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.

Aggression and Dominance Are Not Benchmarks of Masculinity

I’ve been dealing with some pretty heavy topics lately, so why change the pace now : ). I want to talk a little about anger and aggression, how they were related to dominance in my past and a little about how to avoid them taking control of our actions and internal, emotional worlds. This is a tough one for many, including myself, so if you’re sensitive to the subject, take it slow. Good advice for many subjects for sure.

When is it Okay to Display Your Temper?

In the culture I grew up in, in the eighties and early nineties, it seemed that losing your temper was no big deal. People were pretty angry a majority of the time. And if they weren’t already angry, they were apt to fly into a rage with expedience. At least, this was how I remember many of the role models in my generation being.

But we were also idolizing characters from action movies who were supposed to be the epitome of masculinity. I remember a scene from one such movie, I believe it was “Rambo 3”, where Rambo cauterized a gunshot wound by breaking open a bullet, placing the gunpowder on his wound and igniting the powder! This seems a tad unreasonable to me : ). But those were the times that we were living in. And every boy and man alike, that I knew at least, wanted to be that type of man.

This type of bravado was the norm and something to aspire to in the culture of my youth. And this is nothing new, to be sure. My father will sometimes tell me about the westerns he watched as a child. Clint Eastwood being another unreasonable role model for a young child. Though when you grow up around this type of violence, it’s bound to leach into your personality some. This being said, we also have control over our own actions and the ways in which we relate to our emotions of anger and our aggression.

Parenting and Aggression

And this type of aggression was definitely present in my family’s parenting styles. And I don’t want to make this a post about how unjustly I was treated a child. I’m not holding any grudges against those who mistreated me. It was common practice back then and I can only imagine the fear that comes with raising a child. That said, I gave both my parents a run for their money when it came to parenting me. It couldn’t have been easy, that’s for certain.

But what happens when we are consistently showing our aggression to exercise dominance over those we love? From my experience, losing your temper without attuning to those you hurt, if done often enough, leads to feelings of severed belonging. This was most definitely how I felt, and the more I speak to my parents, the more I’m realizing it’s how they felt too. So why did we choose fear, dominance and aggression, over tempered and patient guidance?

I’m sure that fear is a large part of the picture, but fear from what? I can remember being torn apart by my grandfather, verbally, when I was very young, four maybe five. I believe that was one of the many pieces of the puzzle that turned my idea of family from something that was warm and caring to something terrifying and anxiety provoking.

A Legacy of Brutality

I believe my family held on to this parenting style so tightly because it was all they knew. They were too wrapped up in their emotions of anger and feelings of loosing control that they couldn’t see that there were other ways of doing and being.

For anyone that’s been caught in the grip of an emotion, you’ll know that it’s no easy to see your way out of it. We’re so focused on what’s happening to us in the moment that we can’t relate to anything outside of our experience at the time, before or after. And I believe this is where my parents found themselves when they were using tactics such as aggression and dominance to control their surroundings.

I imagine they were feeling in over their heads. Responsible for the little lives they brought into the world and on top of that, the guidance they received from their parents was probably just as brutal, if not more so. For this reason I can empathize with those who have experienced this type of aggression.

Changing the Ways We Relate to Our Aggression

Though, even though we may have been relating with each other through use of force of will or trying to control using aggression, it isn’t how we have to be with one another. We can choose to relate to one another with kindness and loving attention. Easier said than done, right? So how do we make the change from feeling our only option is loosing our temper to relating to others with kindness? For me, it started with slowing down long enough to understand what I was feeling, while I was feeling it.

Slowing Down the Pace

I used to drink a lot of coffee. And on occasion I would take an Adderall to help me through the day. This was however, unsustainable. It left me unable to recognize how I was feeling while I was in the middle of having an emotion. All I felt was the buzz from whatever I ingested and in a way I was really running from what was right here. Which most of the time was a lot of fear and anxiety. So what was I so afraid of?

Most of the time it was connecting with people in an authentic way. I had been so cut apart from my family growing up, that I was massively ashamed of the person I was. Not realizing that their critical judgements of me, is not who I am as a person. But I was so focused on the uneasy feelings that I didn’t have the bandwidth to take in new information. Information that could have helped me to feel more at ease with my emotions.

Meditation Helps

I stopped drinking coffee a while back, maybe seven years ago. This helped to slow my pace down long enough to know how I was feeling. I drink a cup of tea here and there, but for the most part I’ve given up my caffeine intake. It isn’t always easy, but I feel better when I’m more in my emotional space. And around the time I gave up drinking coffee, I also started to meditate. This helped immensely with coming to know my feelings.

The longer I stayed, the more I was able to understand what was happening to me in the moment. I could now give names to the emotions I was trying to speed past before. And it feels good to finally connect with my emotional world again. Something that hasn’t been the case since my early childhood. It’s something that takes a lot of patients, but once you’re able to sit with your emotions, it’s as though a whole new world opens up to you. But once you slow down, how do you know what to do next? In order to avoid falling back into old familiar patterns of aggressive ways of being? For me, it started with recognizing what was happening to me, while I was experiencing it.

Patience and Asking Inwardly, The Answer Usually Will Come to You

What I’ve been doing, as a way of recognizing what’s been happening in my emotional world while slowing down enough to recognize what’s happening is, when I feel an intense emotion, I pause. After I let the emotion pass, I then sit with my experience of what just happened. Then I ask why it’s here, what does the emotion need?

A great example of this, and one I’ve come to understand more recently is, sometimes when I here a child’s voice ask a question, I suddenly feel a sensation in my groin and throat. My groin due to me experiencing my initial abuse, and my throat because when I told my caregiver what happened, they turned their back on me. So the sensations are really trying to tell me that, my emotional self is still waiting to be heard by my caregiver, long after the time for attunement has passed.

Afterwards, I like to take a page from Tara Brach’s book and nurture the emotional self that’s hurting. This step is crucial for building the trust that was severed so long ago. First, by my parents, and secondly, by myself for picking up treating myself the ways they left off. I assure myself that I’m safe and secure. I remind myself of the ways I’m taking care of myself now. My workout, my cooking healthy meals and taking time to achieve my financial and career goals. All in all it has been so healing to nurture myself after the waves of fear subside. It’s been a really gratifying process.

The Frustration of Not Feeling Heard

Another way that the fear comes to manifest in my day to day is, when I’m texting. I use swipe-to-text, so often times my words are misspelled when the auto correct doesn’t always work as intended. This brings up a primal fear in me though. Something that is more unsettling than just a spelling mistake. And I believe it has to do directly with, not being able to communicate myself in the way I feel I need to.

This is directly linked to my parent turning their back on me when I told them about my abuse. But now, instead of reacting from a place of anger and slamming my phone down or seething with anger, I stop, recognize what’s happening inside of me and where it’s coming from. This is the time where I can see the fear for what it is, the fear of not being understood and feeling unsafe because of it.

And this is something that we all have a mild anxiety about. Not feeling heard or seen. Our feelings not being attuned with to some degree. This is natural, and something to be nurtured and cared for. That being said, it isn’t always easy. These are the times where we may need to practice a little self-care, after experiencing a wave of unsettling emotions.

Self-Care And Nurturing Your Emotional World

For me, I have a list of resources that I know I can rely on to sooth myself when I need a little extra boost to keep me grounded. Here’s a copy of my list:

Resource list: Don’t feel like you have to settle for something lesser. You deserve the best possible life. Be persistent.

Herbal tea. Friends and family. Journal. Clean living and work spaces. Music. My plants. Smiley faces. My blog. Hot showers. Candles.

Values:

  • 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.

I added a list of values to my resource list due to me needing a reminder of the ways I want to be in the world. It isn’t always easy to follow, but it’s worth the while. And I feel better for it : )

I hope you’ve found this helpful in some way. As always, I’d love to hear from you and maybe some of your fears and resources. And remember, you’re not in this alone, we’re all in this together. Peace, : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Anger” by Isengardt is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Moving Past The Past and Into Forgiveness

Moving past the past and into forgiveness. I’ve spoken a lot about the situations and circumstances of my past on this blog. But what I’ve come to realize is, that for all the work I’ve done on coming to terms with what happened in the past, I haven’t really forgiven the major players in the story of what has happened to me. I suppose I needed the time to understand how their actions effected me. But what I’m coming to realize is, that the more I focus on what has happened, the more I stay trapped in my past feelings and patterns .

So with this in mind, I’d like to move past the past and look towards the future, by forgiving those involved in my past story. I want to start by taking a look at the circumstances of my past, those involved and try to use what I’ve been practicing in this blog and extend a little forgiveness to those who’ve wronged me. So let’s see if we can’t move past these road blocks that’ve been holding me back and I imagine others in my situation as well : )

Respecting What Has Happened, Not Forgetting It

For me, forgiveness wasn’t something that was taught, well ever really. I can’t recall one instance in my family where a person admitted that they were wrong. Let alone us forgiving someone for doing something hurtful. This sent me the message that, admitting you’re wrong, as well as apologizing to and forgiving others, is a sign of weakness. And in my family, we used mistakes against one another to feel superior, by making the person who erred look foolish and feel small.

So it was in this environment that I learned to navigate the landmine filled maze of my family members emotional spaces. It was confusing. I was constantly being hit with verbal shrapnel, exploding from one of my family members mouths, all the while nursing one wound or another aimed to maim. And I learned to use the same tactics they were employing, to protect myself from what they were doing to me. It was a frightening environment to grow up in to say the least.

But Dragging Your Past With You Will Weigh You Down

So it was with these lessons that I forged a future for myself. Using the same tools I had learned to use to survive my family in my youth. But this lead to an unhealthy way of living. I couldn’t let my guard down for long enough to build trust with anyone in order to form lasting, healthy relationships. And those that I did call my friends, didn’t stick around when things got difficult. Because we were all using the same lessons to hold our relationships together, there wasn’t much of a substantial connection between us to begin with.

And those bonds we thought we had with one another, were really chains keeping us connected to our past ways of staying “connected”, though not necessarily with each other. We were constantly demeaning one another to look and feel superior while drinking, with the occasional drug use thrown in for some added avoidance of how we were being hurtful to one another.

What we were really doing was avoiding the tender parts of our relationships. The parts where we may have felt insecure about how we looked to each other. Or whether or not we felt a sense of belonging and basic support at all. God knows that we didn’t get it from our families. So we were left on our own to sort out how to feel a part of something larger while being held down by the chains of our past.

So The Past Was Difficult, How Do We Move Past It and Into Forgiveness?

This was/is the tricky part for me. Getting through the feelings of, “I should have gotten what I needed from those raising me”, wasn’t easy. Looking back at what I experienced and where I am now, there was a lot to process, but also a lot to be grateful for. And that’s definitely a great place to start. In realizing that it wasn’t all bad.

Moving Past the Negative Experiences to Look Toward the Positive Ones

I’ve been lucky enough to have had some unique and wonderful experiences along with the difficult ones. I find that when you’re in the middle of remembering the difficult past, it’s hard to see those that were involved as anything but a bad person, or some sort of monster. And there are some monstrous deeds that sometimes are too difficult to process on our own, for sure. But that doesn’t mean that we should allow those deeds to dictate how we live out the rest of our lives.

Or to make wise choices on who we allow to be a part of our future experiences. But it’s important to recognize that there will be good times again, and that if we set some boundaries and choose carefully who we allow access into our lives, we can look forward to happy and fulfilling times : )

Boundary Setting

An example from my life, in trying to rebuild some of the past connections with those who’ve hurt me is, that I’ve been making a habit of trying to stay in touch via text or group chat more frequently. This may seem like a small step and something that most of us do on the daily anyways. But for me and my family, we seldom talk to one another. And when we do, we use words as our preferred weapon, to keep the other at arms length.

This was something I hadn’t realized how bad it had been until only a few years ago. I had asked a family member to meet me at a local whole foods, so we could get lunch and catch up on what was happening in our lives. They agreed and we met in the café area on a day we both had free. We were a little nervous at first, having not seen each other in a long time. But things started out fairly normal.

We asked one another about how things were going, what we’d been up too and how other family members were doing. It all seemed to be going fairly well until they started belittling and making fun of me in the same judgmental fashion that we would poke and prod one another in the past. This was most likely to see where my boundaries were and what they could get away with. It left me feeling confused, a little hurt and sad that we weren’t able to meet without trying to wound the other.

This was something that we used to do, especially when we would drink together. We would be a few drinks in when inevitably the anger that had been seething just beneath the surface, of all the years of neglect and abuse, would come spewing out of our mouths in the form of resentments, judgements and insults, aimed to tear the other person down. And nobody was safe once we got going.

I’m not sure how we got to this place, of feeling that it was okay to be so free with our resentments towards one another in the cruelest ways we could muster. But we had been practicing that way of being for a long time. Now, for me and my safety, I’m choosing how much of the conversation I’m allowing into my life by being a part of it, though only on my terms.

I text on a semi-frequent basis, but also know that I’m able to put down the conversation if it takes a turn for the abusive. Now that I am no longer practicing that type of connection, I see how corrosive that type of resentment can be in relationships. I’m choosing to keep myself safe by setting the boundaries of being able to pick up and put down the conversation on my own terms.

There will be times in the future where I’ll be more flexible in how someone wants to direct the conversation, for sure. But until we can prove that we’re going to treat each other with respect first and foremost, I feel good about taking care of myself in this way. Respecting myself by respecting my boundaries. For more on setting healthy boundaries, this article written by John Amodeo on “Psychology Today” does a beautiful job of explaining what boundaries look like and how to maintain them. Good read, highly recommended.

When To Relax Your Boundaries

While forging these new relationships, it’s important to remember that the end goal is to have a mutually respectful, but also enjoyable experience with one another. This is unlikely to happen if our boundaries are turned all the way up to ten on the dial. Though this maybe necessary when you’re first forging these bonds as I am.

So if you’re rebuilding these bonds, go slow. Give it some time to see how the other person responds. A few questions to ask yourself while you are trying to create new connections may be; are they listening to me when I ask them to change or stop the direction of the conversation? Are some old patterns of connection resurfacing and are you both able to recognize them without getting wrapped up in them? Does the other person acknowledge that the old ways of connecting are unhealthy and do they want something different?

These can be difficult areas to explore, but if the answer is yes to these question, then after a little bit of time and practice, maybe you can begin to relax some of these boundaries and feel a little more free and open in the relationship. Maybe allowing a playful gest into the fold without taking it as insult. These interactions will hopefully come more and more naturally to those in a relationship that is mutually respectful. Then you may be able to enjoy each others company without feeling so guarded. Or as though you have to protect yourself and your emotions.

Relaxing Our Judgements

Judgements aren’t all bad. We make judgement calls all the time that effect our day to days regularly. I think where we get hung up on being judgmental is, when we substitute another’s negative judgement of our character as the truth of who we are. This was something that we did on a consistent basis in my family.

One of the ways we tried to control each other was through our constant and cutting judgements of one another. However, this only leads to resentment, which is corrosive to relationship building. So how do we take care of ourselves in the face of other’s critical judgements of us? Well I think it starts with us feeling solid in ourselves and our belonging, while setting aside the harsh judgements we’ve dispensed in the past.

I jumped on the judgement train at first to keep myself safe. I was being judged so often and feeling subsequently so small for it, while simultaneously watching my judgers hold a smug and superior air about them, that I felt the only way to get some power back was through judging others in the ways I was being judged. This, however, did not work as planned.

My judgements lead me to feel judged in my relationships. And in my experience, this type of judgement leads to resentment. But now that I recognize how I was feeling while I was being judged, and why I chose to pick up that tool and use it as a way to keep myself safe, I can now understand and recognize that what was really happening with those who were critically judging me was actually a deep sense of them not feeling belonging in our relationship.

For example, if a family member chose to make fun of me for my weight, say they called me a human garbage disposal as they often would. My caregiver was often made fun of for their weight growing up as well. And it’s then I’m able to see that they were insecure about their weight and how they were treated because of it. In a way, they were trying to shame me into making a positive change, however backward their attempt may have been. So now that I see where they are coming from, it’s easier to be more forgiving of their ridicule. Seeing how it stemmed from them feeling a lack of belonging.

Finding Belonging Through Forgiveness by Giving Up The Ghosts of Our Pasts

And for the most part, that’s what it really comes down to. Finding a sense of belonging. In a strange way, we were just trying to belong to one another. Through all the harsh judgements, the resentment and anger, we just wanted to feel like somebody wanted to be around us. That we were worth being around. And this is why I’m choosing to forgive those who’ve hurt me in the past.

I know that they want to belong just as badly as I want to belong. And nobody is going to feel like they belong if we keep holding our acceptance of one another just out of reach while we’re trying to buy ourselves some time to find a way to feel loved and belonging. And we know that we can’t live up to some of the impossible standards we’ve set for others. The ones we use to pretend that we are better than others because, by virtue of having that standard, we are better than the other just for having it.

Instead, I’m choosing to accept that I’m not perfect and that nobody is. So why hold it over somebody else’s head as prerequisite for belonging? For me, it’s just not worth it. So if you’ve found yourself in a place where you’ve been reliving some of the patterns of your past, know that you have it in you to move past it. Be a new you, forge a new path. As Rumi said, “be melting snow, wash yourself of yourself”. Wash yourself of the bonds holding you to the past and let your past, be in the past. You’ve got your life to live, go and live it. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Forgiveness” by Neshika Bell is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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.

Living Space: How Our Built Environment Affects Our Emotional State

I’m currently searching for an apartment. I also work part-time for a family shelter. Anyone who’s in the middle of an apartment hunt right now has probably felt the sting of pricing going up. Way up. It’s estimated that the median cost of rent for housing has gone up between 12-17% since 2020. That’s a huge increase, considering that the previous increases were roughly .6% a year.

From my experience working at the shelter, the environment you’re steeped in has a great affect on a persons emotional state. For families experiencing homelessness, the term itself brings up images of destitute individuals in unwashed clothes living in tents in the woods. So if you add unkempt surroundings to an already loaded label of being homeless, this makes for a sad way of feeling about who you are and your circumstances.

I’ve lived in a variety of houses and apartments, but none of them ever really felt like a true home. I’d like to explore a little what it is that makes a house, a home for me and maybe it’ll resonate with a few others out there, too.

First Living Experiences

The places I grew up in, in my childhood were first an apartment, and second a single family house. The apartment was on the top floor of our building and I have some fond memories of that apartment. I was also very young, so my memories aren’t that crisp. The house I later moved to was the one where many of my childhood memories were made and therefore remember with more clarity.

There were good memories, such as family gatherings and being taken to soccer games as a child. But there were also difficult ones, like the time we spent nursing a family member while she lay dying in our living room. Or the void I was left in, not seeing my caregivers for what felt like weeks at a time. This was a cold place and one filled with traumatic memories that nobody would want to revisit.

The environment in both were clean, only in the first apartment was much more cozy, felt warmer. The house however, was a cold place, sterile feeling. Clean, but without the warmth of the connection and love that makes a house, feel like a home.

The Difference Between Clean and Sterile

I was made to clean as a child, do chores. This was something I hated doing at the time, but what kid doesn’t. Though I’m glad I had the experience of keeping something up and living in a cared for environment. And it felt as though the house was always in the process of being cleaned in some form or another.

Laundry was constantly being done, there was a fair amount of cooking happening as well. But there were also times where this felt like a little too much. As though we were cleaning to cover something up. Everything had to be in its right place, no exceptions. In recent years, I’ve been in one of my childhood caregiver’s home and the kitchen was so clean that it felt as though you could preform surgery in it.

This was mildly unsettling and reminded me of a sterile environment, a place that can’t sustain life. And I feel like this is the difference between a house and a home. A home is a place where mistakes are made, people come together in their difference and accept one another as we are. Imperfect. And it’s about the people. And incase you haven’t learned this yet, people are messy creatures. Hence the phrase, “life happens”.

So if we’re constantly rejecting the messy aspects of our lives, then we’re also rejecting the parts of ourselves that are equally as messy. This is no bueno. And that’s what it felt like while I was living in my caregiver’s home. Until I got kicked out.

On My Own, Now What?

When I was 19, I was kicked out of my childhood house. A little background on my situation, I had stopped going to school when I was fifteen, had no life goals or direction, all the role models in my life had abused and neglected me and I was roaming the streets in my town looking to get messed up in some way. Thinking back now, this brings up feelings of fear and terror in me. But then I was just surviving. And on top of that, I had no one to show me how to take care of myself. I was pretty much already on my own.

So when I got the boot from my caregivers, this was only the official decree stating that I was definitely now, on my own, not wanted. In recent years, when I asked my caregiver why they kicked me out at such a young age, they said, “it happened to me.” This is what I mean when I say we were handing down a legacy of trauma and abuse to one another. And I was scared. So, I talked to two friends and a few weeks later we were living together in our first apartment. And for three nineteen year-olds, we kept the apartment pretty clean.

I remember sleeping on the couch, in the living room of my first apartment, the first night we moved in, with one of my new roommates sleeping on the floor next to me. I was feeling excited and terrified about my circumstances all at once. Uncertainty was pervasive, and I had no idea what to do next. Unfortunately for me, this was the theme of most of my living situations throughout my life.

I moved from that apartment, and in with another childhood caregiver of mine briefly, then to an apartment with one of my previous roommates. Only this time, I just moved into their entry way and didn’t ask if I could stay there. I cringe a little thinking about this now, but I felt one step away from being homeless. And again, survival took precedence. And that apartment was so dirty that it should have been condemned. How we felt about ourselves was definitely reflected in our surroundings.

Even when I was married, my feelings of drifting were still pervasive. The apartment we lived in felt comfortable, felt a good expression of our personalities and cleaner than the others I had lived in, but it didn’t feel like home. I was still reliving the patterns of my past, while avoiding the responsibility of being my own man. My now ex-wife was looking for someone who was just along for the ride. I was looking for some guidance in the form of someone making all the decisions I needed made for me, and she was looking to tell someone what to do.

So with all of these past experiences of what feels like drifting through life, what’s changed? How have I taken the reigns of my life, and as my boss says, “get behind the wheel and drive my own life bus”? It starts with recognizing where you are and where you’d like to be. Also, what you want out of life.

Lessons On Life Some Of Us Never Get

There were quite a few lessons I never received before I was kicked out of my house. One being how to budget. Another being how to care for my nutritional needs… The list goes on. But I feel the most important lesson I missed out on was, where I’d like to be and who I wanted to be as I matured.

My caregivers were too concerned with how others saw them to be their own people. This left me with almost no role models to show me how to be confident in who I was, but more importantly, foster me as I was cultivating and exploring my interests, likes and dislikes. I was hustling for my caregivers approval, only they never felt approved of. So in-turn, they didn’t know how to approve of others, or nurture my budding interests.

These basic feelings of not measuring up were pervasive in my family, and ones that were handed down through the generations. We just didn’t know how to break the cycle of looking for approval from others instead of looking for acceptance of ourselves. For my caregivers, this manifested in cleaning to the point of being sterile, but also in buying things we didn’t need.

We were constantly shopping in our family. I remember vividly in one of my apartments, looking through the Pottery Barn catalogue, at my Pottery Barn desk, circling the things that I wanted in my dwelling, while I was sleeping on a futon mattress without a bed frame. Another thing I never learned how to do was to prioritize my need. I got caught up in the same trap of trying to curate a personality by the things I bought and surrounded myself with. It was a sad and lonely place to be. But it was also all I knew and had modeled for me growing up.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized that no matter what I bought, it wasn’t going to bring me a sense of a sustained happiness. I could look how I wanted to look, play the right part, but that’s not what would bring me a deep sense of joy or satisfaction. In fact, I’m still looking for that sense of joy and happiness. I know that I’m much less anxious now that I’ve let the ideas that my surroundings have to fit the image portrayed in the pages of a catalogue. And think a big part of the puzzle is spending time with those who support and love me.

Cleaning Cabinets Even When They’re Going To Be Torn Down

As I’ve said above, I work at a family shelter part-time as direct care. This means I help the guests with their daily needs, such as doing laundry for them or getting them food items they may need. But between fulfilling my duties, there is a lot of down time. So it wasn’t too long ago that I decided to take on some projects that needed some love and attention around the house.

I started in the kitchen and for good reason, it was a mess. The cabinets had what looked like years of grease and grime rubbed into every crevasse across their surfaces. And if you opened them, they weren’t in much better shape.

The only way I can describe them is that it looked as though an animal had been nesting in them. There were packages torn open with their contents strewn about the shelves. There were piles of things in no particular order or reason. It was a mess. So I started by scraping and scrubbing the cabinet exteriors.

There was so much caked on grease that I was using a butter knife to clean it off the way you would use a putty knife to scrape off excess plaster from a wall. It reminded me of one of my first apartments, the one I moved into without asking. But the more I cleaned, the more the guests began to take notice.

They made comments about how hard I was working and how good the cabinets looked. It was nice to receive the compliment, but what I’m sure felt better was that someone was taking the time to care for the place where they cooked their meals. Later on, while I was cleaning the cabinets, my boss came over and told me we were going to tear down the cabinets in a few weeks due to a kitchen renovation, so I didn’t need to put so much effort into something that was going to be torn down anyway. But I continued cleaning all the same.

Mostly because I was almost done, and the cabinet really started to look good. But also because and more importantly, the guests were taking pride in their newly cleaned environment. The place they came to live because they were “homeless”, started to take on a new feeling. A feeling of being cared for, paid attention to. And later when I stocked the cabinet with the food from our pantry the way you would see the shelves stocked in a grocery, they started cooking and using the resources that were there for them to use in the first place. Only in a cleaner environment.

And these are the differences that a clean, inviting environment can imbue in a person living in them. A sense of pride in the place they call home. It really is amazing what a little love and attention can do for our surroundings. And if you think about it, it’s happening all around us. This is the reason why shows like “Fixer Upper” were so popular. They show what’s possible by simply taking care of the things that have been neglected.

Where is this true in your life? Instead of going out and buying something new to fill a need for change, is there something that is maybe right in front of you that could use a little TLC? I’ve almost stopped buying new things completely and have thrifted most of my major purchases in recent years. I still have the desk from Pottery Barn, but it’s now probably 15 years old and I’ll be keeping it for years to come. And most importantly, it doesn’t define my personality anymore. I am more than the desk I own, but rather now it’s an extension of my personality.

So take some time and take stock of the things you bring into your life. Ask yourself, “why do I like this so much?” Is it because it’s pleasing to you and adds comfort to your life? Or is it something you’re trying to build a life style or self image around? Because that maybe the difference between you finding things that fit your personality and finding personality by buying things. Peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Dirty kitchen sink from a condo in Palm Springs” by Eco Bear Biohazard Cleaning Co. is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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