Self Directed Guidance: It’s Not Always Easy

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

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

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

Guidance is Not Static, But Fluid

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

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

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

Giving Up Being Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeling Heard is Healing

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

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

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

Coming to Terms with Feeling Heard

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

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

Making Poor Choices While Learning How to be with My Emotions

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

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

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

Love is Something Given From the Inside Out

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

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

It Helps to Find Others Willing to Listen

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Your Values: What Are They? How Do You Know?

Values were something I hadn’t thought much about in my youth. I had a lot of opinions and I had a self-righteous streak when defending those opinions, but I never thought of them as values. Or even thought of them in a sense of structure or order. In short, I felt that most of the time I was right, and everybody else needed to catch up. This, as you have probably already guessed, did not win me very many friends. Nor was it a very sustainable way to navigate my life. I burned a lot of bridges being unforgiving. And if I could change it, I would.

But with that said, I feel the best way to atone for past mistakes is to make healthier decisions going forward into the future. And for me, that started with hammering out my basic values.

So What Are My Values?

For me, values are forms of expression that are lived through ourselves, our personality and actions. For example, one of my values is honesty. The simple act of being honest in my day to day interactions is something that is important to me. But this is something that I learned later on in life. And unfortunately, I had to learn this the hard way.

I was likely to say anything that would get me what I wanted when I was young. And later in life as well, I would think nothing of embellishing the truth. This was mostly due to me feeling as though I wasn’t worth the attention or affections of another. I was so use to being left on my own, that I would say just about anything for someone to want to be around me. And what was so strange about how I was acting, all to be seen and liked by others, that when somebody did show an interest in who I was, I was usually clueless. I was so wrapped up in what Brene Brown calls, “hustling for approval” that I was blind to those who would have been good friends.

Pay for Your Ticket

What turned honesty into one of my values was, while I was riding the commuter rail two stops over to the next town on my way to an appointment, I decided that I was going to always pay for my ticket. This seems like a simple decision to make. And it was. Only, before that day I had always looked for a seat with a zone tag on it, hoping to fool the conductor into thinking I had already paid for my ticket.

I could afford the ticket, so it wasn’t an issue of saving the $3.25 that the ticket costs. I was just trying to be sneaky, get away with something because I could. And one day I realized that that is not the type of person I wanted to be. Hiding from a conductor to avoid paying $3.25 seemed childish to me the more I thought about it. So it was this simple decision of always paying for my ticket, where my value of honesty was forged. And as far as values go, this is an important one.

Without it, we wouldn’t have many relationships founded on trust. This was a problem that I kept finding myself confronted with. Most of the people I had in my life, also didn’t have many values. And it wasn’t until I started practicing my values, that I came to know my true friends. And it feels good. Being able to rely on my friends, no matter what : )

My Short List of Values

Okay, so honesty is a pretty universal one. But how do we find out what our values even are if you’re starting from scratch. Much in the way that I started finding what I valued. As with most things when I’m uncertain of what to do, I start a list. And finding my values was no different. Below you’ll find a short list of the ways I want to live my life:

  • Kindness to myself and others, be forgiving, don’t talk badly about others or myself.
  • Physically fit and a healthy lifestyle so I can avoid injury and stay healthy. Another way to care for myself 🙂
  • Patience and calm
  • Women are not sex objects
  • Hard working and take pride in my work. Do a good job whatever I’m doing. Don’t cut corners.
  • Honesty
  • Stay away from drugs. alcohol is okay once and a while.
  • Find the time to relax and take care of myself.
  • Be humble, watch my judgements of people.
  • Stay clean and organized
  • Don’t over consume, less is more.

This list came to be after I had been practicing many of the different components for a while. These are the ways I want to be living my life. It’s also worth mentioning that I adhered to almost none of these values before I decided to make changes in my life for the positive. And it wasn’t easy making the change.

Some Habits are Harder to Break Than Others

My proverbial white whale was “women are not sex objects”. This way of viewing the world was foundational for my younger self. While I was growing up, I received so much negative reinforcement around self worth being intrinsically connected to looking attractive that it was law. So when I viewed women, this was the first criteria I used to decide their value. These were definitely unhealthy ways of viewing my world.

But, it was all I knew. It wasn’t until I finally felt heard with a woman, that I stopped the cycle of objectifying them. And that’s not to say that I don’t still appreciate their beauty, but it isn’t the ONLY qualifying factor now, as it once had been.

Now, regardless of whom I’m talking with or thinking about, they are people first. They have just as much going on in their lives as I do, possibly more. So it’s with this outlook that I come to each interaction and try to keep the judgmental side of me to a minimum. And that’s not always easy. I find myself constantly trying to refrain my thinking around each interaction. Trying not to fall into the old habits I once was so accustom to. And this is something that we learn as we go. It’s not something that’s just presented to most of us, unless we have great role models growing up. Which sometime happens if we’re lucky. Though usually it’s something that’s learned new, each generation.

How do We Cultivate Values?

So if you’re reading this, you may be wondering, “how do I cultivate or find out what I value?” For me, it took a lot of looking at what I was already doing and liking about myself and practicing those aspects. Journaling was something that was invaluable to me in figuring out what my values were.

I enjoy the process of bringing order to things, so making a list in my journal and fleshing out why they are important to me came almost second nature. I say almost, because I first had to find a vehicle for my voice. Writing to me just came naturally.

Finding Your Voice

When you think about the aspects that you admire about yourself, what are they? How do you express yourself in the best possible ways? What do you like about yourself? These are the elements of yourself that you can hold on to and develop into your voice. Maybe you’re good at organizing people and events. What about organizing gives you a sense of fulfilment?

For me, as I’ve said above, I enjoy writing and bring together feelings in this outlet. So journaling and blogging are two of my favorite pass times. But what’s important is, that we find what matters most to us and bring that out in how we decide to communicate.

For example, one of my values is self-care. So I’ve posted about my self-care routines on this blog, as well as a resource list on my notes app that I can access when I need a quick pick me up. I am able to convey my values through what comes naturally to me, my writing. And it’s different for everybody. So finding out how you like to express yourself, or what comes natural to you, is important to knowing how to express your values.

Expressing What You Are

After you’ve found your medium, now it’s time to express what you like about yourself. Do you feel best about yourself when you’re helping others? Or maybe when you’ve taken care of yourself and your surroundings. One of the things that brings me joy is looking at something that’s been designed well.

The clean feel with the warmth of colors and textures that come together to make a house feel more like a home has always held a special place in my heart. And staying clean and organized helps not only our physical space, i.e. if you clean out your fridge after you grocery shop each week, you more than likely won’t have a three week old container of whatever growing mold. But it also gives us the mental clarity to not worry about having to clean out the fridge. And this type of organizational mind space can be extended to other areas of your life as well.

In short, sticking to your values can create more ease in your day to day life. It may not be easy to begin this change to values based thinking and acting, but it will definitely help to create more confidence in how you move through the world.

Finding the Middle

Values are important, because they give us they impetuous to define how and who we want to be. But taken too seriously and you can become rigid and unyielding. On the other hand, if you side step your values when situations become difficult, then they aren’t really your values. So finding a middle ground to balance out being too ridged or too lax is important.

When I was younger, honor was driven into me as one of my values in the most militant way I could imagine. A family member would pull me out of bed at two in the morning and drill into me the importance of being a man. This was terrifying for a child of 8, but I held very close to those values, to the point of being mean and unforgiving to others. This is an example of taking values too far in one direction.

On the other side of the spectrum, in my teens and twenties, I was reckless and had no boundaries. I drank to excess and lived in squaller. I was looking to avoid the responsibility of being an adult at all costs, using whatever means necessary. Now that I’ve matured, I’ve been able to find the middle, where I’ve learned to be forgiving, while also holding to my values without judging those who hold values different from mine.

Don’t Worry You’ll Find Your Way

This was something I wish had been told to me as a child. I was so worried about how to feel belonging, that I didn’t have any values. I was just doing what everybody else was doing, hoping to feel accepted. And all the while not realizing who I was becoming. Spoiler, it wasn’t who I wanted to be. So if you’ve found that you are lacking in some moral center, or want to explore your values some, know that it is totally possible and you are probably already practicing some of what makes you, the best version of yourself.

For some more reading on the subject, my therapist introduced me to the 8 C’s and 5 P’s of IFS. This is a quality list of values that aren’t hyper masculine or gender specific. So they’re perfect for starting out on your journey to discovering what your values are and how to cultivate the ones that look, well, like they have some value to you. And know that it is never too late to cultivate the version of yourself you want to be. All you need to do is get out there and make it happen. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

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

Addiction: It’s Not Only to Substances

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

Addiction to Pornography

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

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

But Whatever You Do, Don’t Talk About Pornography

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

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

Bad Experiences With Sex

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

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

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships to Sex & Pornography

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

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

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

Avoiding Responsibility By Using Pornography & Feeling Isolated

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

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

Looking at Pornography Compulsively to Feel Safe

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

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

Rebuilding in the Aftermath

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

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

Let’s Talk About Sex & Values

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

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

Finding Your Own Beauty in Yourself & Others

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

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

Using Judgements to Devalue the Other

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

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

Giving Up the Ghost

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

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

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

Meditation & Support

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

Your Thoughts

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

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

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

Feeling Support

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

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

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

Other Resources

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

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

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

You Are Not Alone

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

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

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

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

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

Updated: 9/29/22

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