Where do You Draw the Line? When are You Taking on Too Much Responsibility For Other People’s Emotions

This is a loaded topic, and one I’ve recently had to come to terms with. It’s difficult enough in the day to day, sorting and responding to our emotions. But when you add a layer of taking on the responsibility of absorbing somebody else’s emotional state, it can be overwhelming. This is a skill that I definitely learned late in life, and one I’m still grappling with today, as I try to sort out my emotions from the unhealthy lessons and emotional baggage of my caretakers. This aspect of handling emotions in our daily lives is so important, I’m surprised that we don’t have a curriculum for it to help those who are navigating this in their early teens. Another topic for another post for sure.

What started me thinking about about the idea for this post was something I said in last weeks post on dealing with unreasonably high standards. I grew up in a family where my caregivers would often say, “you made me do this”, or “you made me feel this way.” These were powerful statements to hear, especially at such a young age. This was the foundation of me taking responsibility for not only my own emotions, but also those of my caregivers and just about everybody else in my life that I had an emotional bond with.

After hearing one of these statements, usually after a fight or some form of an argument, I would then take what was said personally. As though the entire argument we had just had, and all the hurt feelings and disappointment that was the result of the argument, was my fault. My caregivers almost always had an air of something being offensive to them. As though whatever was happening was not only personally being done to them, but there was also a sense of indignant righteousness. That they knew better than whom ever was offending them, and they (the offenders) were inherently bad for doing, thinking or being a way that was not to their liking.

And how could I not take responsibility for all the components of our relationship. With standards like my caregivers’, and coming directly from those who were supposed to teach me how to navigate life and my emotional world, I just assumed that they were in control, knew what was supposed to happen and that I just never added up.

So these were the broken and unsustainable lessons I then tried to navigate my world with. I held a sense of indignant righteousness and judgemental attitude in almost all of my relationships. I was unforgiving, of others and myself, when we didn’t add up to my unreasonably high standards, and I was mean. In just about all aspects of my personality.

From my harsh judgements of others, to the cutting and snide remarks I would make when I saw someone not meeting my standard. Or just when I thought they were showing some “weakness” that I didn’t approve of. I remember very distinctly, picking out one individual who I worked with, who I would pick on relentlessly. And the only reason I chose him to receive the brunt of my hostility was because he was kind and considerate without the egotism I thought men should display, by virtue of being a man. Toxic masculinity at its worst.

But picking on someone for showing kindness and consideration, traits I viewed as “weaknesses”, was really a way to stay loyal to the lessons I received from my caregivers. These were really there views, their reactions to their emotional landscapes and the lessons they were taught. And in order to feel belonging, I assimilated them as my own. I became the person that was expected of me by my caregivers by absorbing their attributes and taking them on as my own.

This, however, lead to me not understanding how to be, or what intimacy in a relationship was. This left me feeling that most of my relationships were very superficial and without feelings of connection. This was a very lonely place to be.

As well as not being able to develop and foster intimate relationships, I was also actively afraid of the people that reminded me of my caregivers. The ones who had taught me how to be in, and seek out these unhealthy relationships to begin with. So when I met a new co-worker, or was around someone who resembled my caregivers to some degree, i.e. being highly critical of others with a sense of malice for the sake of sport, there’s a sense of fear that comes on, with a feeling of, “this is my fault, the reason their being so mean is because of who I am.” Even if they are talking about somebody else, I was always in the position of feeling as though it was only a matter of time before their attention was directed towards me. That I was somehow always a moment away from displeasing and totally disappointing whomever was talking because I was always disapproved of by my caregivers.

This is a pattern that still plays out to this day. I feel as though I’m finally on the mend from a life’s time worth of feeling like a disappointment, but it’s taken some considerable effort to break free from the cycle of my caregivers lessons. The first step was recognizing how I was feeling while I was interacting with someone I have a relationship with.

This started for me while I was interacting with a co-worker of mine. Everything seemed fine at first, but later I noticed he would get really quiet around me when it was just us two. And the more I heard him in conversation with others, the more I came to know his personality. He would say things like, “I live to gaslight people”, which was something I would expect to hear from one of my caregivers. If you’re not familiar with the term gaslighting, it means, to “manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.” (Google Dictionary).

How I felt while I was around this particular co-worker, was as though I had done something wrong, but I had no idea what it was that I was doing. I felt the fear in my belly and groin, as though something were about to happen to me. This must be where the expresion, “gird your loins” comes from, because I definitely felt my fight or flight response kick in while I was around them, viscerally. I knew that I was uncomfortable around them, and as though something bad would imanantly happen, and that it was my fault.

But even this aspect, learning to trust my emotions was a difficult process. As I’ve said above, when you are surrounded by people who are constantly telling you that you are making them feel a certain way, and avoiding responsibility for their own emotions and reactions to them, it becomes more than a little fuzzy on how you feel, and if what you are feeling is actually your feeling. some of the questions may be, is somebody else making me feel this way? Is this my emotion, or the other person’s that I’m feeling?

This may seem elementary to most people, and I hope that is the case, but for those of us who were taught poor, or no emotional boundaries, this is a very confusing place to be. So building those boundaries became paramount to me being able to navigate how I feel in situations. One boundary being, knowing that no matter what, what I’m feeling is my own feeling, and therefore my responsibility, was an important one to learn. This allowed me to see how I am feeling, in real time, in reaction to a situation that is happening currently. I can then see the feeling, then see all the thoughts that I’ve learned to associate with that feeling, and work to separate them from one another, and deal with the present situation and emotions accordingly.

So in the example above, with the co-worker who “lives to gaslight”, I can hear the comment, feel the fear in my body, recognize that the emotion and the feelings are coming up because of the abuses I’ve received in the past at the hands of my caregivers. Then recognize that I am in a different situation, with different people, that I am in control of keeping myself safe, and that these are only feelings that are telling me that this person may not be a safe bet to trust with my emotional wellbeing.

Another example, I was in the middle of batch cooking for the week ahead, and cleaning out the cabinets and taking stock of what I need to use up before it goes bad. The counters were covered with food stuffs, and I had been in the kitchen for hours at this point. Someone I live with walks into the kitchen and asks, “what are you up to?” I was a little tired, but the question seemed kind of ridiculous to me. They had been sitting in the next room over for the entire time I had been in the kitchen cooking. And anyone who walked into the kitchen could clearly see what it was that I was up to. I did respond in a short tone with, “really?” But I wasn’t angry, it was more to point out how ridiculous the question was. They then became defensive and indignant, saying “it’s not ok to ask a question? Are you in one of your moods?”

What bothered me about this interaction was, the assumption was made that I was being mean on purpose, when I really thought the question was funny, I was just tired. I later apologized for being short, because it was rude of me. But these were the types of interactions that had laid the foundation of all of the communication efforts with my caregivers growing up, sans the apologies. This was also the source of a lot of hurt feelings and perceived abuses, when all we really needed to do was to not take everything that someone was saying so personally.

And this is no easy task. From my experience, if you have a foundation of misperceived comments and what feel like personal attacks based in malicious intent, then there is a lot of armoring that you pick up along the way to feel safe. Especially if you have to live with the people who are attacking you, and the attacks are more commonplace than loving gestures. From this perspective, being in relationship, with anyone, is a scary proposition.

So if clear communication takes a healthy dose of trusting one another, and not taking things so personally, how do we begin to loosen the armoring that comes with the distrust and thinking it’s all directed towards us? For me, not taking things so personally was a gradual process. I first had to let go of my own indignation. To have a little faith that not everybody had some ulterior motive to their actions. And as I’ve said above, when you absorb disappointment from your caregivers growing up, this is tough to break free from when you see it in others.

For me, in my affirmation I say during my daily meditation, “I’m strong enough to be who I am, while allowing others to be who they are”, has done so much for me to establish some much needed boundaries in my personal life. This was the foothold for me to be able to begin to trust others. Because if I knew I was strong enough to feel my emotions, and know that my emotions are my own, then I can begin to understand how to draw the line between feeling like a disappointment, and recognizing others displaying disappointment in me.

Once you start to own your emotions, it’s easier to see how others are feeling. For example, in the interaction with the person I live with above, when I shifted my focus on the anger and indignation they were displaying, it was easy to see that they were hurt by my short remark, which I said because I was tired from cooking and cleaning all day. Not because I was angry at them.

And this takes patients. With ourselves and with others as well. But also knowing when someone else may not change. This is a difficult one for most people. Learning to accept where people are. It’d be great if everyone could just immediately understand where we are coming from whenever we have a new thought or perspective. But the reality of relationships are, this just isn’t the case.

For me, I need to accept that there are some relationships that are just not going to change. For example, when I tried to explain how I wasn’t angry even though my response was short, with the situation above, it only caused more frustration and misunderstanding. In this case, I need to accept that I will be misunderstood, and not take it personal that they don’t understand where I’m coming from. This is just where we are in our relationship.

And that’s not to say that either person isn’t capable of changing, or coming to an understanding. Only that it can’t be forced on someone before their ready for it.

And in some cases, I’ve had to let relationships I’ve had with friends and family members go. There was just too many hurt feelings and unresolved issues for me to stay in relationship with them. This was no easy task, and not one I’m suggesting to do or think about lightly. For me, knowing that I had to draw a hard line on where I feel safe or comfortable with the relationship ending helps me to feel as though I’m taking care of myself. That I know I have my back, and my best interests at heart.

And that’s not to say that I’ve written these people off, or burned any bridges. I heard somewhere once, “never write a person off.” I’m not sure why, but this piece of wisdom has always felt right to me. That’s not to say I’m leaving the door wide open for them to come back in whenever they like. And relive some of the abuses of boundaries that I’ve lived through in the past. It means that I’m not giving up on their ability to change.

If they come back into my life, it will be a fresh start, and one I embark on very cautiously. Setting some strict boundaries around our relationship until I can feel confident in who they are now and how they’ve changed from the ways they used to be. And again, this isn’t easy. But for me, it’s worth it if you can salvage a friendship, because they are definitely worth the effort.

There is also a fair amount of vulnerability that comes with being in relationship as well. This can be difficult to manage on top of the other emotions that we are already trying to sort out. It can feel like at times trying to untangle a bunch of live wires! Trusting that others will not project their emotions onto you, while already dealing with your emotional perspective of the relationship can feel like you’re being overloaded.

These are the times where it’s best to find some time to resource. A little self care goes a long way when we’re feeling like we are being overwhelmed with emotions. Ours and/or somebody else’s. Don’t be afraid to take the time you need to sort through what your feeling. Alone or with a trusted friend, knowing how you’re feeling while trying to untangle your emotions from another’s is important to clearly communicate what your needs are and understanding what the other person is asking of you.

And take your time. Don’t feel as though you have to rush to a conclusion. You will get there eventually, and if you take your time, you’ll probably get a better picture of what it is that you are trying to understand along the way.

I hope this has been of some help. Emotions can be tricky, especially when we’re not sure whose emotions are whoms. Just remember to be kind to yourself and the other while your trying to sort it all out. And forgiving too, when you come up short on the kindness front! As always, peace : ) and thanks for reading.

When Love is Scarce: How do We Find Value in Our Relationships When Love is Finite

It’s no secret that I grew up in a household that confused love and belonging with how we were seen by others. There were undercurrents, okay maybe tidal waves of insecure self-image that ran through my family. Starting with weight, and extending to the clothing we wore, to how clean our house was, there was always the feeling of being judged for who we were. And who we were was written all over us by the things we did and owned, and how we looked doing them.

This was a very cold environment to grow up in, or rather I imagine it would feel cold if I had the ability to feel anything at all. There was always a numb, heavy feeling. As though the air were ripe with criticism and it was only the work of a moment for someone to descend and dispense with whatever it was that I was doing wrong. There’s a line in a song by Peter, Bjorn and John’s, “The Chills” that sums up this feeling, “your tongue is sharp, but I miss the taste of it.”

And that’s how it felt. There was the maddening search for approval from someone who constantly held it just out of reach. And feeling approved of was a precursor to feeling loved and belonging. And the game was rigged. I would never meet my caregivers impossible standards because they in turn never met the impossible standards set by their caregivers. You can’t give what you don’t have, i.e. approval for reaching a standard they themselves never reached nor felt approved of.

Looking back now, I’m able to see with some clarity as to how this has played out from generation to generation, and the sheer amount of emotional manipulation my family has endured and doled out simultaneously has help me to piece together that, we all probably feel a little like frauds when it comes to feeling love and belonging. That’s for sure how I felt for a long time.

The feeling still pops up from time to time, which I’ve come to expect. You don’t experience years of neglect and abuse and then suddenly expect those feelings of inadequacy to go away overnight. It takes years of self-care, and reparenting to even begin to feel again, in some cases. Then you’d better buckle your seatbelts because all those feelings come crashing in like the aforementioned emotional tidal-wave, taking with it just about everything.

So if we’ve only really experienced critical judgement from caregivers, and the moments of care, love and tenderness were fleeting if present at all, then how do we chose love, something we haven’t had any practice or experience with? From my experience, it helps to practice the pieces that add up to love. The patience, with self and others, keeping a non-judgemental state of mind, or at least not getting carried away with the stories we tell ourselves about what we’re doing wrong or how somebody else is not adding up to our expectations.

And none of this is easy. So another aspect of practicing love is being forgiving, of ourselves and others when we’ve stumbled. It’s inevitable that we will fall back to our old ways of being. By either judging someone for making a mistake instead of asking if they’re experiencing stress in their lives that may be impacting them here and now. Or beating ourselves up for overlooking a task we should have gotten to instead of appreciating how much we’re able to accomplish in the day.

So if patience and understanding are the pieces, forgiveness is the glue that binds these pieces together. But also, along the way, don’t forget to be open to the feelings and experiences we have that follow when we practice patience, or being accepting of and listening to others. Because those are the spaces where we change, when we “be the change you want to see in the world” or ourselves.

And of course, like anything worth the while, this all takes time. Another way to practice patients with yourself. When I started noticing how often I was judging others, it took some time before I could look at someone and not automatically deem them as overweight, or unattractive (two main areas of focus in my family). And it still happens. The difference now is, that I can recognize the thoughts that come to mind, and let them be, without judging myself for having them.

Tara Brach said something that really hit home with me in one of her dharma talks. To paraphrase, she said that you don’t have thoughts, your mind secretes them, saying you’re having a thought is like saying you’re circulating your blood, they just happen and the mind has no shame. And from my experience, I can get pretty worked up over the thoughts that are popping up. Especially if you’ve experienced any sort of verbal abuse or emotional manipulation from those closest to you. Self-doubt, fear and frustration are only a few of the emotions that come to pay a visit. So it’s nice to know that the thoughts that run through your mind aren’t a reflection of who you are.

Once we begin to cultivate these traits in ourselves, and by extension with others, we then can begin to experience the caring and ease in our current relationships that we may not have had modeled for us in our youth. It may not be easy, but it’s worth the while to foster these aspects of our relationships to feel a deeper connection and maybe more fulfilling overall. So stay the course! It’ll be difficult at times, but it gets easier with practice. Peace, and thanks for reading :]

Image Credits: “Scarce blood enough in all their sickly veins” by harold.lloyd is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Extreme Independence and Trauma: When Doing You, Affects your Relationships for the Worse

I was on Facebook not too long ago, scrolling through my feed when I saw a post about how extreme independence is a trauma response that stems from being unable to trust those closest to you. The cause, they said, was mostly due to experiencing neglect, from those who should have been attentive to our basic needs for love and belonging.

This felt true as I read it, and most of my family has a very strong judgement function, when it comes to attonomy and deciding what’s the best course of action. And further more, this only extends so far as their own needs are concerned. As they arise in context to situations they find themselves in with those closest to them.

This ability to choose decisively how to act in a situation is useful, and gives the added benefit of being seen as someone who is in charge, competent and who knows what they’re doing. But what I’ve come to find out, from my own experiences and those close in to me, is that this is little more than a way to survive. Those who modeled this behavior for me, were acting the part so they could feel as though they were doing what was best for themselves and those they were in charge of caring for. But it was only an act.

They had to keep up this facade of always being seen as in charge, strong, never letting on that they had the same fears, vulnerabilities and worries that everyone else does. They, and I, were playing a part, and one that was void of a large swath of our emotional lives. This lead directly to a lack of there being moments of intimacy and tenderness. There were only stark, contrasting times of polarized ways of being with one another. On an emotional level that usually took the shape of arguments, judgements or just plane making fun of one another.

For example, the good times consisted of the men drinking beer while loudly verbalizing their opinions of whomever or whatever. While the women gossiped about their friends and family. The bad times were usually filled with more loud verbalizing, but of the displeasures of how the men weren’t being heeded, while sometimes being accompanied by shattering dinner wear, while the women spewed hurtful and demeaning messages designed to cut emotional wounds that were mostly left to fester.

What both these examples have in common, the “good” and “bad” times, is that they were both ways to keep others at a distance so as not to seem weak, or rather the distance was to keep others from seeing that they were emotionally wounded in the relationships they were supposed to be enjoying. So why does this happen? I have a feeling it has to do with a few different factors, that we all experience, which shape the ways we see our world and how we build relationships, and starts in childhood, when we bond with our caregivers.

When we first learn to love and trust, it is usually with our parents or guardians. These bonds tend to be tight, and set the stage for the relationships we form well into adulthood. If there is a nurturing bond, one where the caregiver is attuned to the needs of their child, then healthy and balanced relationships are forged. But if the bond is broken time and again by emotional distance, then the child learns that the love they once felt, has betrayed them, trust becomes fickle and the bond they once built disintegrates.

This, I imagine, is where extreme independence is adopted. Not knowing if we are accepted by those who are supposed to love us unconditionally, would add an undercurrent of uncertain fear to our everyday interactions with just about everyone we meet. The lesson learned is that no one is trustworthy, and we need to protect ourselves. So we learn to survive, feeling the only person we’re able to trust is ourselves, and that’s only if we somehow learn to attune to our own needs. Which most likely wouldn’t be the case.

From this perspective, it’s easy to see how trust relates to fear for our belonging, and abuse of this trust by loved ones, the source of our belonging, leads to our feeling alone, like we have no one to rely on. So we rely solely on ourselves.

Extreme independence then, is really a form of extreme isolation. And there’s a difference between isolation and independence. There’s a sense of empowerment that comes with the image of being independent. It’s often romanticized as the loner, striking out on his own, braving the wilderness, armed with only his wits. There’s a sense of being able to handle whatever may come up, no matter how difficult it may be. Which is a trait I feel like we’d all like to embody.

Isolation however, is something that leaves us weaker as an individual, less resilient. It’s used by most societies as the main form of punishment, to separate from the greater whole of our communities. And if we see this type of isolation as punishment, then staying in this isolation is a form of unrealized self punishment, what Buddha called the “second arrow”.

The first arrow is the breaking of the initial trust from the caregivers. Something that we have no control over. The second arrow however is something we do to ourselves, regardless of who we learned the initial lessons from. So if we continue to isolate, after we separate from those who had done the abandoning, then we are continuing to do ourselves harm, even if it’s the only way we know how to be.

This is why isolation is so debilitating, it leaves us with the inability to care for ourselves by being unable to connect emotionally with others, because we feel it’s protecting us by doing what’s in our “best interests”. But also why “extreme independence” is so destructive, when disguised as a virtue, and not seen for the damaging isolation it can be.

For sure there are times we need to take a break from everything, and that’s healthy. Going to your favorite coffee shop to journal, or draw up your monthly budget while sipping on a warm cup of your favorite tea or coffee, can be just the right way to slow down a little and gain some much needed perspective. But when you check your texts, and the last four times you checked in with a “loved one” is on major holidays or a birthday, something’s amiss.

And unfortunately, what’s amiss usually involves more than one person. So even if you realize that you’ve been the one who has been working under the guise of extreme independence, unless the other people in your life are or have been open to building, and fostering a reciprocating relationship, than you may be left with the hard realization that you’re sort of still in the same place.

And this can be a tough place to be. How do you keep the door open, to possibly reconnect, especially if it’s a painful prospect of being abandoned again? I don’t know that I have the answer to that, but I know what helps. Fostering healthy new relationships.

The more healthy, robust relationships we build, that are based in mutual respect and understanding, the more resilient we become to the ups and downs of all our relationships. And by “keeping the door open”, I don’t mean we have to stay loyal to the lessons of ways of being in unhealthy relationships we learned from the past. Unlearning those lessons should be priority. Instead we forge new bonds, learn new lessons, ones that leave us feeling good, about ourselves and others.

Once we have a blueprint, a map on how to navigate a healthy relationship, one we want to be in, then we bring that along with us if we attempt to reconnect with someone who has historically been difficult to connect with. So we don’t fall into the familiar terrain or old patterns of the unhealthy ways we used to interact.

It definitely takes patients, but with some persistence, you may just find yourself surrounded with caring, loving and a healthy support network. So do not give up hope! There are healthier times ahead, we only need go out there and bring them to fruition. And remember, you don’t need to do it alone. Peace 🙂

Image Credits:“THE DARKNESS IS ON THE WAY/ ARE WE GOING TO BE ISOLATED?” by HORIZON is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Selling Image, Selling Belonging

There’s a store nearby that sells all things home related; bedding, mugs, kitchen wares and furniture. And, as part of my evening routine I’ve been in the habit of burning candles. I find they set a relaxing tone with their ambient light and they help to ease some of the stress from the day. So off I went, to said local store, in search of some candles.

As I was looking through the candles on the shelf, opening them up to see if their scent was something I’d enjoy, I came to one that had “Namaste” written in playful cursive across the front. I enjoyed the scent so I picked it up and walked to the check-out line. I was feeling a little off buying the candle for some reason but couldn’t place why. The message seemed to be in line with my meditation practice and my yoga practice, so it wasn’t the phrase. If anything the word should have brought me some peace of mind.

I bought the candle, brought it home, unwrapped it, and left it on my shelf next to some plants. I looked at it again and still found I had some aversion to the lettering and the word. It vaguely reminded me of something my sister would purchase. It was white, floral scented, then I understood what was bothering me about it.

The candle itself was fine, it was what it was trying to sell me that bothered me so much. The image of what it feels like to have the divine in me, recognize the divine in you, that had me feeling a bit off. I was being sold a gender specific version of how the world should be viewed according to the ethos of the company that made the candle. I was buying into the image the store that was selling the candle, and the group of people by supporting that message with my purchase.

If you’ve read my post on toxic masculinity, you’ll also know that buying into gender specific roles, like self care as being a woman’s job, were the teachings I received from my early caregivers, something I’ve been reparenting myself around. Knowing that feelings and emotions are not gender specific, but part of being human, and self care is just part of the human experience, has not been easy.

And the feeling that this candle’s branding seemed to embody is that emotional peace and well-being are only available for a specific demographic. Most likely active, young and fresh smelling women who were probably successful. Tan, wear a lot of white, and burned the types of candles I just purchased. Probably in an immaculate house, next to a freshly washed and folded stack of white linens. This all seemed absurd to me. Or at very least I needed someone who filled that description to provide for me the care I could not give myself. Which seemed equally as absurd.

I recognize that I have a biased view considering my upbringing. And if someone finds peace of mind by burning that candle, I’m happy for them. But I feel there is a large gap in the yoga community where men aren’t represented. This too can be a loaded topic. I’m sure women have found yoga, as I have, to be a healing outlet to get intouch with their bodies in a healthy way. Especially after experiencing trauma or abuse. Most likely at the hands of men. But this still leaves men in my situation of not knowing whether or not they belong.

If we believe the gender specific ideas we are being sold by companies like the one who made the candle I bought, then yoga and that form of stress reduction belongs squarely in the realm of the feminine.

And I don’t mean to argue that the yoga community is gender bias. I’ve always felt welcome at every class I’ve attended and have had excellent instructors both male and female. But the idea that I somehow got a gender specific correlation with the candle, in the way that I did was unsettling. That I was sold a gender specific sense of belonging to a community where, according to the candle company’s sales team, I don’t belong, .

I could be reading into this a bit. I have a minor in communications so the critical side of me comes to the forefront whenever I see advertising involving something I’m interested in. But I feel like this candle is part of a larger problem. If we hear time and again that something we’re interested in is exclusive to a certain demographic, we may begin to feel like an outsider.

The term “yoga pants” comes to mind as I’ve never heard them in reference to men, always how a woman looks in them. And if some of the joy we derive from our interests involves being a part of a community, then we could be missing out on the quality of our experiencing what brings us joy.

And having a constant reminder on display is a good way to let a message settle in and get comfortable. Not to mention the advertising that we are inundated with day in and day out while companies vy for our resources at the expense of excluding large groups. Which is usually at the core of their message. The message being that you don’t belong, you’re not welcome here unless you fit our standards.

I could have just left the candle on the shelf. I could just chalk it up to not being in line with my personal taste. But it doesn’t feel right just to let it stand. The way I’m sure it doesn’t feel right the way some women may feel uncomfortable when they decide to put on a pair of yoga pants for fear of being ogled on there way to a yoga class or a coffee shop. The coercion of being corralled into thinking that you don’t belong to what you find enjoyable, feelings manipulated to unease around what usually sparks joy.

And I did like the candle, it was simple, white and had black lettering, just not the implied image it was selling. So what’s the solution? How do we undo what advertisers and large corporations have successfully accomplished, using an impressive amount of resources to brand their products to a target demographic? How do we shed our targets and live a little truer to our authenticity? Let’s look at some of the ways we may be taken advantage of to understand better how to recognize and sidestep the trappings we often find ourselves in.

Trends can be fun. It can feel nice to be part of something that is just for enjoyment. For instance, liking a new band for their hit song can be a pleasant way to remember a time and place. And the people you connected with at the time without going to deep. But there are a lot of ways that our wanting to belong can be taken advantage of, for someone else’s profit.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I was kind of obsessed with Pottery Barn. I liked the clean lines and muted tones they used while still feeling rustic. It was how I pictured my future home to look, filled with a clean, conservative aesthetic. At the time I was planning to go to school for journalism, so I imagined I’d have a serious and important role to fill. Informing the masses of misdeeds and lapses in morality from those who held positions of power. And of course I needed a desk that would look as important as how I felt my duty would be.

So naturally I spent a large sum of money on a desk that held little more than a decanter of whiskey or scotch, and a matching chess table which sat next to it. As though my desk was so important that it needed an assistant. I was just barely scraping by working as a social worker of sorts, and had probably just enough money for groceries. Let alone buying an expensive desk from Pottery Barn that I barely used. But there I was, with an expensive desk in an empty room. How did this happen? How was I so manipulated into feeling that this desk would not only help me to achieve my goals, but help conjure them into fruition? It starts with what we find value in.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that the desk I purchased, played to my perceived values. I thought that buying something that embodied those values would then thrust me into the mindset/mentality of the value that I wished to embody. Along with underlying currents of confusing taste, style and tendencies with what I valued.

For example, I was a hippy in my late teenage years. Something I haven’t really shed. Mostly because of the feelings of when I was first introduced to the culture and aesthetic were so positive. Along with many of the values that most modern day hippies embody are still in line with my current values. I.e. recycling, organic farming and living sustainably, fostering open and caring community. All aspects of the culture I value and wish to embody in my day to day life, including the clothing and style.

There is also a serious side to me that very much likes order and to bring structure to chaos. So the rustic feel of the desk, looking as though it were made from reclaimed barn wood, blended with the clean polished lines of the industrial, flat black, minimalist metal frame and its mirror finish, appealed to both sides of me simultaneously. My enjoyment of a caring, natural community, represented by the look of reclaimed barn wood, mixed with the clean metal and highly glossed wood finish that filled my need for order, both lead me to believe that this desk represented my values.

But it was not substitute for them. This is the trap that most people fall into when purchasing things they feel are in line with their values. The same ways I did with the desk. The wood was not reclaimed. In fact it was most likely harvested in a way that was environmentally unsound and not in line with my values. Reclaimed barnwood being a form of recycling where as unsustainable wood harvesting for the benefit of a furniture company has grave environmental ramifications.

So it was no surprise that after buying the piece of furniture, I was left with my manipulated values sitting at my desk wondering why I felt a bit restless. Like something just didn’t add up. This was the other message that was being sold. That you could buy your values. Values from my experience are something that you work to embody, something practiced. Not something bought. In order to feel fulfilled from your values, you must first put the hours in.

But that takes work. Something I was not inclined to do. And if I could buy a desk that looked the part while allowing me to avoid the work I should have been putting in, then that’s what my younger self would do. Of course at the time I was unaware of this dynamic at play. I was just trying to fill a part. The one that looked most appealing at the time. Lucky for me there were plenty of stores that were willing to aid me in my effort to avoid work.

So therein lies the danger. Being told that buying something that seems to embody your desired values, is just as good as putting the work in to practice your values. And companies spend a lot of resources in order to sell you an image of what it feels like and looks like to embody that value by using their product.

I’m not stating anything new here. And I hope I’m not blowing any minds. But I’m often surprised at how it feels like every generation finds another way of buying into this system of buying values by purchasing goods. I feel a large part of this cycle is perpetuated by the feeling of a lack of belonging. If we’re trying to fill our sense of self worth with the values we hold closest but only have a desk or pair of shoes or whatever we choose to represent our values, without the embodied presence of the practiced value we’re left, as I was, behind my desk feeling confused and a little lonely.

Lonely for me, because I was perched behind a desk that I thought would lend me the street cred I was looking for. Not feeling the part left me confused and a little like a fraud. I felt slightly guarded. Not wanting people to see that I wasn’t confident in myself and the values I was trying to represent. The vulnerability of knowing that the things I buy, don’t guaranty my belonging but also of not knowing what would if I couldn’t buy it.

These lessons are deeply entrenched in our society. I know I’ve learned this not only from companies looking to sell me something with assistance from large advertising firms, but also from my family. I mentioned this in my Search for a Blog page. When you question your own belonging to the people who are supposed to accept and love you no matter what, that’s when the fear sets in.

Who will or could love me now, may take the place of the love and belonging we once felt. And it will dominate our thoughts and actions in relationship with those closest to us. This is where I believe Brene Brown’s frase, “hustling for worthiness” may take up residency in our mind and heart. If we feel we’ve been rejected by the people we love most, than the most important goal becomes, how do I get back what I lost.

That’s when we turn to whatever feels good at the time. Or what Tara Brach refers to as the false refuges. This could be anything from alcohol to shopping (as were the cases with me and my family). Drugs or even using other people are also false refuges. But they aren’t sustainable. Or they cause great harm to ourselves and others which is why they’re false refuges.

So how do we find our way out of these trappings of the false refuges or hustling for worthiness? One way is through acts of self-care. If you’ve read my post on why self-care is so important, you’ll know that it’s a way of dialoguing with our emotions and getting to know who we are. As my dad likes to say, “be yourself, everyone else is already taken” -Oscar Wilde. Showing yourself that you care, you’re a priority, gives you the courage to find what your values are. The you without the “hustle”, or the false refuges.

Other ways to avoid the hustle, is after you know what your true values are and embody those feelings by dialoguing with yourself, check in with how something makes you feel. Is it the excitement of something new supporting your values, or is it just novelty?

More often than not, the things that you do to bring joy to you practicing your value, won’t cost much money. For instance, if you value spending time with friends, cooking a meal together can be more intimate and enjoyable than eating out. But going to see a concert together can be a joyful experience as well. So it’s important to take a deeper look as to why you’re doing something, and ultimately it’s you that will know the answer. AKA, trust yourself.

And sometimes we’ll make mistakes. After all, advertising is a large industry designed to make you spend your money. So be forgiving when you do stumble. Just because you’ve been fleeced, doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to feel unwanted or unloved. Stay true to and trust your values, they’ll guide the way.

I hope you’ve found this helpful in some way. It isn’t always easy, but don’t worry, the work becomes easier the more you do it :] Good luck and Peace.

Image Credits: “1960s Advertising – Magazine Ad – Campbell’s Soup (USA)” by ChowKaiDeng is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Reparenting: Creating Healthy Boundaries, Being a Part of Someones Solution Without Solving Their Problems

Boundaries. This is a big topic and I hope to do it some justice. For the sake of this post I will be focusing on some of my experiences with personal boundaries in regards to how they’ve been taken advantage of in the past. And ways to engage with those encroaching while keeping a healthy distance when you need space to feel and stay healthy.

Hope you’re still with me 🙂 It may be a bumpy road. I’d also like to take this time to say, especially if you’ve experienced abuse or trauma, I strongly urge you to find professional help. I am not a therapist myself and these are only my experiences, opinions and research I’ve done on the subject. My therapist has been an indispensable resource for me guiding me through very difficult times. Don’t be afraid to ask for the support you need.

The family dynamic I grew up in was very much a black and white landscape of either very rigid boundaries or absolutely no boundaries at all. For instance it was my mother’s job to feed and clothe me. And to her credit she took care of the basics with religious fervor. But I didn’t have the freedom to cook my own meals or request favorite foods. Or was I in any way involved with that decision making process when it came to meal planning or anything domestic. She never asked me if I ate while I was out with friends or even really ask me anything at all about me personally. I was punished severely and often for underachieving in high school yet I was never shown how to succeed in an academic setting. Or even had a curfew. Nor was anyone home to enforce it if I had been given one.

In short, I was always in trouble for doing something I shouldn’t be doing. And with no parent to enforce the severe punishments bestowed upon me because my mother and stepfather were likely out doing the same things I was getting in trouble for. It was a confusing place to be in my teenage years. And that’s not even accounting for the biological changes I was experiencing!

As a result I spent a lot of my time as a teenager wandering aimlessly around my surroundings looking for someplace to feel belonging, before I was kicked out of the house at 19. I remember feeling so left out and empty. It was a cold place to be.

There was a lot going on in my family besides personal boundaries being ignored. But it was in these times of not being recognized as a person with boundaries and their (my boundaries) being neglected, that I learned to neglect my own personal needs and boundaries. Picking up where my family left off when I was given the boot from our dysfunctional family at 19.

But as crippling as the rules and regs of my family had been, I still desperately clung to them and their lack of regard for my well being. If only to feel a piece of a whole. Some belonging. So it was their initial neglect of my boundaries that set the rules for there to be no rules or boundaries with myself. Only the pain of not feeling wanted or belonging if I chose to create a sense of separate self. My own personal identity. But it wasn’t my family’s fault either. They were most likely experiencing the same feelings I was. The neglect and the hurt, the lack of personal identity and feeling as though they had to cling to one another to feel belonging. It’s sad and a little exhausting just thinking about it.

So if everyone was so hurt by one another to the point where they were afraid of being around each other, yet feared above all else to feel rejected and hurt by the people who were supposed to love them, why did and what allowed us to all cling to one another with such a tight grip? Yep, alcohol, anger, indignation and shame.

It’s hard to see shame for what it is when you’re in its midst of it. Especially difficult when you’re drunk (or to recognize any emotion really when you’re three sheets to the wind ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). My shame was the internalizing of my mother’s critical opinions of me. Mixed with the trauma from my abuse I was thinking to myself, “What had I done to deserve this and make my family feel they needed to punish me so severely”.

When abuse happens, all kinds of boundaries are being trampled. The right to be in control of who is allowed and how to physically be in contact with your body is one. And the physical threat that is embedded in that loss of control. Emotionally by imbuing terror in the place of  where love and safety should be with and around those who are supposed to be your caretakers. And the parelizing judgement of who you are thought to be by those who are supposed to teach you healthy habits. That will show you how to navigate life. And instead leave the fear of and from the abuse in their place.

As well as the confusion of being rejected by your loved ones who you are mirroring in order to feel belonging to and with those doing the rejecting. This is just a short list of the many different and difficult feelings of abuse of boundaries that go along with the shame of abuse and trauma. Probably too much to cover in one post.

The first step in healing this shame of loss of boundaries and loved ones is to realize that it’s not your fault. This is best done with the aid of a therapist and trusted family and friends. Because as Tara Brach puts it, “we were wounded in relationship, we heal in relationship“. Not only that but we can’t do it alone.

It’s also helpful to know that the people who have abused us are probably hurt themselves. And possibly have been abused in the ways they are abusing others. Not helpful in a way that we are happy for their suffering. That would be likened to seeing them with a large pile of festering garbage and feeling better that they are in it too. But this perspective allows us to see that they’re suffering like we’re suffering. Which if we allow it, will open us to compassion for the person’s suffering because it is so interconnected with our own. And to transform the suffering they’ve handed to us and turn it into compassionate caring is how we find our way out of the suffering cycle.

As I see it the gift lie in transmuting the suffering into caring and spreading caring and love instead of hurt and abuse. This is what I believe is meant by coming to realize that we are the ones in control of our own experiences. What it means to be one hundred percent accountable for yourself, your emotions and actions. And it’s then when we realize that it is our suffering, no matter who perpetuated it, that we can let go the anger that keeps us wrapped up in blaming the other for the transgression they perpetrated. We can get so attached to that angry self. The one that needs to be seen, heard and justified for the wounds we are carrying at the hands of someone else’s actions that we forget we can let go and be free. Free from the idea that we’ve been done wrong and we need retribution for our grievances to move on.

This is not to be confused with not pursuing justice for crimes when the situation requires it. But if we let the wound fester after justice has been dealt we lock our emotional energies into fixating on how we have been hurt. Or focusing on fantasies of how it could happen again, closing off our emotional selves from the risk of harm. This only works to keep us in a frozen emotional state. Like a plant that has been pot bound, unable to spread its roots and subsequently stunts its growth leaving it small and vulnerable.

Or maybe the time for justice never came and you are truly left with the injustice of a crime never revealed, heard or seen. In this case it is even more important to let go of those feelings of injustice and find ways to move towards more fertile grounds. Because resentment will take the place of the relationship turned sour. And it will cripple us emotionally if we allow it to reside within. Keeping us from fostering new and healthy, loving relationships.

So in the analogy above in order to break the bonds of our personal pots to find more freedom and space, we must first give up the bonds of our “pots” voluntarally. The anger, the blame and find more fertile soil. Helping others and connecting in relationship is a good example of finding more space. The way twelve step programs allow space for people with similar experiences to come together and be witness to one another. This creates a space larger than the self who is often too small to hold the burdens of a life’s time worth of aggression and abuse.

I should probably note that none of this is easy. It sounds so simple to take stock of and list all our grievances. Most of us carry them around our whole lives. It seems idealik written down and the truth is it may be difficult. But like a physical wound, if left unattended, will only get worse the longer we ignore it. And  don’t forget, it’s not like we’re carry around the anger and indignation of our wounds for no reason! There’s a sort of logic to poking the wound to remind us of the pain we feel. We can use it as a tool to protect us from what can happen if we let our guard down or put ourselves in a vulnerable situation such as trusting another or sharing our wounded selves.

This is why I brought up earlier that working with a therapist and trusted friends and family can be invaluable. If you are like I was I didn’t even know what a boundary was, let alone a healthy one. If we don’t have the space to talk about how our actions and the actions of others are making us feel in a non-judgemental environment, we may not be able to find the necessary tools and resources. Such as healthy self-talk, building a high self-esteem and healthy role models. We need these tools to be strong enough to journey to be the healthiest version of ourselves. Especially in the face of those whom may have torn us down in the past.

And that is what it really comes down to. Finding out how we fit into the whole in the healthiest ways possible. For most of us that means family and friends. That being said family can be brutal when it comes to disrespecting boundaries. So can friends so it is especially important to find someone who has your best interests in mind and at heart. Discerning who is safe in regards to family and old friends who may be ignoring some important boundaries is definitely a challenge. Boundaries can be fragile when they are first forged so go slow. Be certain that you can take care of yourself before caring for another. Especially if the other is a family member who has unhealthy boundaries.

Which leads to another issue. Knowing how to say no to those whom have no boundaries. If we haven’t cultivated the healthy habits that allow us to be strong and take care of ourselves first, then there’s no way we’re able to be a part of someones solution. We’ll most likely get pulled into their unhealthy and possibly self destructive lack of boundaries. Being strong enough may look like knowing how to ask for help from a friend or know when to talk to a therapist. Or something as simple as taking yourself out for dinner at your favorite restaurant, just you for the night. It will look different for each person but you first need to know what those resources look and feel like for you. And how to access them when you need them most in order for them to be useful.

Because those are ultimately the parts of ourselves we want to share with others. The strong, independent, capable, fun loving… insert adjective you want to describe yourself as here. But we can only do that once we’ve found our way to that person. And then draw a map so we can keep getting back home. And we do that by feeling the support of our resources and knowing how to access them when we need them most. As another friend of mine puts it, “when I’m the best version of myself, that helps others be the best version of themselves”.

So it is here that I will leave you good reader. I know that I covered a lot of ground and there’s more to be said on the subject for sure, but I feel that will be best left for another post another time. I’ll post some resources I’ve found handy in the Community page, so don’t forget to hop on over and read like you love yourself (shout out to YWA:)! Peace.

Image Credits: “Boundary – Boulder” by joiseyshowaa is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0