Childhood Emotional Neglect

Here’s another big topic. Childhood emotional neglect is something that has recently been on my radar. But it’s also something that, when I read about what it is and its effects, I identified with and immediately knew what it was. In the family that I grew up in, we never spoke about emotions. But what I think and feel was so damaging about this was, that when we did have an emotion openly, or displayed an emotional need, it was made known that the person having the emotion was just one more cross to be born by the other.

I would later realize that this was my parents’ inability to establish healthy boundaries around how much they are willing vs. able to give. But as a child, this sent the message that it was not okay for me to have emotions. As though my emotions were a punishment bestowed upon those who were in charge of my well being, and not an aspect of being human.

In this post I’d like to talk a little about what emotional neglect looked like growing up in my family in action. And ways that I’m coming to understand what happened to me and how I’m healing from it. Here’s a link to the site that sparked the inspiration for this post. And also, I’m not a professional, these are only my experiences and opinions. If you’re experiencing difficult emotional states, speaking with a trusted professional therapist or counsellor is advisable.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall…

When I was a child, what I remember most about my family was, that they had one look, one affect. And it was of disapproval. Seldom did my family look on one another with loving and caring gazes. If I was happy, I would get a tentative look in response. As if to say, “I see you’re happy, but are you really happy?” And on top of the confusion of not understanding my family’s responses and lack of mirroring to my emotions, I felt as though there was something wrong with me.

Their constant, judgmental stares reinforcing my deficiency in some way. So every time I had an emotion, I felt compelled to seek my family’s approval. “Is this right? Am I feeling this right?” was how I felt most of the time, in regards to how I was feeling emotionally. This would also play out in my relationships with women, later on in life. More on that later. But with this type, or rather lack of mirroring of emotions, I was left not understanding how I felt about pretty much anything at any given time.

My emotional world was a confusing maze, thanks to the emotional neglect I had been through. And one I had no map to navigate. So I drifted. I floated from one relationship to the next, one set of circumstances to another, without direction. What I was looking for was a place to feel accepted and approved of mostly. I think I was also looking for someone to tell me how to feel. But that was a lesson that was still on its way.

Choosing Relationships not Knowing How I Felt About Them

Relationships are difficult to understand when you don’t know how you feel about them. The best way to describe the experience is, that I was so afraid of not belonging, being accepted, that I was in survival mode for most of my life. Fear was the number one emotion in my world, and something I knew well. So when it came to choosing a relationship, I went along with whomever was going to tell me how and who to be.

Due to my emotional neglect, I had no idea what was expected of me in a relationship. Or even more importantly, I had no idea what made me happy in a relationship. So I chose people who, in no uncertain terms, would tell me how to be accepted by them.

In these relationships, I spent a majority of my time sedated with alcohol while letting my S.O. tell me what she expected from me. I had successfully created a space where I could exist in a sort of half numb state, where I didn’t have to live my life or take responsibility for who I am or my emotions. I was so busy being what everybody else wanted of me and feeling that I was a burden in some way, that I had no idea what I was feeling emotionally or who I was like. This was confusing.

When Fear is the Glue that Binds

And what held me together in my relationships was mostly a sense of fear. Fear of being abandoned and left alone. A fear of being judged bad or not worth being with and feeling shamed for it. The emotional neglect I endured had left me feeling so much fear, that I was paralyzed in my emotional body. Frozen solid. Too afraid to wake into the reality of what my thoughts and feelings were about who I was.

This did not bode well for my relationships. I was acting against my better moral judgement by treating women like sex objects, as well as writing people off while acting incredibly arrogant. And all to make myself seem “acceptable” as a certain type of man. The type of man I had modeled for me and was suggested for me to be, when I was a child. Needless to say, the types of women I was attracting were not women who were best suited to who I actually wanted to be.

Being Sensitive as a Man in a Relationship

Because under the arrogance and pettiness, I was a super sensitive, thoughtful and caring, hopeless romantic, who was terrified of the ways I was behaving. I was rejected by my family, for who I was, so many times that I tried forcing myself to be as they implied and modeled for me. But this was also how I came to be my own abuser.

By freezing and numbing my emotions, while behaving the ways my family did that terrified me as a child, I had become my own abuser. And in turn, I chose women who craved this type of man. Emotionally neglectful and abusive. Time and time again I would choose relationships that left me feeling worse while I was in them. Too afraid to be my sensitive self due to the fear of being rejected or torn apart for having emotions that weren’t “manly”. So I numbed them to fit into the mold of who my S.O., friends and family wanted me to be.

We were repeating the patterns of emotional neglect, from my family, in my romantic relationships. All for the sake of “fitting in” with the people I had come to fear. This was unhealthy. I wish that I could say that there was a defining moment, one where I woke from this fear and started living a life more true to my emotions. But there were some dramatic events that coincided with my awakening.

Waking from the Fear & Emotional Neglect

I drifted through my relationships and most of my life, until I was married in my mid-twenties. Our relationship wasn’t terrible by any means. We were amicable to one another and pleasant most of the time. One day, my now ex-wife came to me and said that we felt more like roommates than a married couple. Looking back now, I understand more clearly what she meant. And she was correct. But I was so numb at the time, that I couldn’t tell the difference.

My family members had acted much the same way as I was acting, so it just seemed natural to me. But what I realize now, what was missing from our relationship was, a felt sense of affection for each other. Sure physical attraction, but more the type where you would lay in bed and talk and cuddle. Being open in emotions and thoughts while being physically close. What I missed when she brought this up was, that these were the questions that would have lead to more intimacy.

But I was much too scared to be intimate in relationship then. I’m only now realizing that intimacy comes after overcoming your fears of being close to another, not before. I first needed to learn to feel safe in relationships with others, before I could be intimate with another. These lessons are usually learned with family in childhood. So in order to feel safe in relationship, I went back to where it all began. To my family.

Safety with & Among Those Closest

After my divorce and the break up of the relationship which immediately followed my marriage, I had no choice but to move back in with family. What made this move so difficult was, that I had been so thoroughly neglected by this family member, I was terrified to get anywhere near them. But I stayed.

I stayed and learned how to take care of myself, but also and more importantly, I learned how to allow myself to be supported by those I was with. I had been so used to do things my way and Feeling Supported By Communicating

And it’s during these interactions where we’re collectively reversing the emotional neglect that we had all experienced in the family. The more often we connect, the more comfortable we all feel with asking each other more and more questions. In the family of my youth, there were no boundaries. Family members would root around in one another’s belongings to try to find something, anything that was being hidden from them.

It turns out that all we were hiding from each other was love and trust. What we wanted to know, we didn’t trust that the other would be honest with us if we asked. Due to us feeling as though we had to be secretive about ourselves and our emotional states for fear of being torn apart. Fast forward to family dinner Fridays and we’re communicating more open and honestly than we ever have.

We’re concerned about each others well being. We share things we find that we think will aid each other. We’re creating community by being honest and open with our emotional states. And this is what we were missing all along. Because we were too afraid to be our authentic, sometimes scared, vulnerable selves around each other, not knowing or realizing that whatever happened we would and could be there to take care of ourselves. Care we could then extend to each other.

Finding Your Connection

I recognize that my situation is unique. Not everybody can go back to a fearful place and make a fresh start. And it was a lot of hard work on my part too. It’s not as though our connection didn’t have its difficulties. But what made it possible to reconnect again was an open mind and staying in the discomfort. Knowing it’s going to be hard but staying anyways, that’s what helped us to create tighter bonds with each other.

Emotional neglect in relationships is not easy to overcome, but it’s also not impossible to either. If you’ve found yourself relating to some of what I’ve written, please seek help. Feeling alone and isolated are two major parts of emotional neglect. And the longer we live with these feelings, the more difficult it is to come back from them. Reaching out to a professional can be a great way to open the door, if only a little bit, to start letting people in again.

Because it is in relationship where we really come alive. The love and trust that we share is life blood to our relationships. And our relationships with each other can be so rewarding. I also find that it helps to think the best of others as well. Not everybody is out for themselves. There are good people out there doing good work. It’s our job to be that person and recognize it in others. Good luck on your journey, and know that you are not alone. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Broken Mirror” by Rakesh Ashok is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

“I’m Right!” How to Sabotage a Relationship in Two Simple Words

Oh man, this is a tough one. I had a problem with needing to be right, whatever the cost, whatever the circumstances. This was not a healthy way to live. I think back on it now with empathy for my younger self because of all the fear, anxiety, doubt and lack of authentic and supportive connection I had. And, it wasn’t only me who acted this way. Every person who was close to me, save for one or two friends (thanks Jon), acted and probably felt the exact same ways I did. It is and was disheartening.

In this post, I’ll be going over some of the dynamics that I was raised with around standing your ground in being right, whatever the cost. Why I felt I needed to be right, as I’ve come to understand it, and some ways in which I am learning to practice some much needed humility in my life. And with every story, there’s always a beginning. So let’s take a look at how I was taught to view being wrong.

“I’m Right, That’s the End of it!”

When I was a child, around the age of eight, I learned very quickly that the adults in my life were in charge and had no patience for having their authority questioned. As you probably know, when you’re a child, you are prone to emotional outbursts when things don’t go your way. However in my upbringing, when a child in my family had an irrational emotional outburst, we were silenced swiftly by an often times even more volatile emotional outburst by the adult.

This was frightening to a small child. And also sent the message that emotions were something that were “uncontrollable”. So, we all let our emotions take the wheel and navigated our relationships with indignant outrage with how the other people in our lives were behaving. It was all very childish and reactionary. But, we didn’t know any better.

From my experience, I felt out of control most of the time. Looking back now at my adult role models, I can see all too clearly how they were just barely holding on to what they thought was “the right way” to do things. They had small lives that they were now in charge of and without the patience necessary to cultivate strong emotional literacy and understanding. They were dealing with all of the traumas they had endured in their youth and now they were passing down this cursed family heirloom of generational trauma to us, their children. Feeling out of control is probably an understatement.

Being Right, it’s About Control

In my family, the adult was the unquestioned authority on everything. And when somebody disagreed with them and their black and white ways of handling their relationships, they would lash out in anger. In other words, they would throw a tantrum. I can look back on this with some levity now, but the reality was, that the relationships at the time were intense and terrifying.

For example, my grandfather was a six foot something German man with a voice that hit like a cinderblock when it landed. He was not somebody you wanted to be on their bad side. And he used his imposing demeanor to exact control over those who he saw as his subordinates. Which was pretty much everybody. And, he was in charge and he was always right.

I’m not writing this to demonize my grandfather. He was my first best friend and I have fond memories of being with him. But he is an excellent example of abusing his power, because of how important it was for him to be right in order to feel in control. If my grandfather said he was right, there was no question about it. You had no recourse if an injustice happened. You just had to deal with your hurt and most likely abused self on your own. No support, no comfort. Only fear. This is how you cripple a relationship, by needing to be right to feel in control.

Fear & Being Right

This drive to be right to feel in control, in my family anyway, had the effect of us feeling fearful of our belonging, our connection. If you were proven to be wrong, then those who were under the control of those who were right, had full license to abuse the other for being wrong. It was our way of exacting what little justice we could. So belonging, to us, came to mean how can we make those who say they are right, look stupid.

This, no matter how you look at it, is dysfunctional. There’s a Radiohead song, “Just” from the nineties which was popular, that amplifies the dynamic in our family.

You do it to yourself, you do
And that’s why it really hurts
Is that you do it to yourself, just you
You and no one else
You do it to yourself
” “Just”- Radiohead

We were trying to make the other person not only feel stupid, but also alone. From my perspective, I wanted the other person to feel the ways that I felt that the other person was making me feel. Revenge for what was being done to me. And I was angry about it. But what age has taught me, is that most likely everybody else in the family was also feeling this way. Or at least in close proximity to how I was feeling. We were all just too proud and arrogant to show it.

Arrogance & Nursing the Wounds

This is where the disconnection happened, for me for sure. I was hurt. We were all hurt by each others words. If it was one thing my family did well, it was making another person feel close to worthless, using our words as weapons. This was something that I practiced as often as I was in relationship, and it led to a lot of hurt feelings. I’ve said before on this blog that my moto in my early twenties was, “bridges are for burning.” But with the wake of hurt and abused feelings I left, it’s no wonder I was running from relationships every time one came into my life. Add to that the amount of abuse I endured and it’s amazing that I’ve come this far in reconnecting.

But we’ve all got some wound to nurse. And for whatever reason, like a wounded, wild animal, we feel we need to run and hide to tend to our wounds, instead of connecting with each other to heal. Tara Brach put it best when she said, “we were wounded in relationship, and we heal in relationship.”

This makes perfect sense to me now, but when you’re encapsulated by the fear we were using to control one another, it’s difficult to see. Especially when it means being vulnerable to a person who could possibly do more harm to us. This is why it’s important to find someone or a group of people who are safe to be be around.

Finding Your Tribe

In order to heal from this type of isolation and relational abuse, we first need to feel safe. Safety for me meant being alone for a while. I was so used to living life by trying to fit in with what was expected of me, that I had no idea how abused I felt or was. I was so numb from abusing my emotions and having them be abused, that I completely lost touch with who I was. No bueno. So in order to feel safe and start a fresh, I spent some time on my own.

Then, as I began to treat myself with care and respect, I understood what it meant to feel again. Slowly at first, but as time progressed, I was able to reconnect with others again. Only this time, I did so with caution. I vetted my friendships this time on shared common interests and whether or not the person was kind. The relationships I used to seek were based on the above cycle of abusing the other and calling it teasing, or all in good fun. Now I have a handful of thoughtful and kind friends. People who I know have my best interests at heart. And that feels good : )

Finding Friends

And what I’ve found most refreshing about this new way of connecting is, people who have similar dispositions tend to find each other. A few weeks ago I was in a yoga class at my local YMCA and I met a guy who seems to be a lot like me in many ways. Even temper, thoughtful and nice. Seems like he could be a good friend. And there are all sorts of ways to meet new people.

My parents are really into geology. They take field trips to old mines and literally mine for mineral specimens. This is something that I’m not interested in, but every time they go, they have a new story about somebody they know or met while at the dig. So if you’re into something, say a hobby like hiking, maybe head over to Meetup and find out what’s happening local to you.

And it’s important to stress that if you’ve had historically abusive relationships, seek professional help from a trained therapist or counsellor. I am not a therapist and therefore cannot give advise on how to heal from past abuse. These are only my experiences. And I can say from what I’ve been through, that the aid of a therapist has helped me exponentially with my relationships.

Putting Yourself Out There

There was a clothing line in the nineties, that was popular in my high school, No Fear brand clothing. I don’t remember the actual iconography of the shirts, but I remember the sentiment: real men have no fear. This is a completely unrealistic way to view fear and emotions in general.

There’s a Mark Twain quote that I have on a mug which I bought from the museum in his former house and I have as wallpaper on my phone: “courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” I love this quote, because it reminds me that, yes, there will be times I will be afraid. This is okay. In fact, it’s normal. My job then is to not let the fear stop me from doing what I desire most.

This is what I believe is what’s stopping us from, as the phrase goes, “putting yourself out there”. The fear of connection is real and scary. I’m sure it’s different for every person as well. I can say from my experience, it was the fear of being in an abusive form of relationship. But we need to overcome that fear. As I said above, finding loving and supportive people, including a therapist or counselor, are at the core feeling safe enough to overcome the fear of connecting in a safe way. Feeling at ease with and around others, is the first step to learning to trust people to be kind again. So find that safety and you’ll find those connections.

And Don’t Forget Humility

This is no easy task when you’ve been guarded for fear of being rejected. For me, I was so used to putting up the, “strong” persona, the “everything is fine”, front that I forgot what it felt like to actually be fine. My pretending to be fine took the form of over-the-top, egotistical statements. Of course, I didn’t believe any of what I was projecting. I did so to compensate for my lack of feeling as though I was acting how others expected me to act in order to feel belonging. In short, no bueno.

So practicing humility for me, is a way to not only build myself up, but also those around me as well. For example, I make it a point to point out when somebody is doing an excellent job with whatever they are doing. Commenting on specifics about why they’re excelling. And if someone compliments me, I usually reply with, “thanks, we’re great”. I turn it around to focus on how we are working well together. Because it’s about us, not just one person.

Maybe I’m Wrong…

But I think it’s okay to accept that we’re not perfect. Release the idea that we can control how other people see us and just be. It isn’t the easiest form of self expression. Sometimes we just want to bury our heads in the sand and go along with whatever is popular. But is that right? Is that who we really are? My take is no, it isn’t.

So being ourselves really starts with accepting ourselves as we are. Not perfect, not always right and not always in control. Once we let go of these ideas, being ourselves is so much easier. So find that support. Rely on others and maybe more importantly, rely on your imperfect self. It’s okay, you’ll do just fine. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Scatter Brained and Broad Minded” by DeeAshley is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Creating a Safe & Calm Place

I was reading a book a while ago. It was about reparenting and in one of the chapters, it suggested creating a safe space. A place where you can go in your mind to feel safe, at ease. I’ve done work like this before, but what I realized was, that I didn’t have one. Everywhere I went, I felt as though I had to preform, never make a mistake. Always be at my best, preforming or feeling as though I was a guest. There was never a feeling of fostering ease to any of the places I could feel relaxed in. So I decided to change that.

Creating a Safe, Calm & Cozy Space for Yourself

After reading the chapter in the book, I scanned my life for what seemed like the safest place to be. And to my surprise, it was my bedroom. I wondered why this was the case, as I’m not particularly fond of the room. But for me, it checks all the right boxes.

It’s cozy. I have a few well placed textiles and trinkets, lending it a sense of my personality. It’s well lighted, as in it has all the right ambient lighting I enjoy. A few candles, some Christmas string lights and a diffuser that also has a low light function. The aforementioned diffuser that has any number of my favorite scents diffusing. It’s clean, comfortable and not too crowded. AKA, jut right for relaxing.

The Elements of Cozy

So this is where I started. I went about creating the place that would bring me the feelings of comfort and safety. But first, I needed to define what this meant for me. When I first started out on my journey to cozy, my safe and calm place was a section of the A.T. on Mt Killington, VT. There was a shelter I stayed in that had stunning views draped in mists and vibrantly green ferns and moss. Here was definitely a high point in my hiking in and around New England.

Section of the A.T. on Mt. Killington VT

But all I have of this place is a photo I seldom look at. Though I’ve made some plans to have this photo printed and framed to keep in my new safe and cozy space, it isn’t something that I can easily call on or see myself in and a part of. Something I feel is an important part of feeling safe. And that’s where my planning began. How do I want my safe and cozy place to look. What are the elements of safe and cozy.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Aesthetics

I appreciate good design and always have. Often I’ll find myself on Pinterest, picking out the the element of the house I someday want to build. I also spent a semester in architecture school pursuing design, when I thought that was a viable career path for myself. Design is something that has always been important to me. Especially with my surroundings.

So in my safe and cozy space, I want it to look a certain way. Inviting. A place that would make me feel more at ease just by virtue of being in and around it. To this end I’ve collected a few things that give it a sense of comfort for me. One example is of an afghan my grandmother knitted more than 30 years ago. It’s multi colored and comfy and made from “granny Squares”. Also my space is surrounded with small trinkets that brings me joy.

A skull painted with colorful chilies I picked up in Mexico. A mug with my first initial on it with a sphere of petrified wood resting on top. Pieces of driftwood I’ve collected and a jar of sea glass that was gifted to me. And some Tibetan prayer flags hang from my wall, making my space more me, more cozy.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Plants

I also have a verity of green little friends that adorn my room. I started collecting jade plants about eight years ago and was inspired by a friend who had a jade plant that he was in awe of. You can propagate these plants fairly simply from cuttings and I was seeing a lot of jade plants in the places I would visit day to day. One at the library, one at an insurance agency I would walk by. So I started collecting clippings from them.

I also went in search of air purifying plants that I could bring into my environment that would give it a boost of fresh, purified air. Snake plants soon joined the party, aloes and ferns as well.

The plants in general have helped to keep my room a bit more humid. But due to the latest additions, my ferns, I’ve been running a humidifier on a low level to keep the environment more suited to my plants. This helps to keep the atmosphere a little more comfortable for humans as well. Especially in the winter months. It also helps to make the room feel more alive. Something lush and inviting. The way a greenhouse feels in the early spring; fresh and green.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Lighting

As I’ve said above, lighting is something that is of particular importance to me. I’m not entirely sure what it is about a perfectly lighted room. It could be the soft way the light welcomes you to whatever task you are encapsulated in. Like sipping a cup of herbal tea by candle light. Or how a set of old Christmas string lights lend a sense of interest to something ordinary. Like the bright green chair and bamboo shelf that holds my ferns, all draped in a set of string lights.

Candles are something that have been important to me since I was in my early teens. They lend a softness to the room and have a timeless feel to them. I burn beeswax candles now due to their ability to clean the air of negatively charged ions. But the soft flickering light definitely invites an atmosphere of cozy and safe.

Also in the book on creating a safe space, they suggested watching a video of a fireplace online. I was skeptical at first, but decided to give it a go and was surprised at how relaxing it was. The sound of the crackling wood, mixed with the ambient flickering of the flames was calming. Cozy.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Scent

This is another important aspect of my surroundings feeling safe and comfortable. I used to burn incense. A lot of incense. I started when I was in high school. Thinking back, living next to Salem MA, The Witch City, was a big influence in my incense burning ways. I also had a girlfriend in high school who loved burning Nag Champa and I used to wear a lot of patchouli oil as well. Dirty hippy, check.

I don’t burn incense so much anymore, but I do use an oil diffuser to create a relaxing atmosphere when I’m ready to wind down. I have a few favorite scents that I keep on hand. Geranium, citronella, lavender, jasmine… There are more to be sure, but these are on pretty heavy rotation. Being surrounded by a comforting scent is a kin to being emersed in a hot bath. And for me, sometimes leaves me just as refreshed.

There’s also something elemental about steeping your environment in a smell that brings you peace. For me, it’s like the feeling of smelling a campfire on your clothes. It’s a reminder that pops up when you’re not expecting it that lulls you into a sense of feeling at ease. A soothing surprise. Something I’m sure we could all use a bit more of.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Victuals

For me, there are few things that bring up the atmosphere of cozy as a cup of herbal tea and a well cooked meal. Maybe a glass of lemonade : ) There’s something about the tea itself, where it comes from and how it’s processed that makes the experience not only soothing, by sipping the freshly brewed cup, but also interesting. An experience.

I often brew a cup of tea before bed and relax for a while before sleep. For example, a few days ago I brewed a cup of watermelon, lime, basil and cracked pepper tea. It tasted like a quiet summer evening and is quickly becoming one of my favorite teas.

Also I’ve come to enjoy a special self-care meal at the end of my week. It’s a way for me to show myself that, I’m taking care of my nutritional needs and I’m doing it by carefully selecting meals that I know I’ll enjoy. And the entire process is relaxing. From prepping and preparing the meal to when I partake. Usually surrounded by candles, my diffuser and the other elements, the word wellness is manifest for me.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Cleanliness

And there’s one element that brings the entire package together for me. Clean surroundings. When I say clean, I mean free of dirt, but also clutter. Organized, but not so much so that it feels sterile. The plants and their earthiness helps to give the environment a sense of clean but naturally so. Balance.

Being organized for me is something that makes me feel at ease, but it’s not something that came easily. My family cleaned a lot when I was younger. We still do and are good at it. But in my twenties I had gotten to the point of not caring for myself or my environment. One of my first apartments was so bad that it had trash drifts!

But even when I was living in this environment, I still took pleasure on the days I would clean every aspect of that apartment. I’m sure my roommates appreciated it too. But living in an orderly space lends to it a sense knowing what to expect. Things have a home which makes me feel more at home. It also makes me feel less apt to get up and clean. Which I enjoy, but I also value my down time as well.

Finding Your Elements

I believe this is what the Danes are referring to when they practice Hygge. And it is something that is important and often times overlooked. Or in my case, the 20 something version of myself would have had some machismo outlook on the idea of “pampering myself” thinking I was being “self-indulgent”. I was also raised on action movies where the mark of being a man was based on how brutally you could sacrifice yourself for the greater good. No bueno.

We need these places. Places where we can feel safe, comfortable and without reserve. Living as though you’re constantly on edge and stressed, asides from having health consequences, also pulls the joy out of life. If you don’t have a safe and calm place to go to, then we’re really free floating in place where fear and anxiety can come to visit at will. And finding your place, one that brings you peace and safety is important to keep these feelings at bay.

So make your space. Find your own elements and tailor it to your liking. Maybe you find peace and ease while you’re on your yoga mat. Or maybe there’s a spot in a park or forest that you’re drawn to. Whatever your elements are and wherever your space is, make sure you take the time to steep yourself in them. Because they will bring you peace.

And there is also something gratifying about building these spaces yourself. As I’m typing, I’m sitting in my room with all of the above mentioned elements, including some others as well. Such as music (which could be a post all its own) and I’m definitely feeling relaxed, cozy and safe. And I bring this place with me wherever I go.

Take Your Place With You

For example, while I was at work today I was imagining relaxing at the end of the day and enjoying doing my tasks in my peaceful setting. Just the idea of being in my cozy space brought me a sense of calm in the moments of dis-ease that came during the day. And this is the benefit of creating this space, because you are also creating a little peace of mind as well.

So if you’ve struggled in the past with relaxing or feeling safe, start your own safe, calm and cozy space. Start small if you have to, but keep going back to it. Because eventually, when you take the effort to care for yourself, you will learn to trust in yourself. And when you trust yourself, then you can learn to feel safe and love yourself : ) Take good care, peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Misty Mountain” by Shek Graham is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Withholding Love: Growing Up Unlovable

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

Making the Choice to Withhold Love

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

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

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

Predictable Results, Feeling Lonely Not Love

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

The Armoring

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

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

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

Finding Yourself and Your Love Again

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

Being Bold Enough to Learn to Trust

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

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

Role-Modeling Destructive Behavior

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

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

Role Modeling Loving and Trusting Behavior

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

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

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

Finding Love Again

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

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

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

Family Dinner Fridays

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

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

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

Seeing Communication as a Weakness

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

“Love is Stronger Than Pride” – Sade

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

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

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

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

A Late Start: Planting Veg In July to Build Tighter Bonds

I was looking out at the garden the other day and realized there were quite a few empty spots and a lot of weeds needing pulling. It was the end of June, and I thought for sure that it’d be a late start for us to get anything into the ground and have a successful harvest. But I decided to look up the growing schedule for my zone anyways and see if it wasn’t too late to put something in the ground. And to my complete surprise, it was not.

In fact, the beginning of July is a great time to start a bunch of plants from seed, seeing as how the soil is warm and some of the crops like a cooler finish to their growing season. So I got out into the garden, weeded and planted a few different types of seed. I was happy with my efforts, but what I think I was more thrilled about was starting something when I thought it was too late and the help I received along the way.

Our Garden In All Its Mid-Summer Glory! My dad ripped up the front lawn one day because we weren’t using it and he wanted a bigger vegetable garden.

Starting Late

This is a subject I know something about. By the time I was in middle school, I had already started the process of dissociating from my life. I was doing poorly in school, not making many friends and not finding things that I was excited about doing or even liked doing. When it came to my future, I wasn’t focused on it, mostly because everybody that traditionally would have guided me had checked out of my life already.

Now I understand that it wasn’t entirely their fault. They were dealing with a mountain of disruption, an unruly teen (aka me) being the lest of their problems. Sorry guys. But still, this left the twelve year-old me in a very vulnerable position. I had no idea what I was doing and all I really wanted was to feel some sort of belonging and to feel loved. So naturally by the time I got to high school, I checked out completely.

Confusing Street Cred for Acceptance

This is where I began to rebel against just about everything. And for no good reason. I was watching those around me live life styles like rock stars, so naturally that’s the route I took as well. But this left me in a place where I was unable to take care of myself, or build lasting relationships and find fulfilling work. This wasn’t entirely true, as I was surviving, but without the close and loving connections and only a bottle between us, I wasn’t really connected with many people. I was mostly buzzed, in front of a screen playing video games.

For me, it was about how I was being seen by others that mattered. This was where I confused my image with self worth. And this is nothing new. We seem to be caught perennially in the cycle of forgetting our own value and seeking it outside, somewhere else. So if that’s true, then the times we stray from ourselves to seek validation or acceptance, we’re really in need of the work of coming back to ourselves to feel that wholeness of being again.

This is something that I’m just coming to understand now, two decades after my initial fall. And even after realizing what I’ve been missing for so long, it still feels fresh. The chance to start something anew. Like a new version of myself is emerging, ready to begin again. Just like planting new seed in the beginning of July, there’s still plenty of growing season left to enjoy the new crops.

The Help Along The Way

It’s also equally as important to recognize the help I’ve received along the way as well. Because without help, we’d all be a little lost. While I was in the garden, planting the seeds, I was really only working on the foundation of my father’s work. The garden is his labor of love and I jump in and help where and when I’m able to. So together, with the help of my step-mother, we’re all working to create something that will hopefully yield more than just the fruits of our labor along the way.

The time spent together weeding, laughing at how a volunteer squash plant has taken over a good portion, nah, all of the compost pile! Or the fresh salad that we were able to make for our neighbors 4th of July party, that everybody enjoyed. And hopefully, with any amount of luck, we’ll be harvesting gourds that we will be able to decorate our Thanksgiving table with. And this is all to say, that we haven’t been very close for very long. But by gardening together, we’ve found a place where we can connect, let down our guarded emotions and feel a little more belonging with one another.

Volunteer Squash Plant Taking Over The Yard!

Building a New Foundation

About seven or eight years ago, I was in a difficult position. The woman I loved intensely had just left me, leaving me with no where to go accept one place I kept returning to when times were tough for me. My dad’s house. This seemed to happen every decade or so, so this was rote by now. Only this time was different.

Something inside of me had changed. What made the woman I was with so special to me was, I had made the decision to change the ways I was living for her, in hopes that she would change her ways as well. This however, did not work in my favor. And more to the point, I made the decision without all the information I needed, in order to see clearly what was happening to me. The reasons behind my actions, what was motivating me to change. But it forced me to come to terms with somethings I had been ignoring for a long time. Mainly my relationship with the family that stood by me.

The Early Years

When I was young, I remember things being pretty good. Our family gathered often, we did things together like go to baseball games and cookouts at family friends’ houses. But things changed rather abruptly, leaving a lot of people very hurt and unable to move forward. Me being one of them. We stayed loyal to our state of suffering, choosing to keep ourselves locked away from one another for fear of opening up and being wounded again. But all throughout the years, even when things got very bad for everybody, there was one person who kept the home fires burning, so to speak. My father.

He had been hurt traumatically, just as the rest of us had been. But he chose to stay inside his vulnerability. Instead of covering it over with alcohol or viscously mean defenses, he chose the life more vulnerable. It was solitary for a while, but he never gave up. In fact, that is one of his values, perseverance. Sure, he had his own battles to fight, but he is always willing to help another in their battle, with a supportive and understanding quality that is rare.

It was with him and my step mother, who I’ve returned to time and time again, when I’ve fallen on tough times. And I feel, until fairly recently that, I’ve ritually taken their kindness and support for granted. I stayed loyal to the self destructive ways of building relationships for so long, that I saw genuine kindness and support as signs of weakness. This was a backwards way of seeing the world for sure, but it was how I had survived for so long.

Stronger Together

And that’s not to say that One day I woke up and we all hugged it out and sang and danced in a Pollyannaish way (full disclosure, I had to Google Pollyanna, if you’re interested). It took a few years of awkwardly brushing up against our overly cautious boundaries before we understood what it meant to be a family. One example being, I bought my father two chord of logs for us to cut and chop for firewood. I thought it would be a good bonding experience. Father and son chopping chord wood together. But instead, he ended up cutting the entire two chords himself! And he was in his 70’s! He just didn’t see it as anything but another chore to do.

But that’s how my family was raised. You don’t ask for help, and you don’t make any waves. But we’ve slowly been breaking free from the mindset that we have to do everything alone. We’ve been spending more time together as a family. Cooking meals, talking and making plans for the future. These are all the small events that we were just too afraid to do with one another because we were so uncertain of where we stood in each others regard. But once we started to connect, these types of experiences came more naturally. It was as though everybody was waiting on anybody else to make the first move. And that’s all it took.

An example, I suggested that we start family dinner Fridays. An idea I took from my self-care Sunday routine of taking good care and cooking a special meal for myself on Sunday nights. Only I suggested we do the same on Fridays as a family. Before we knew it, we were all excited about the new recipes we would be making. The meals came together in no time and we spent more time talking around the dining room table than we did any other time during our week. While usually using the fresh veg we planted in our garden for our meals, making them all the more special and gratifying.

A Late Start Is Better Than No Start

And it’s with this in mind, our family meals, the time spent gardening together, the nature walks we take, that I look back and recognize that, yeah, we may have gotten a late start, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t worth the while. Because it most definitely is.

And I recognize that it’s not always easy to see past the defenses that we’ve built up. The ones we cling to because we were just trying to survive, a difficult or abusive family situation. Or maybe you were left on your own with no one to guide you, only knowing hurt along the way. But it is a far better thing to be open emotionally, than in a constant state of fear for your emotional well being.

Sometimes it’s wise to set rigid boundaries. Especially around those who are all too willing to trample all over you when you let them in. But just know that there are people out there who are not only capable of, but enjoy taking good care of their relationships and loved ones. It’s possible to open up and feel safe and loved.

And it’s never too late to start on this journey. It may feel overwhelming at times, or even as though it’s not worth the effort. But it most definitely is. And you will be all the better for it. So be persistent! It isn’t always an easy journey, but it’s almost always an interesting one. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Helmsley Walled Garden productive garden vegetable plot bordered with apple trees – 2018-05-09 DSC_6104” by mattcornock is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

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