless when it came to getting my degree. I had no idea what I was doing, what I wanted to do, or what I was even good at. When I stopped going to high school I was 15. But thought I was supposed to go to college to get a degree so I could get a job. So that’s what I did.

I started in community college when I was 19. This was a poor choice given the circumstances I was in. I was past the age of being a dependent on my caregivers and one of them told me to go to school. When I failed by way of not going to classes, I was subsequently given the boot from my childhood home. I was 19 and as good as homeless. Years later, when I asked my caregiver why they kicked me out with no guidance and with such callous disregard, they responded with, “it’s what happened to me”. Hurt people hurt people.

So, with that in my rearview, I drifted around for the next five years in a haze of alcohol, seedy apartments and questionable life events (but some good stories, like the time one of the “Allman Brothers” was at my apartment), until a friend of mine got me a job at a residential program for at risk adolescent boys. This is when I decided to go back to school. Only this time for social work. I wanted to help people who were in similar situations to my own. But I still had no idea what I was doing when it came to navigating the educational system. This is when I started taking out loans.

Paying Your Bills & Debt

I would later switch my career focus two more times. First to architecture, but stopped that pursuit in it’s tracks when they said I would be working 80 hour plus weeks for the rest of my life. Then I switched for the second time to journalism. This is where I received most of my education and also where I racked up my student loan debt.

I did this with enthusiasm. No one told me to look for grants or scholarships, but this wasn’t surprising as I had no guidance. Nor was I seeking any or knew how to ask. I was again adrift, in a financial world where I would soon be in way over my head.

It took me close to nine years to finish my degree. And when I was done, I had close to 87k in student loans and 20k in credit card debt plus 10-20k in miscellaneous other expenses. This was a tough pill to swallow. I fumbled my way into just over 120-130k in debt, with little to show for it and no idea how I was going to dig myself out of the hole I had worked so hard to get into.

Okay I Give, How do I Get Out Of This Mess?

This, in conjunction with a few other realizations, left me in one of the darkest places I’ve been in my life. This was where I decided to make some much needed changes in my spending habits and the ways I was living my life.

This is around the time I found Dave Ramsey. Here was finally where I found the guidance I so needed to take hold of my financial house. This was also a confusing place to be, because growing up my caregivers were consumed with everything finance. Though they never imparted any of their wisdom to me about how to handle my finances. I had to stumbled upon Dave Ramsey in my mid thirties, by chance before I really began to take charge of my finances.

This was demoralizing. Mostly because I didn’t feel as though I could ask anybody in my life for help or advice, for anything really. Money was such a sore spot for my entire family growing up, that I felt as though it was off limits. I spent so much time not thinking about money, due to the unspoken lessons I was taught about how money was something to be feared, that I completely neglected my financial future. This was a difficult and terrifying realization to come to as well. I wrote about this some in my blog post about what to do when you’re starting to retire at forty.

But this is also where I learned that I needed to take the reigns for myself. Because I was the only one in control of my future. This doesn’t mean that I can’t ask for help when necessary. Which is and was the case considering how little I knew/know about how to handle finances. But I couldn’t wait any longer. I knew I had to do something about my future, regardless of how I had been neglected by my caregivers.

Taking the Reigns

As I said above, I started when I found Dave Ramsey and his baby steps, but it took discipline and patience to follow through with the plan. I had been so used to buying whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, that when it came time to exercise self control, I was at a complete loss. But there were a few things that helped to fortify my self-restraint.

Going Vegan, Running, Meditation & Yoga Helped Me Pay My Debt Faster

Going Vegan

Of all the changes I made in my life and my habits, going vegan was probably the most effective. I needed to learn how to cook using different ingredients while also making substitutions for staples I was in the habit of using when I ate animal products.

I also had to batch cook for the weeks ahead due to my busy schedule. This taught me how to put a shopping list together by choosing recipes and making a list by shopping from my pantry first. This was just another way to budget, only using food instead of money. But also if I didn’t cook, I had to eat pasta with Earth balance for dinner. I didn’t always want to cook, but I needed to eat, so I did.

Running

Running was another great way to cultivate a sense of discipline. Throwing shoes on and pounding out the miles week after week helped me to build a resilience while also helping me to find a rhythm.

For me, when running mid level milage, the first few miles of a run are the most difficult. It’s kind of like waking up in the morning. You’re a little tired, it takes some time to get your muscles warmed up and head wrapped around what your body’s doing. But once you’ve settled into the motion and movements of your body, the miles start to drop away with an ease that’s hard to describe.

It’s similar to when you’re paying off debt. The first few months take some adjusting to. But once you find your rhythm, and recognize that the discomfort of your sacrifices to your new budget won’t last forever, you find that same rhythm.

Meditation & Yoga

Meditation and Yoga help in sort of the same ways but from different perspectives. With yoga, learning to be still when you are in the midst of a difficult pose and sensation. And meditation when difficult thoughts and emotions arise, being still and present with what’s difficult builds resilience.

This is the same sort of resilience you need when you’re paying down a sizeable debt. For me it was important to sit with the discomfort of just how much money I owed. About 87k total in student loans alone. If that doesn’t put a seed of fear in your belly you’re either wealthy or in shock. Learning to sit and stay with what’s difficult, while coming up with and exciting a plan is what is most important when faced with a challenge of this size. Now let’s focus on some of the specifics of my loans and what I’ve found to be most useful.

Logistics of Paying Off Bigger Numbers

I have federal loans but when I first took out my loans I had both federal and private. About 9k in private and 78k in federal. I don’t remember exactly what the beginnings of my loan repayments looked like. I was in and out of school for 9 years. So my actual repayment date didn’t start until my mid-thirties. And probably for the best. I wasn’t in the habit of paying my bills regularly or at all before then.

Most of my bills I defaulted on with most likely the intention of never repaying them at all. But I had to start somewhere. And where I started was in my mid-thirties, under a pile of debt. I used the snowball method to start. This basically means paying the minimums on all your debt, but using all other available income to pay off your smallest debt first. For me this was all my credit cards that totaled 2-5k small debts. All together around 14k. Then it was on to my private student loans of about 9k total.

Some systems suggest you pay the highest interest rate percent first. Luckily my credit cards were all high interest and my loans much lower. So when I got to my private student loan, with about a 7% interest rate and my federal at a 6%, I put all available funds towards the private. My federal loans were in deferment, so I didn’t have to start paying them back until later. And with my private loans in the past, I could finally focus on the big one. My federal loans.

Federal Student Loans=No Bueno

When I started paying off these loans, they were in deferment. This means that you don’t have to make any payments on your loan for a specific amount of time for different circumstances. I believe the time available for deferment is 3 years, but check with your lender to make certain yours aren’t different. But what I hadn’t realized was that when my bill came due, I would be making close to 1k payments monthly. I was not making much at the time and definitely wouldn’t have been able to afford these payments. So I defaulted to my default. I planned on defaulting on my loans because it just seemed like too much.

But after I had done all the difficult work of paying off my other loans, I realized I didn’t want to head down the same road I had been traveling for so long. I needed to take control of my finances for my future. So I began looking into what my options were for paying down my student loans.

I Have a Plan… Sort of

My plan was to just throw money at my debt until it started to dwindle. But was that really my best option? As it turned out, yes. We all know, COVID hit about a year and a half ago. And since then there have been a lot of layoffs. As a way to ease some of the financial burden of student loan borrowers, the government put all loans on deferment without accrued interest. This has been a Godsend for those laid-off. But for folks like me, making payments interest free has been game changing. With all of my payments going towards principle, my debt is shrinking faster than expected. I’ve paid off close to 25k in principle since the COVID-19 forbearance began.

Private or Federal Loan?

But I was still concerned with the amount of interest I was being charged. 6% seemed like a high number for such a large loan. So I started looking at private loans to see if I could get a better rate. Turns out, I can. My rate would drop from 6% on my federal loans to almost 3% in a private one. Seems like a good deal. But when I ran the numbers, this only decreased my overall amount owed in interest by 1k over the life of the loan. Not even half a months payment. So I decided to stay in the loan with the higher interest rate.

I should also mention that I plan on paying my loan off in two years, so the interest doesn’t make that much of an impact. But if I choose a more traditional route, of say paying over ten years, I would be accruing up to 17k in interest alone. Then I would look into a loan with a lower rate. But another aspect to consider when thinking about switching lenders is, the benefits of federal loans far out weighs those of their private counterparts.

As we’ve seen with COVID-19, federal loans went into a period of deferment. Something that private loans did not do. Also, if you fail to pay a federal loan on time, you have considerably more time before your loans go into default. I’ve read up to 240 days, and you still have time to pay and be in good standing with your loan. With private lenders, it’s only 30 days and that’s it, default. You also have the option, with federal loans, to pay in an income driven repayment plan. This adjusts your payment to a percentage of you discretionary income. This is not an option with private loans.

Also, you are able to consolidate your loans with a federal lender. This takes all the small loans you’ve taken out each semester and consolidated them into one loan with one payment.

With so many benefits attached to holding loans with the fed., it just didn’t make sense to switch to a private lender. I may be paying 1k more over the life of the loan than if I was with a lower interest private loan, but peace of mind with the terms of my loan is worth more to me that a little under half a months loan payment. And when in doubt, ask.

You Don’t Have to do it Alone

If you have questions about your loan, contact you bank. Hey, even ask if they’ll lower your interest rate. Through my lender, if you’re enrolled in auto payments, they reduce your interest rate by a quarter of a percent.

And if you’re like me, you like to go hard. For me it’s do as much as humanly possible to pay off my loan in as short a period of time as possible. Don’t forget to practice a little self-care along the way. For me it’s a foot soak once and a while and a ten-pack at my local yoga studio for 175$. It’s good and healthy to take rests along the way. So incase no one told you, it’s okay to take a break every now and again : )

I hope this has helped in some way. Student loans can be daunting to take on, especially all at once. But don’t be deterred! Talk to your lender often and whenever you have a question, regardless of how silly it seems. They want you to be successful. So, if you have a ton of student loan debt, come up with a plan and have patience. You’ll get out of it. It just takes a little resilience. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image credits: “The Big IOU” by brent flanders is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Updated: 11/8/2022

Living Your Life: Romantic Relationships & Dating

Dating. Another topic that I was completely in the dark about. Along with friendships, romance and intimacy were so far from my ideas of what a healthy relationship was, that I’m amazed I found anybody to share my time and experiences with. But, as I was taught to develop my friendships via poor role modeling, something I went over in my last post, I used the same rubric for my romantic relationships. Only instead of seeking approval by being popular or seen as in charge, I was taught that sex appeal was the most important attribute of any relationship. This is unhealthy. Though at the time I didn’t know any better. Or any other way of being in relationship. So what were the working parts of a romantic relationship as defined by my upbringing?

Can We be Romantically Involved if We’re Struggling to Feel Accepted?

So I chased an impossible standard that was laid out for me. On based on looking the part. Like Brad Pitt’s character from “Fight Club”. Looking back at how I was in romantic relationships, I’m not sure what it was that I was seeking outside of approval. I had an unrealistic image of what I thought I should be, and no guidance or understanding of how to get to where I thought I should be. And I wasn’t even sure where I wanted to be. Most of the time I think I was just chasing a feeling. Comfortably numb, as Pink Floyd aptly described it.

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

Sex & Intimacy: How do We Feel Belonging?

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

Learning Intimacy

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

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

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

Seeking Unhealthy Relationships

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

And that’s not to say that there weren’t times where I felt intimate. But these times were not a priority to me in my relationships. I was mostly seeking pleasure. The way I would drink to numb feelings that were too raw and to feel good in the moment. These were the ways I was in relationship, because it was what was shown to me. To change my way of being in relationship, from something I used to give me pleasure to reciprocal appreciation of each other, I had to start accepting the people in my life, myself included, for who they are.

Being Strong in Who You Are, Not as Who Others Think You Should be

Now I no longer look to fit an image of how I think my life should look. In order to live up to someone else’s ideal relationship. Or change myself to be accepted by others. I’m making decisions based on who I feel I am. But getting to know yourself takes some digging. There was a lot of different voices from my past trying to strong arm me into believing I wasn’t good enough just being me. And even worse were the voices of my past abusers. Telling me their projected images of who they thought I was. This mostly came in the form of toxically masculine standards. And their ideals of what it means to be a man.

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

This lead to me being unable to experience my emotions. This ultimately was what lead to me being unable to understand and seek out qualities of intimacy and tenderness in my relationships. Also the major reason my relationships failed. I was incapable of responding to my own and my partners emotional needs with tenderness. The walls I had built around my emotions, to keep others out, were just too thick.

Shifting Values & a New Type of Partner

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

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

Making Better Choices

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

Go Slow, It’s not a Race

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

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

Confidence While Dating

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

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

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

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

Updated: 10/22/22

Feeling Alone: Being Resilient While You’re with Yourself in Relationship

Being alone in a relationship isn’t always easy. Take away the distractions that we often pump into our day to day lives and it’s nearly impossible. People expend a lot of effort to get away from the life that’s right here. This is what Tara Brach calls “the unlived life”. And it’s aptly named. Because this is the life that is usually filled with concern, fear or anxiety. All emotions that nobody really wants to be with.

Being Vulnerable With Difficult Emotions

What happens if I disagree with my employer or boss at work? What happens when I feel differently than what most people feel as being “normal”? Or I don’t go along with the status quo? These are some difficult questions. And ones that come with a host of feelings. Questions revolving around feeling excluded or alone in your experience or emotions in relationship are vulnerable places to be.

But this is where we have a choice. A lot of people, including my past self, chose to run from these vulnerable emotions. It’s easier to do what is expected of us in order to keep the existing established rules. Even if the rules are dysfunctional. Because those that are keeping the rules, sometimes need validation of their rule keeping status, to rationalize running from their vulnerable emotions. To feel as though they are doing what is best or are in charge. And all in the name of avoiding their unlived life. I.e. the vulnerability of the difficult emotions and the uncertainty of unstable emotional states.

And all of this is difficult. That’s why we’re running from it in the first place! If these emotions were easy to manage, I’d imagine we’d all have many more healthy relationships. There would be a lot less conflict in relationship as well. But the truth is, we live in a world that is fraught with these types of vulnerable relationships. And on top of the vulnerability, these ways of running from emotions can sometimes be difficult for us to see. Making them even more insidious and the root cause of much of our anxiety around being in relationships.

Staying in Difficult Emotions

When you are stuck in the middle of difficult emotions, such as our perceived expectations of ourselves by others, i.e. pigeonholing or mind reading, most often it is difficult to see past the immediate dis-ease of feeling vulnerable around others. We can feel alone and uncomfortable. And instead of staying with the emotions, we avoid the feelings and situations. The path is clear to follow, but it’s not always the healthiest path. The path of avoiding relationships.

And this path of what can be a confusing maze of expectations, mixed with emotions, can cause miscommunication. From my experience, when you expect a person to behave, act or take on/conform to certain unspoken rules, this is when people feel as though they aren’t adding up to another’s expectations. Or just plane don’t feel enough in themselves. And a life’s time worth of feeling as though you’re not adding up is a lonely place.

So if we are constantly trying to live up to somebody else’s standards, but feel we’re coming up short, how do we break the cycle? Of handing the responsibility of living our own lives to another, by trying to live up to what they expect (being docile) of us? I found, for myself anyways, that setting goals and owning my feelings are paramount to taking the leading role in living my life.

Living Your Own Life

I was so used to deferring the responsibility of my choices and relationships to somebody else, that it just became second nature. And there are no shortage of people that are willing to take up that role if you let them. So I first had to recognize what it was that made me afraid of the responsibility of my life and relationships, in order to take up the reigns again. And this takes patience.

Patience first with you’re emotional experiences. And second, with finding the ways to best take care of yourself and your emotional needs. If this is something you’ve been leaving for someone else to manage, than it is going to be a steep learning curve.

Your Life is a Big Responsibility, But it’s Your Own

For me, I had left that job for the person I was in a romantic relationship with. I had learned this from my caregivers. So I actively sought out this relationship dynamic. And as I’ve said above, there was no shortage of people looking to live my life for me. It wasn’t until I had ended my relationship with the person that was probably looking for safety in control, that I was left with the unsettling truth that I needed to show up for and live my own life. This was a shock for sure. Because it was something I was completely unaware of until I was left by myself.

I had to make all my decisions for myself, by myself. Everything from grocery shopping and cooking, to budgeting, exercise and work decisions. All were left to my underdeveloped judgements. It was scary and overwhelming at first. I remember feeling as though I couldn’t possibly take on the entire task of living my life. But what I found made the biggest impact for me, which helped me to make these decisions without being overwhelmed by their scope was, patience. And taking things one step at a time.

Taking Things Slowly & With Patience

Taking things slowly was important to learn. To recognize that I didn’t need to do it all at once. That I could take each task on slowly and deliberately. This helped me to not only make healthier choices, but also to have a clearer presence of mind while making my decisions. Which meant I was also making better choices.

I also learned how to be patient with my emotional experiences, as they were happening. Knowing when that little voice that pops up, the one that tells you that you need to act immediately, or else and how to stay calm during that urge, brought me peace. But what is also important is knowing how to let that voice have its piece. While not responding from that voice. By being patient enough for the feeling of urgency to wear off. Because it will subside. Then you can respond from a place that is more calm and you’re able to see the situation from a clearer perspective.

And instead of feeling stressed out, as though you are frantically looking for answers to the emotion provoking situation, patience with ourselves allows us the time and space necessary to feel comfortable with the kinetic feelings of urgency and uncertainty. This also allows us to take a responsible and grounded approach to taking care of the situations that need our attention.

Patience In the Work Place

For me, one of the ways this has played out in my recent past is in my professional life. I’m currently in the middle of picking up a new role and responsibilities at my new job. I went in for a shift and it was unlike the experiences I was used to in a similar role at a different agency. My first reaction was to walk away from the role. I thought “this is unacceptable” and felt unwilling to compromise. This was, for me, the voice of urgency telling me I was in a situation that wasn’t safe because it was new.

But I decided to give the issue some more thought. To practice patience. I talked it over with a trusted friend who helped me form some thoughtful and direct questions that would communicate what my concerns were. Also how I was feeling about what I was experiencing. I got some advice and guidance from my friend with a new perspective, but I still had to go inward and explore what I was feeling about my situation.

Building Resilience

What are my thoughts and feelings about what I’m planning on doing in asking these questions? Also, how am I going to attune to my feelings? And this is where resilience is cultivated. Because essentially, these are the places where you meet your fears. You feel them out and find out what they are telling you. Then you can brace yourself for how you’re going to be with the fear. Move through it to a place where you are confident in your ability to progress.

And it’s not easy. With me taking on a new role in a new position, I had some fears about my role. Some concerns about how things are run currently, compared to how I was used to them being done in the past. I then had to be patient with my initial response, which was to walk away from the position out of fear. Then I had to feel the fear and understand what it was trying to tell me. I did this by exploring why I was uncomfortable, fearful. Once I explored my fears I came up with a plan to take care of and attune to my fears. So they didn’t grow unchecked, which allowed me to take control of my actions.

The step of being present with the discomfort of the feelings that are arising, when I’m exploring and encountering new situations that provoke fear and uncertainty, is an important one. Because if it wasn’t for the ability to stay with the feelings, especially the fearful ones, then you would be constantly on the run. Keeping yourself in your comfort zone. A place where you are unable to grow.

Moving Through the Fear

And this is how we learn to navigate our fears and anxieties while moving forward with our lives in a positive direction. Staying flexible enough to face each new feeling or fear that rises to meet us. But also holding our ground and knowing that we are enough to meet and grow through these new situations. Again, not always an easy task, but that’s where you build resilience, in overcoming a challenge.

Because the decisions, especially the fearful ones, that come into our lives that we all have to face on our own, builds resilience. As I’ve said above, I used to defer my life’s responsibility to others. For example, I remember living with my ex-wife, in an apartment that she had found, working at a job I wasn’t very happy with, while going to school for something I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do. I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I just kept on going, being propped up by those around me.

Learning to Support Myself & Others in Relationship

And it’s not as though I’m not grateful for those who supported me along the way. But I wasn’t allowing myself to come to terms with where I was in life. The uncertainty of my life’s direction. I did this by surrounding myself with those who were happy to be in a position of caretaking for me. And this is where I was trapped in an unhealthy cycle of being in relationship. Me by not facing the fearful emotions I was running from, because I thought the responsibility of living my own life was too much and my partner, who was happy to tell me what to do and how to be for her own reasons.

And when our relationship finally ended, it came as a surprise to everybody. We were all finally forced to confront what it was that we were avoiding. But what came as the biggest surprise, to me anyway, was that I realized I was strong enough to change.

Making the Change

At the time, it was the affection of another that woke me up. That made me realize that I had the ability and strength to face my own fears. But where it really took shape was when I told my partner about my feelings. How someone else’s affections had woken my emotions. Emotions that had been dormant since my trauma. And that I was willing to work on our relationship in the unhealthy form it had taken.

Ultimately my partner had decided she was unwilling to work on our relationship. I don’t blame her for ending our relationship. She, like I was, was probably running from the difficult work of understanding the dynamics of our relationship. Including the places of fear, vulnerability and uncertainty. This makes me sad for what we could have been if we had faced those emotions together. But first we needed to do the inner work, to know what we are bringing into the relationship.

You Don’t Have to Go it Alone

So if you have found yourself in a similar situation, take heart. Resilience is possible as long as you are patient with yourself. Stick around while you’re going through and sorting the difficult, fearful emotions. Feeling alone while you are sorting through these emotions is common. But it’s something we all have to face eventually. And it also helps to know that you are not the first.

Many have come before you and have done the difficult work of coming to terms with their fears, vulnerabilities and anxieties. And it doesn’t last forever. It may take some time coming to a place of understanding these feelings, but we all get there eventually. I hope this has been of some help to you. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Niagara Falls Peaceful Solitude” by ***Bud*** is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated: 9/30/22

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