How to Know What Support Looks Like if You’ve Never Really Had It In the Past

Support and feeling supported was something that didn’t come to me naturally. This was mostly due to me feeling like a burden to my caregivers, whenever I expressed a need or a want. The term, selfish was tossed around all too liberally when we spoke about one another and how we expressed our needs. It seemed that no matter what we were asking, it was always too much.

I’d like to go into what the act of support feels and looks like, for me, in this post. If you grew up in an environment similar to mine, you’ll likely feel that anytime you express a need, you are putting somebody else out for just having this need. This is unhealthy. But if we’re never taught what healthy support looks like, then we simply don’t know what we don’t know. Though it is possible to feel supported in healthy ways. All it takes is some hard work and the right people : )

What Does Support Even Mean?

While I was growing up, there was a large emphasis placed on the rugged individual. Someone who could hold their own, usually a man, no matter what the situation was and that we don’t need support from others. We were expected to do everything on our own and do it perfectly. This is/was unreasonable. I didn’t know this at the time, but I was also idolizing action heroes such as Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from, “The Predator”, not realizing how unrealistic these ideals were.

I used phrases such as, “man up” in my youth, implying that if you were a real man, you’d be able to handle it, whatever “It” was. And this vein of thinking was carried throughout my family, as well as in popular culture at the time.

My parents got divorced when I was eight years old and I think I got the same speech from every male family member at the time. It was them saying to me, “you’re the man of the house now Adam.” I had no idea what this meant, and I’m guessing that they didn’t either judging from how they were acting as “men”. I was a boy, trying to understand what was happening to my family at the time. The prospect of being in charge was terrifying to me. And on top of that fear, my family was now my responsibility!? I had no idea what to do with this information at such a young age. So I disconnected from my family. Retreated into video games and stayed out late at night, avoiding coming home to the mess that was being left unattended.

When Your Environment is Corrosive to Support

In the environment that my caregivers created, we told the other how they were feeling. We never asked any questions about the other’s emotional states, or did any sort of mirroring. We never asked one another, “how did that make you feel?” When we did talk about emotions, it was usually in a way where one person was telling the other, what they were feeling. For example, comments such as, “you were just so selfish, pissy or narcissistic” were injected into our interactions without asking how the other person was feeling. We just told them how they felt, but if we dug a little deeper, behind the reactions, we most likely would have seen the hurt and neglect we were inflicting on one another.

And if we did speak about emotions, they were usually the more difficult ones such as anger. We did not have a vocabulary for what we were experiencing emotionally, because it wasn’t safe to explore our emotional worlds around each other in order to develop a language. This was due to us being viciously demeaning and mean to anybody who was foolish enough to let their guard down and share an emotion.

And it’s important to foster a safe place around our emotional selves if our goal is to create a supportive environment. This was something that we just didn’t know how to do, had never been taught how. Luckily, there are some resources for learning how to foster a supportive and nurturing environment. One where we can feel safe exploring our emotional experiences without trying to control them in ourselves, or maybe in my case and more importantly, in others, which I’ll be getting into towards the end of this post. But this type of environment is a difficult and crazy making place to be, if it’s all you’ve known about navigating emotions and receiving support.

Losing the Support I Once Knew

It was around the time of my parents divorce that I began to preform poorly in school and get into trouble more frequently. Since what I had known of support was no longer available to me, I just fell off the grid, so to speak. Everybody was so wrapped up in their own experiences of what was happening, that we were no longer available as a source of support or caring for each other. There was a lot of bad blood left during the process and everybody knew every detail.

We continued drifting apart, not even really knowing how to support one another even if we had decide to wake from our own emotional experiences for long enough to see that our family had fallen apart. We were quick to point out how someone had done harm to another, but not to help each other through the difficult emotions that came up from those hurts. And that’s assuming that we would know how to be there for each other if we could see what we were doing to one another.

So we all avoided contact, seeing each other only when we had to. This was our way of keeping ourselves safe from the wounds of the past being brushed up against by an old memory or from a current interaction. And it was in this environment that we forgot how to be support, for ourselves and another.

Licking the Wounds

We were so busy protecting ourselves and our wounds from one another, that we forgot how to be a support for somebody else in a healthy way. This was clearly for fear that we would find ourselves betrayed in the same ways we had in the past. Traumatic ways that left us wounded and untrusting. But we were also isolated, focusing only on the hurt as a reminder of what it means to get close to another. A defense mechanism that was much too built up to let anybody past.

And it was in this way of focusing on past hurts that we avoided growing beyond our smaller, wounded selves. Even now, 34 years later, we still have issues connecting due to how we’ve treated one another in our shared histories. Forgive and forget is a practice that is definitely not alive and well in my family.

But it’s also these mindsets that keep us locked in our old patterns of not being able to move past the emotions that feel too heavy, too scary to confront. For me, it’s a sense of feeling abandoned by those who were supposed to care for me. Leaving me alone at such a young age and then telling me I was in charge was a terrifying prospect to an eight year-old! So what am I doing to move past the old wounds and live the healthiest version of my life? It starts with taking ownership of my life, just as I find it.

Finding Support by Owning My Present

For me, I had to sort through a lot of poor choices I’ve made in the past. Regardless of how I was left, without guidance or to show me healthier ways of navigating my world, they were, and are, still my poor choices.

And I’m not beating myself up over the choices that didn’t have my best interests at heart. I’m owning them in a way that acknowledges I made a poor choice, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances. This gives me the comfort of knowing that now, that I am in a different place, one where I know how to ask for help, find resources and rely on people, I can make the healthier decisions that will move me forward in my life. And this is what I mean by support.

Types of Support

Debt

Support looks like, to me, finding people like Dave Ramsey when I was 100k+ in debt from the poor choices I made in the past. Following his advice on how to get out of debt, while I watch myself achieve my goals, slowly but surely, paying down what I owe.

And teaching myself how to make and stick to a budget. This was no easy task. Even when I was throwing as much money as I could towards my debt, I was still racking up $700 grocery bills, mostly in the form of taking trip to Whole Foods. That’s close to $500 a month I could have been putting towards my future! It was here that I learned the discipline to stick to the boundaries and limits I desperately needed to set for myself, in order to live a sustainable lifestyle.

Friends & Family

In terms of my relationships, support looks like asking the people who have hurt me in the past, to get together once a week and make dinner. To talk about who we are as people, revisit the past in a safe and comfortable setting, while forging new relationships with each other. Also, knowing how and when to take a rest when needed, from those close in.

Also, keeping in mind that I need to ask direct, clear questions, especially around how the other person feels. This also extends to me speaking up about how I feel during our interactions and knowing when it’s time to give the relationship and the conversation a break if things get too intense.

Internal & Emotional

While I was revisiting some of the ghosts from my past while writing this post, I was feeling overwhelmed with all the memories that were coming up. So instead of pushing past the feelings, ignoring and neglecting them in the ways they were ignored and neglected in me, from my past caregivers, I stopped, I asked what I needed for and from myself and the answer came, to take a walk by the ocean. So I stopped, listened to and attuned to my own emotional needs to take a break, and walked down to the ocean.

Reaching Out

These may seem like basic steps, but for those of us who have been severely emotionally neglected and abused, this is like learning a whole new language. And it’s difficult. In my situation, my caregivers had no idea how to attune to their emotional worlds, or listen to their own needs. They avoided themselves and their emotional needs at all costs, using denial and alcohol to subdue their internal worlds.

So it was necessary for me to reach out to somebody who had experience with healthy ways of helping me with and accepting my internal emotional world. I’ve been working with a therapist for a few years now, and the help I’ve received from her has been invaluable. Mostly just a safe place to explore how I’m feeling, while also giving names to my emotional experiences. Also having her validate that they (my emotions) are real and valid. Again, basic but so important if you’ve never had this type of mirroring and support.

Friends

And finally, friends are so important for our sense of belonging and need to feel heard, loved and supported. As I’ve said in previous posts, most of my friendships were based on the good times, avoiding the difficult work of supporting each other during the difficult ones. So when those times came, it didn’t take long for those bonds to break under the weight of hurt feelings.

I don’t speak to many of the people that used to populate my past, but the friends that did stick around for me are very dear to my heart. I literally don’t know where I’d be without them, one in particular being there for me at just the right time and place. It’s also important to feel a part of something more than just our own internal worlds. Best not to let the squirrels run to wild in the trees of our minds : )

And It Gets Easier

These are my experiences with what support looks like. If you feel as though you are in a place where you lack the support you need, go and find it. I wish someone had told me this a long time ago. I spent too many years wondering without direction, not knowing what to do with myself in my life. And it’s worth remembering too that, no one can go this life alone. It’s hard enough even with the support! So if you’ve experienced a general lack of feeling and being supported, know that it’s not to late to do something about it.

Find a therapist, make regular visits with friends or maybe try reaching out to some of the friends you have on Facebook you haven’t talked to in a while. Find a group to be a part of with shared interests. Building relationships can be tough work, but it is so worth the while. Start sharing yourself and good things are bound to come of it. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Hug” by Hans-Jörg Aleff is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Rebuilding What’s Been Broken: Why I’m Repairing The Broken Bonds From My Past

With any amount of luck, your past will not resemble mine. I’ve left more than a few broken relationships in my wake through the years I’ve been on this planet. But in my defense, I was never taught how to foster and nurture, caring and loving bonds. It just wasn’t in my upbringing.

But regardless of how I got here, they are still my broken relationships and therefore, my responsibility to do what I can to make right what I neglected and abandoned so long ago. In the following, I’ll go over what some of my past experiences were, how I realized I needed a change and what I’m learning about repairing the relationships I’ve neglected. Let’s jump in.

Where To Even Start

I began the work of setting my relationships right a few years ago. I can’t really explain how I got to the place where they had been neglected so badly except, it was how I was taught to treat them. I was left alone in a house, raised by television, until I was old enough to realize that I didn’t have to stay inside anymore. It was then, in my early teens, that I began roaming around the city I grew up in, looking for ways to drink or have a good time, avoiding going home to the neglected and abandonment, in a house that used to feel like a home.

So instead of building lasting friendships and tight bonds with others, I was looking for someone to buy me alcohol so I could avoid the pervasive loneliness I was living with for so long. I think the worst part about it was, I didn’t even realize that that’s what I was doing. It just felt good in the moment, drinking to avoid feeling. But I’m sure most people feel that way when they’re in the middle of making a bad choice. Like eating that extra pastry or skipping this workout just this once. For me it was drinking that extra 4-5 beers or popping a pill.

But what I was really avoiding was, the hard work I needed to put in, in order to get the return I desired, lasting friendships. I was an expert at this. I was drinking to avoid coming home to my emotional world and racked up enough debt to keep me busy paying it off for years. And along the way, I think I neglected all of my relationships almost to the point where I had nobody to rely on. This was a frightening place to be.

Arrogance: The Relationship Destroyer

When I saw the mess I had made of my relationships, that’s when I realized something needed to change. Not to mention how lonely I was feeling. I was lonely because I had been pushing everybody away to protect myself from getting hurt. By them leaving me or tearing me apart as most people had done to me in my past. And one of the ways I isolated was by acting arrogant, better than those around me.

I went into this a little in last weeks post about impossible standards. My caregivers had held me to such a high standard, that there was no way that I would ever meet it. So instead of admitting that I wasn’t “good enough” for my caregivers by failing to meet their standards, I chose to adopt the same method of keeping people at a distance as was being done to me. By acting as though nothing were good enough to meet my standards.

I hadn’t realized that my caregivers were acting from the same hurt place of feeling insecure as I was, or that I had learned how to disconnect from others through them. I only knew that I felt like I wasn’t enough to be loved. So I was scared of other people “realizing” the same thing I had felt and endured, not realizing it wasn’t my fault. We were all too arrogant to let our guard down for long enough to realize that, we all wanted the same thing. To be loved and accepted by one another.

And this is how I neglected just about every relationship I had. Too afraid to connect, too scared to be alone. These were confusing times filled with anxiety and a pervasive loneliness. But things changed for me when I thought I fell in love with a woman. Something changed in me that woke me and suddenly made me realized that the ways in which I was living were truly unsustainable.

What Really Matters

It was in this life changing relationship that I truly felt heard and seen for the first time since I was abandoned in my childhood. This is when I came to understand that what really matters isn’t how somebody else sees you, or what they think about you, but instead it is about the quality of the connections you have with these people.

Most of my connections with others were based on how I wanted them to see me. Which was really whatever they wanted me to be, so I could feel liked, accepted and approved of by them. It was all a game on the most superficial of levels. I thought that if I looked or acted a certain way, the way that I saw those I was seeking attention from act, that I would then be loved and accepted those I was acting like.

But what I didn’t realize was, that they were just acting the part also. Not really knowing what to do to feel belonging. So they did what they saw others do that gained them acceptance. It seems so silly thinking about it now, because it’s something a simple, direct and honest conversation would have resolved. But we were so insecure in our belonging that we were scared to death to even broach the topic.

Instead we just did the dance of trying to follow whatever trend was popular in hopes that someone would accept us for our rendition of it. When I thought I was in love, I thought I was feeling the recognition of being seen for who I was, not the person who was hustling for others approval that I was putting on, and feeling accepted for the authentic person I thought they saw in me. But they really fell in love with the version of me that I was acting as, not who I was.

The relationship ended in a way fitting to how it began. But it made me think about how I had built my relationships in the past and how I wanted to build them going forward into the future. I’ve come to the understanding that, our connections to one another, in authentic and intimate ways, are really what matters most.

But I also understood that, you don’t write people off. I recognized the changes I went through, how difficult they (the changes) were to initiate and endure as they were happening and the resiliency I cultivated in the process. And if I could do it, than others could do it too. This is what made me reach out to the people that had once populated my past self’s life and ask for a fresh start.

Authenticity

What I’ve come to understand about what being authentic means to me is, that I never really wanted to be mean or arrogant in the first place. All the ways I was acting to find approval from those I sought to feel belonging with, wasn’t really who I was. I wasn’t mean, nor did I want to be mean. I wasn’t better than others and acting that way was exhausting and lead to me feeling isolated and judged by others.

These were the barriers I needed break down in order to be in authentic relationships with people, hoping that the bridges I burned along the way weren’t so damaged that I couldn’t repair them.

I started by reaching out to those who I used to be good friends with in the past. This was surprisingly fruitful, as I heard from some people I hadn’t talked to for at least a decade or two. This is where being friends with most of the people I knew from my past on Facebook came in handy. All I had to do was send a message and see if they would reply.

And I began talking to quite a few people this way. But this time, instead of complaining about somebody or something, finding comradery in misery the ways I used to do, I asked them questions about what was happening in their lives and explored common interests we shared. Which, not surprisingly, we had quite a few. This is when I realized that we were friends for a reason. Our shared interests were the foundation of our relationship and why we were able to stand the test of time. This realization felt good : )

We were now exploring who we were in ways that made us feel more connected and a better representation of who we were as people. Sure, we would still commiserate from time to time, about the difficult things in life. But we were no longer basing all of our interactions in this mind frame. Life was more than the difficult experiences we had to endure. It helped that we were also grown adults now, instead of self absorbed teenagers too : ) And this level of authenticity lead to another dimension of feeling belonging. And that i of building intimacy.

Intimacy

When I talk about intimacy, I’m talking about the feeling of being close with another, and not only in a sexual way. Sure, there is that facet of knowing somebody, but it isn’t the ONLY expression of feeling soothed by another’s presence.

This was however, not the message I was sent as a child growing up. The physical act of making love was what was most valued in my environment. Especially when it was connected to how somebody looked physically. This left us all feeling like we didn’t quite belong because it all hinged on the condition of us being attractive. As Melba would say, no bueno.

So when I started rebuilding the relationships from my past over again, I was now focused on our shared interests and how we could turn those into shared experiences. For instance, my stepsister loves to hike. I love to hike. So I’ve recently connected with her and made plans to hit the trails together.

This not only gives us the chance to experience something we both love together, but it will also give me the opportunity to apologize for not being the bigger brother I could have been, had known then what I know now. And hopefully, we’ll start something new. This reminds me of a line from a Peter, Bjorn and John song, “Object of My Affection” that goes, “just because something starts differently, doesn’t mean it’s worth less.”

And that’s just it, the chance to start something new. It doesn’t mean that it’ll be perfect, or that the pain from the past will magically go away, but we have the chance to make something stronger. And hopefully in the process, be happier for it.

Why We Should Even Bother

And this is really what it comes down to. We change and build healthy relationships so we can have a better quality of life. o we can be in a more positive disposition more often. We’ll create better memories that we can revisit down the road together. In short, fuller, happier lives.

So if you’ve been neglecting the relationships from your past, or just feel as though you want a fresh start, a chance to rebuild your relationships for the better, there’s no time like the present. Get out there and reconnect. Be honest with yourself and those you want to connect with and you’ll build intimacy from authenticity. And these are the relationships worth building. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “True Lies” by Jack Parrott is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Making Friends With Your Fear

Fear is something I have plenty of, and I know I’m not alone. It comes in many different forms as well. Depending on the situation, it can range from fear for your physical security, food insecurities, living situation… The list goes on. But regardless of the source, the feelings are still the same.

It’s difficult to handle, and most of us, including myself, spend a lot of time running from it. I’ll go into a few of my fears and how I’ve run in the past, but also how I’m now learning to face my fears and become stronger for it. It’s no easy sometimes, that’s for sure. But it gets easier the more you stay in the feelings. Let’s take a look at some of the ways I used to run from my fears. Maybe you’ll see some similarities with yourself and find comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

The Fear And Why I Ran From It

For me, the fear is a sense that no matter what happens, I’m not going to be okay. The worry sets in and I think about the terrible consequences of whatever I’m worried about taking up residency. The result is not ideal and it also makes regular visits. For me, it can feel like a consistent fixture in my emotional life.

If the fear itself wasn’t bad enough, I would also worry about when the fear was going to return. This cycle would replay itself, creating fear upon fear. I’d become fearful, the fear subsided, then I get anxious about feeling that fear again. And when all the fear and anxiety became too much, I ran from it.

I would use a myriad of methods to avoid the fear. Alcohol and pornography being my two main methods, but distractions such as T.V. were another way to avoid my emotional experience. Anyway I could numb out the discomfort I would give a try.

But this never really worked for me. The fear and anxiety would consistently return. Like an old friend, I knew it’s embrace all too well. Or enough to know that I needed to pick up a drink and numb out the feelings that were too much to handle. I was drinking coffee and taking Adderall to speed past the feelings of anxiety and drinking alcohol and taking muscle relaxers to numb out the feelings I was speeding away from in the mornings. It was exhausting.

And most of my running was due to me feeling abandoned. I was left and abandoned by everybody that was close to me from a very early age. My entire family and a good portion of my friends, all my best friends and every would-be role model, all vanished like it was magic.

I would later learn to detach from others before they got too close to me, to save myself from the pain of yet another abandonment. This was no bueno. But this way of detaching left me feeling even more lonely and still more abandoned. So by the time my marriage dissolved and the woman I thought I loved abandoned me, I knew something had to change.

Staying With The Fear

There’s a Mark Twain quote that I’ve always loved and it’s something that I remember in times when I’m caught up in the feelings of fear. It goes, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” This reminds me that the fear is normal. It’s okay for it to be here, only I shouldn’t let the fear control my actions.

Tara Brach has a talk about dealing with the fear in a direct way. Her method is, attend and befriend, and it’s something that has been helpful for me in my journey on healing from past traumatic events. Her message is essentially, that fear is an emotion that’s trying to tell us something. Usually about how we’re currently in danger in some way.

For me, and I’m sure for a lot of us, the traumatic or painful events that have formed our fears, reshape themselves in current and similar situations to try to keep us safe. Only there is no longer a need to feel fearful in our current situation, because those old events are no longer happening.

For example my fear sometimes comes in the form of connecting with others. This was a way for me to remind myself that other people have been historically unsafe to get close to because they will end up abusing me in some way. But this isn’t true anymore. Or at least I’m able to keep myself safe now if someone does hurt me or tries to abuse me again.

Keeping Ourselves Safe

This was a big task for me, and an important skill to learn especially because I was never taught how and abused by those who were supposed to teach me. I was feeling pretty unsafe a good portion of the time, especially around those closet to me. So I needed to learn how to feel at ease around others, or I was going to end up leading a very isolated existence.

Learning to Trust

I had to first learn that other people are trust worthy and generally good people. This was confusing for me, because all the people I had around me in my early years were not only distrustful of others, but they were actively looking to take advantage of other people as well. This definitely sent me the message that people are dangerous, but also that I needed to act in the ways I had modeled for me in order to survive. I.e. mean, distrustful and to pull away from those who got too close.

To counter these old messages, I had to learn to trust and rely on others. I started small, first with those who were closest in, then extending that trust outward. I knew I could count on a handful of friends and family in the beginning. Four or five people that I engaged with regularly. This was a huge step for me and no easy task.

I was taught that since I couldn’t trust anybody, I had to do everything on my own. So relying on others for help with even the smallest of tasks was a challenge. I would make excuses for why I was doing things solo such as, “no-one does it as well as I do”, needing it to be perfect. Or the reverse, “can’t anybody do anything right?!” Both ways of being essentially saying that I was unable to rely on others, while really just being too scared to ask for help.

On the up side, when I finally swallowed my pride and learned to ask for help, things became so much easier. I was no longer running around frantically, trying to keep all the plates I had spinning from crashing down. I was still working hard, but those I invited into my life were willing to lend a hand.

Letting Those You Trust Help

A great example of letting those I learned to trust help me is with my student loans. As I’ve said, when I came to and realized I was living a life lead by fear, I was isolated from just about everybody. I had also racked up just north of 100k in debt, 78k being in student loans. This was quite the wake up call.

So I started in on my debts using the Dave Ramsey method of throwing everything I had at my debt, picking up a part time job which turned into my full-time gig along the way. But with such a large sum to pay back, it seemed as though it would take a life’s time to pay back all that I owed.

So when I started the conversation with those I chose to let into my circle, I was surprised to find out how willing they were to help me out of the hole I had dug. As they saw me working to pay off my debt, a few of my supports offered to chip in 1k for every 10k I paid off. I was ecstatic to receive this news and made my efforts just that much easier knowing that I’d be finished with my goals earlier than I had planned.

And with the promising news of president Biden saying that he will make a decision about debt forgiveness by the fall of ’22, I reached out to another support who offered to chip in some as well. This was most unexpected as the relationship I have with this support has been strained in the past. But I find the more positive I am, along with the work I’m willing to put into the relationships, the more support I receive in all sorts of ways. But this type of relationship building takes work.

Working To Keep These Relationships Alive To Ward Off Fear

Many of the relationships I am currently rebuilding have sustained some pretty intensive damage in the past from both parties. As I’ve said before on this blog, we were mean, especially towards one another. So as I was learning how to care for myself by reparenting and learning the act of self-care, I was also extending what I learned with my own research and extending it to those I was learning to trust.

What I had never learned, and what is probably a no-brainer to mot people is, that when you’re in a relationship with others, you need to tend to it. Otherwise you will be left with something that doesn’t quite resemble connection and definitely is void of support.

For example, when I started building my relationship with my father and step-mom again, I had neglected our relationship so badly that we had almost no shared common interests and nothing to talk about. Our conversations were overly formal and guarded with very little emotional content.

As time passed and while I was learning to trust people again, I began to include my dad and step-mom into the habits and rituals I was learning to keep for myself. One of them being my self-care dinners I make for myself once a week.

Since these dinners had been so beneficial for my well being, I decided to extend this newly developed skill in caring for myself to those I trusted. And what came from it was, family dinner Fridays. We now come together every Friday night, one person picks a recipe to cook and we all make the meal together. The food is almost always good, the mood and interactions are definitely less formal and we’re all enjoying not only ourselves, but the company of each other. We feel more like a family because of it.

Ask The Friend For Love

And this type of relationship building extend to friend as well. I was recently having a conversation with a friend about how difficult it was to pay down debt when the numbers feel so large. We are both in similar situations and have been a good source of support for one another.

I was thinking about how I wanted to reach out to my friend more often, seeing as we only spoke maybe once every three weeks, when he told me that he was also feeling pretty isolated with the irregular hours he worked, consequently having a lot of free time on his hands. I suggested that we hang out more often and he was more than happy to get together more regularly.

I had just assumed that he was busy living his own life and that if I reached out too often, I would be a burden to him in some way. This was not the case and in fact, most of my friends feel exactly the same way. So if you’re feeling as though you’re being a burden to your friends, don’t believe it. Have a conversation with them and find out how they feel before you make any judgements.

Living From A Place Of Support, Not Fear

Fear can be tricky. If we’re not careful, the fearful emotions we have will take the wheel and we’ll be in the passenger seat of our own life bus. This is how I spent a good portion of my time when it came to making decisions about the direction of where my life was heading and it was definitely not a desirable place to be.

But when we choose to make friends with the fear, the fear of connecting to others, the fear of giving up the control of doing everything ourselves and release that isolation, we begin to heal from the fear. Like Mark Twain said, it’s still there, only we are behind the wheel of our life bus and we can choose to let those who will support us on for our journey and join in for some of the ride.

So fear not! Know that you are not alone and that the journey gets easier the more you’re able to let those who want to, help you. Peace, : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “O OUTRO LADO DO MEDO É A LIBERDADE (The Other Side of the Fear is the Freedom)” by jonycunha is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Pushing Yourself Too Hard and Self Abuse: Where’s the Line Between Being Tough and Being Abusive?

Ahh, more lessons from the toxically masculine eighties. And everybody had a good time… When I was a child in the eighties, there was a hyper focus on what the roles of men and women were. These were crazy and polarizing times. What I was taught about how to be a man is pretty much summed up by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from “The Predator”.

In summation, this meant that they (men) were always in charge and used force to stay in control. They frequently displayed a lack of forgiveness, especially towards those who were considered to be weaker (accept women and sometimes children), and displayed proudly their anger in destructive ways. I.e. by breaking things in the heat of an argument to show dominance of the situation.

I’m sure that all men weren’t like this, but the popular culture I was raised in valued and glorified this type of gender role assignment. I was often called sensitive as a child because I displayed a range of emotion that was greater than that of anger and confidence. Being scared as a man, regardless of age was unacceptable. And I was scared often due to the amount of abuse I was experiencing at the hands of my loved ones.

I’d like to talk about what some of the expectations were for me, growing up as a man, and the impact they made on me in my life. There was a lot of reparenting I had to engage in, due to the toxic lessons I was subjected to. And I know I’m not alone.

So if you’ve been measuring yourself to an impossibly masculine standard of self-reliance to the point of not being able to ask for help, or your emotional arsenal consists mainly of indignant rage, then keep reading. We maybe able to help one another by practicing another skill that most men from my generation were taught was too feminine for men to experience. That of listening and attuning to our feelings, and hopefully find some ways to heal ourselves in the process.

Are We Being Tough or Abusive? Where do you Draw the Line?

Resilience is a word that’s tossed around a lot these days. I struggled with what this word meant for a long time. As a man, I was taught that we were supposed to be tough, able to handle anything. Resilience was an unspoken part of that package. But what I’m finding out now is, the difference between being emotionally resilient and how I was taught to be “tough” by covering over difficult emotions.

When I was taught how to be tough, there wasn’t really much of a lesson plan. There was a lot of bravado, posturing and ways we covered over our emotions. The latter usually took form via drinking, pleasure seeking by abusing pornography and dissociating from them by pushing them off onto women and denying we had them in the first place. We were neither tough nor resilient. We had run from our emotions to the point of denial, and numbed them out when we were too tired to run.

What we were doing was a form of abuse to ourselves. By disconnecting from ourselves so thoroughly, we had completely ignored our own needs for emotional attunement. To ourselves and from others. Being tough has come to mean something else completely from how I was raised to imagine it.

Resilient Not Tough: Words Matter

So if what I was taught about being tough was all pomp and priss, then where did that leave me when it came to face my emotions? When they all came rushing in at once? It wasn’t ideal, that’s for sure. When the fear and insecurities came flooding in, it left me feeling overwhelmed and filled with anxiety. I had no tools, relationships or resources that I had been cultivating because I was relying on avoidance as my only coping skill. And in case you don’t know, you can’t avoid your emotions forever.

This is when I started searching for better ways to manage my neglected emotional world. Meditation was one that came in particularly handy. There’s a phrase I learned while listening to Tara Brach’s Dharma talks about meditation. It goes, “sit, stay, heal.” This is sound and straight forward advice. As I’m writing this, Kings of Leon are singing in the background, “ride out the wave”, which has a similar sentiment. Both suggest that you need to feel through it, in order to heal through it. This is also what is possibly meant by facing your fears.

And that’s the trick, that there is no trick. You just need to feel the fear, feel the insecurity, feel the sadness in order to come to be stronger for it. But that’s a difficult task for a lot of us struggling to deal with our difficult emotions. A friend of mine once told me that the more you feel your emotions, the easier it gets. And he’s right. It isn’t easy at first, but necessary if you want to live a life free from avoidant and possibly addictive behaviors.

Too often we get caught up in wanting to feel better in the moment. For me, I would drink lots of caffeine to alter my emotional state. Or alcohol if it was after work. Looking at pornography was another way of pleasure seeking for the moment. Not to mention something that was, along with going to strip clubs and objectifying women, the mark of a “true man” as taught to me by my caregivers.

Of course I didn’t realize I was covering over my difficult emotions. I was doing what was taught to me and what felt natural. So when I started feeling them without an aid, they were most definitely overwhelming. But my friend was right. The more I feel my emotions without the aid of something, the less intense they become. It’s amazing what a little practice can accomplish.

So what feels like abuse, subjecting yourself to staying in the difficult emotions, is actually the way to build resilience. And this isn’t to say that relying on medication isn’t wise if we’re dealing with very intense emotions. It’s when we self medicate by abusing medications or other drugs and activities to avoid our emotions that we run into trouble. And when in doubt, ask a professional such as a therapist or counsellor.

When Pride is Confused for Being Tough

Muscling through difficult situations as though we need to face them all on our own is nothing short of foolish pride. This was a characteristic that was found in abundance in my family. We were all too proud to ask for help. This usually meant we were in over our heads. But for us, it was seen as a sign of weakness to ask for help. So we muscled through by avoiding the difficult emotions in the moment and actively sought to numb or speed pass them in lou of finding support. This is abusive behavior.

I think what we were avoiding the most was the ridicule we would receive if we asked for support. We would be seen as weak. And weakness was active sought after and used as a means to do harm to each other in the cruelest ways we could muster. I feel that this was a way to release some of the pain and resentment we were holding in from past battles. But one thing is for certain, for me it was not safe to be seen as weak by those closest to me.

This is where pride became our main line of defence against each other. It was the one way we were able to keep ourselves as safe as possible in an environment that was consistently steeped in hazards. There was no safe place to turn, including inwardly. So we dissociated from ourselves and one another in order to survive the thousands of tiny wounds we were constantly inflicting.

I think what perpetuated this way of being in relationship with each other was, the fear of being cut down the way we watched those closest to us cut others down. It is a cycle that we repeatedly engage in, in order to keep the temporary illusion of safety in an otherwise treacherous environment. And it takes willpower and strength to break this habit.

Disengaging From the Patterns of Abuse

This ain’t easy, to put it mildly. In order to break free from the patterns of abuse, of giving and receiving it, we have to be the first to show our “weaknesses” or vulnerabilities. This is a scary proposition. As I’ve said above, my family was trained to maliciously attack any sign of “weakness”, as defined by our family’s unspoken rules and roles. So putting yourself in a place where you know you will be abused takes courage. Especially since your intention will be not to attack once you’ve been torn apart.

And the worst part is, there is no guarantee that the relationship will be salvaged once you put yourself on the line. If you’re ready to be done with the cycles of abuse, but the other isn’t, then you’ll be left wounded and alone. This is where it’s important to have supports already in place. So if things don’t end up working out, or progress is slow, then you’ll be able to find comfort in knowing somebody else is there for you.

Setting Boundaries

This was something I experienced a few years ago when I attempted to reconnect with somebody from my past. We met at a local Whole Foods to get lunch and catch up. When we sat down to talk, I noticed that we were slipping into old patterns of behavior.

The person I was with was used to more hostile interactions. The ways we use to interact was by making small, cutting remarks mixed in with the normal flow of conversation. Essentially being mean for no reason. When I recognized that this was happening, I knew I needed to give the relationship more time. So I ended our meeting early and took some time before reaching out to them again.

It wasn’t easy, but it was well worth the effort in order to properly care for myself in the relationship and establish a new standard of how I want to be, and will be treated. But it’s not enough to just cut ties and run. We need to tell the other person what we’re doing and why. Otherwise disengaging can be taken as an act of passive aggressive punishment. Withholding love without a proper explanation can feel to the other person like a cold place. Leaving them to wonder why you aren’t talking anymore.

Finding Support

And while you’re working on your relationships by setting healthy boundaries, it’s good to have people who know what you’re going through. People who can offer some advice, some insight or maybe just an ear to listen. It’s also helpful for these people to be practicing healthy boundaries themselves. This can be difficult if you are just beginning the journey of learning how to cultivate healthy relationships.

A therapist is a great place to start when looking to expand your support network. They can offer unbiased insight into how you can go about establishing these new rules you want to set in your relationships. They can also suggest other healthy resources that will aid you along the way. They can be a healing ally and guide, as you sort out the unattended areas of your life.

Friends are also invaluable during this process. I have one friend that I know I can count on for just about anything. To field a phone call about a hairy situation, get some logical advice about practical matters or text about something that’s happening in real time. I’ve talked to a few friends for their perspective of this post topic alone.

It’s also nice to feel the support of someone who knows you and what you’ve been through. To feel seen and recognized. This is especially powerful if you’ve been emotionally neglected. If this is the case, the act of attempting to connect with others can bring up emotions of anxiety and fear. By having friends and other supports, the feelings aren’t as strong as they would be if you were facing them alone.

Being Tough Means Finding Support

And finally, if you’ve been closing yourself and your emotions off from others, you become weaker in the process. It’s not healthy to be isolated from your surroundings for too long. We need one another to be the best versions of ourselves. Staying connected and growing stronger in those connections, that’s what being tough really means.

So if you’ve been told that being tough means grinning and bearing it, or rub some dirt in your wound, you’ve been mislead. Caring for ourselves by knowing our emotional limits and checking in with how we’re feeling is our true strength. This and the support of others is where we’ll be able to stop the cycles of abuse and become the healthiest versions of ourselves. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Tired” by Geoff LMV is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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

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

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

Dissociating From Our Emotions

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

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

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

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

Reconnecting to Ourselves and Our Relationships

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

Being Consistent

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Care as Guidance

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

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

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

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

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

Reaching Out Often and Fostering Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing Intimacy

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

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

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

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

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

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