Women’s Rights: What They Mean For a Man Raised With Less Than Accepting Values

I’ve written a lot about toxic masculinity on this blog, but I haven’t spoken about women’s rights very much. This is mostly due to me feeling as a man, that it isn’t really my place to speak my opinion on the subject. But with the recent ruling of Roe vs. Wade being overturned, I feel that it’s important for me to show that there are men who support women’s reproductive rights. Especially in this polarized culture we’ve been entrenched in. So on that note, I hope to move the cause forward if only to show support for those in need of some. Let’s take a look at where some of the values I was raised under were forged.

Women’s Lib, Stuck in the 50’s

This was where most of the lessons I learned as a child took root. About three decades before I was born. In my family and in the popular culture at large, women were mostly viewed as sex objects. Everything from TV shows to work place culture. It was most definitely a man’s world and women were objects to be won or used according to what the man’s need was.

My family held to these values with fervor. My grandmother was a model in the fifties and took to the culture with a sense of pride. It also seemed to be what she developed her identity around as well as raising her four daughters in the same vein. Women’s rights weren’t even on their radar when making choices about themselves and their families’ future.

The women in my family, instead, spent a lot of time shopping. Mostly for clothes, but I feel it was more of a way to bond. Over a shared experience. I’m not saying that they were shallow or trying to speak negatively about their characters. Shopping can be fun, but it was something that we took to the extreme. It came to define us as who we were. Consumers. And that’s how we avoided the ways we were ignoring the unbalanced power dynamics that were playing out in our family’s culture and the culture at large.

Why This Type of Neglect is Dangerous

And it was a shame that they chose shopping as one of their main outlets of self expression. Because the women in my family were and are smart and talented people. My mother is a talented artist, though never pursued her interest in the subject. In a way, it felt as though, from my perspective that, they were holding back an important aspect of their self expression by buying into the norms of forfeiting their women’s rights. All in the name of feeling comfortable or safe.

I was raised and surrounded by mostly women in my childhood. This, I feel, gives me a unique perspective on what the culture was, in my family anyway, around how women viewed and interacted with their worlds. I also feel as though I received a fair amount of traumatic abuse at the hands of the men in my family. Another area where I’m able to relate with women maybe a little bit better than most men.

I received two very polarizing views of the world through my family. There was the toxically masculine side where drinking scotch and beer to hide your emotions, while objectifying women as sex objects was the norm. And on the other side, there was Friedan’s model of the Feminine Mystique. Where women had sharp tongues to gain what little control they could wrestle away from the men, while drinking equally as much to cover over the pain of not feeling heard.

And that’s the reason why this type of neglect is so dangerous. It takes away the voice that the women in my family, could use to speak up for their rights. When you place your power in someone else’s hands, you then become concerned with how to get it back. Not realizing that you have had it all along. So now that we’ve found ourselves in this position of skewed power, how do we bring some balance back to the social equation?

Bringing Balance to Women’s Rights

From my perspective, a few different issues need to be addressed in order to create a more fair situation for women. Firstly, men need to be more comfortable with women as independent individuals, and second, woman need to collectively work towards breaking the stereotypes and shed more light on the ideas that certain roles aren’t only a woman’s duty. I.e., child rearing, taking care of the household needs and being less career focused. These are already outdated views, but how do we take what’s already happening and make it more the norm?

Men and Their Views Matter

This is a difficult aspect of this problem, because men have been traditionally in the position of power. And if most men were treated as I was by my family, were women were forced to use manipulations to gain a sense of power, than the men raised in these environments would have a less than ideal view of the women in their lives. This was what I experienced growing up and the lens I used to view the relationship in my life for a long time.

I’ve said many times before, that women were viewed as an object to be had in the culture I was raised in. Personhood and women’s rights weren’t even taken into consideration. I know that for me, I had to first come to see women as people all their own. With personalities, hopes and dreams. And this was difficult, because I had experienced a fair amount of abuse from the women in my family.

But what I needed to realize was, that the pettiness and manipulations weren’t traits of women exclusively. But that of people in a position of being oppressed. If somebody feels as though they have no say in their life, than they will naturally do what they’re able to, in order to gain some control of their situation. And this was a strange place for me to be as a white male. Because I felt as though I had no power or control over my own life.

Feeling Powerless to Change What Is

This seems counter intuitive, but being raised by women who felt they needed to manipulate in order to gain a sense of power back for themselves, left me feeling powerless. What made this so confusing was, that being a white male, I was told time and time again that I was in charge. Though never feeling I actually was.

All the bravado and over-the-top machismo attitude I put on were all for show. It felt as though I had no control over the elements of my life and that the important decisions were being made for me. I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living because I had no guidance to help me to find my path. So I went to college way to early, racking up a ton of debt for a degree I am barely using. I was married to a woman who I sought out to tell me how to live my life. As my mother had before her. And all the misguided steps along the way were learned from family that were in a constant power struggle, looking for their own sense of agency.

And I’ve seen close to the same situation play out with other men as well. We were looking for someone to live our lives for us. Instead of finding a partner to share our lives with. And with everybody feeling so powerless, nobody was feeling as though they could live a more fulfilling life. It always hinged on the other person.

Perspective Change

For me, I needed to realize that I was my own person first. The one in charge of making my own life decisions was me and my partner was not a replacement for my mother. I didn’t need a strong female voice to tell me who to be. I was already me. Regardless of what I was told to believe. But I needed to spend some time on my own in order to know this as truth for myself. I needed to get some practice in making decisions that made a difference in my life, to help me to move forward and realize my agency. This helped me to realize I was the other half of the equation in the relationships I had previously been in.

And this was how I broke from the ways I had been viewing women and their roles. By breaking the cycle of unhealthy relationships that had been modeled for me and that I was reliving. This helped me to see women as more whole, independent beings. But this wasn’t easy. And if more men are going to wake from the idea that women’s rights aren’t important, we are going to need more positive male role models to guide us. As well as healthy female role models who’ve come to know their own power in a healthy way.

Women And Their Power

And for women looking for women’s rights to be more equitable, they may want to find the same conflict of gender specific roles they’ve been tethered to and come to know them as human roles, not defined by gender. For the women in my family, this meant knowing that they are more than what they can provide for their family. That they are more than how attractive they are and their personalities are worth being explored and developed.

Finding Support and Breaking Old Ties

This means finding out and addressing the issues that the individual woman is wrestling with. The fashion and beauty industries are two big entities that have been telling women their value hinges on how attractive they look. This is just an example of old messaging that maybe still effecting some women’s actions on a daily basis.

They as well may want to feel and know that they are in charge of their own lives and have a say in what happens to them. This comes, I believe, with finding like minded people. Men and women to support and collaborate on making the world we live in a more fair and just one. Finding male partners who are an equal part of the child rearing process is one example. Also knowing that a woman’s career is just as important as a man’s. Finding work that matters to you and that you can make a change for the better, is a motivating aspect in life as well.

And knowing that all things domestic, do not fall under the category of a woman’s duty. This means finding a partner whose view of domestic duties goes beyond the scope of what they were in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

Women’s Rights Matters

And it’s from here that we can really understand that women have so much more to offer than what we’ve been telling them they are capable of. All the women I know have something unique and beneficial to offer the world around them. But it starts with us. I know this may be a bit difficult to hear coming from a white male’s perspective. After all, I’m part of the group that have been repressing women for a very long time. But I truly believe that women not only should have a say in what happens to them, but must in order to be happy and fulfilled.

With that in mind, I’m mostly speaking to the men who are reading. All I ask is that you take a look at the views you’ve had cultivated for you. Specifically on gender roles and gender stereotypes. Are they hurting women? Do they make you feel as though you lack something? That you’re less of a man if you don’t live up to them? If so, these are the areas we need to work on to be more fair and just. I hope this has been of some help. It’s not easy looking at ourselves and seeing the work that needs to be done. But it’s possible and know that you are not alone. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “women’s rights #blackprotest #czarnyprotest” by gregor.zukowski is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

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 our day to day to sort and respond to our emotions. But when you add the layer of taking responsibility of, and 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 baggage of my caretakers. This aspect of handling our emotions is so important that I’m surprised we don’t have a curriculum for it. Especially helping those who are navigating them in their early teens. Another topic for another post for sure.

Why Responsibility is Important

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 as well. And just about everybody else’s in my life that I had an emotional bond with.

After hearing one of these statements, during a fight or some kind of argument, I would take responsibility for what was said. As though the entire argument we just had, and all the hurt feelings and disappointment that resulted from it, was my fault. My responsibility. My caregivers almost always carried an air of something being offensive to them in their body language. As though whatever was happening was not only personal, but there was also a sense of indignant self-righteousness. The sense that they knew better than whomever was offending them. And they (the offenders) were inherently bad for doing, thinking or being a way that they did not approve of.

And how could I not take responsibility for all the emotions of our relationship. With standards like my caregivers’ and learning how to handle emotions directly from those who were supposed to teach me how to navigate life and my emotional world with balance and ease, I just assumed that they were in control. That they knew how to handle emotions fairly and that I was just never added up.

Results of Not Taking Responsibility for Our Emotions

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

From my harsh judgements of others to the cutting and snide remarks I would make when someone didn’t meet my standard. Or when I thought they were showing some “weakness”, aka emotions other than anger. For example, I remember picking out an individual who I worked with, who I picked on relentlessly. And the reason I chose him to receive the brunt of my hostility? Because he was kind and considerate, without the ego 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 for me to stay loyal to the lessons I received from my caregivers. These were their views, their reactions to their emotional landscapes. And in order to feel belonging, I assimilated their views as my own. I became the person I was expected to be by my caregivers. By absorbing their views and taking them on as my own.

Lonely in Relationship Through Lack of Boundaries

This, however, lead to me not understanding how to be in, or what intimacy was, in relationship. This left me feeling that most of my relationships were superficial and without feelings of connection. In short, 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. So when I met someone new who reminded me of them, or was around someone who resembled my caregivers, there was a sense of fear that came on. I felt that, “this is my fault, the reason their being so mean is because of who I am.” Even if they were talking about somebody else, I was always in the position of feeling as though it was only a matter of time before their hurtful actions were directed towards me. That I was somehow always a moment away from displeasing and totally disappointing whomever I was with.

Recognizing the Patterns

And this pattern still plays out from time to time. The one where I feel as though I’m feeling like a disappointment. But I’ve learned to break free from this pattern. This has taken some considerable effort though. The first step was to recognize how I was feeling while I was with someone and how it effected our relationship.

I first began to understand my relationship dynamics while I was interacting with a co-worker. Everything seemed fine at first, but later I noticed he would get quiet around me when it was just the two of us. But the more I heard him in conversation with others, the more I came to know his personality a little better. He would say things like, “I live to gaslight people”. This was something I would expect to hear from one of my caregivers. If you’re not familiar with the term gaslighting, it means, to “ psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts…” (Merriam & Webster).

How I felt while I was around him was, as though I had done something wrong. But I had no idea what it was that I was doing to explain this feeling. I felt the fear in my belly and groin, as though something were about to happen to me. This must be where the expression, “gird your loins” comes from. Because I definitely felt my fight or flight response kick in while I was around them. What I knew was that I felt uncomfortable around them. As though something bad would imminently happen and that it would be my fault.

Learning to Trust Your Emotions

This made learning to trust my emotions 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, 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 truly hope that is the case. But for those of us who were taught poor or no emotional boundaries, emotions can be confusing. 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. This allows me to see how I’m feeling, in real time, in reaction to a situation that is current. I can then know the feeling and thoughts that I’ve learned to associate with that feeling. Then work to separate them from one another and deal with the present situation and emotions accordingly.

Trust in Practice

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 my past at the hands of those who acted like the co-worker. 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 reminding me that this person may not be safe to trust with my wellbeing.

Trust and Miscommunication

Another example is, I was in the middle of batch cooking for the weeks ahead one day. I was 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 at that point I had been in the kitchen for hours. Then, someone I live with walked into the kitchen and asked, “what are you up to?” I was tired, but the question struck me as ridiculous. They had been sitting in the room over from me the entire time I was cooking. And anyone who walked into the kitchen could clearly see what it was that I was up to. I responded 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 and I responded the way I did due to being 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 our communications, without 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 by taking responsibility for their emotions.

Feeling Defensive Comes from Communication Built on Distrustful Relationships

And this is no easy task. From my experience, if the foundation of your relationships are built on misperceived comments and what feel like personal attacks based in malicious intent, then there is a lot of armoring you take on 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 or responsibility for other’s emotions, how do we begin to loosen the armoring that comes with the distrust? For me, not taking responsibility and 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.

Building Boundaries to Gain Trust in Ourselves & in Others

For me, there is something I say in my affirmation, during my meditation, “I’m strong enough to be who I am, while allowing others to be who they are”. This 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, I could take responsibility for my emotions. 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 take responsibility for 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 to 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.

You Can’t Change Another

Taking responsibility takes patience. With ourselves and with others as well. But also knowing when someone else may not change. This is a difficult one for most people, including me. 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 is, this just isn’t the case.

For me, I need to accept that there are some relationships that are not going to change. For example, when I tried to explain how I wasn’t angry even though my response was short, it only caused more frustration and misunderstanding. In this case, I need to accept that I will be misunderstood. Also not take responsibility for them not understanding me. And accepting that this is just where we are in our relationship.

But People Can Change

And that’s not to say that people aren’t capable of changing. Or coming to an understanding. Only that it can’t be forced on someone before they’re ready for it.

And in some cases, I’ve had to let relationships go. There were 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 how 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 to, “never write a person off.” Because people change. And that’s not to say that I’m leaving the door wide open for them to come back in whenever they like. It means that I’m not giving up on their ability to change.

But Don’t Forget Your Boundaries

If they come back into my life, it will be a fresh start. And one I’ll embark on very cautiously. Setting some strict boundaries around our relationship, until I can feel confident. Confident in who they are now and how they’ve changed from the ways they used to be and can take responsibility for their emotions. And again, this isn’t easy. But for me, it’s worth it if you can salvage a friendship. Because people 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 at times, like trying to untangle a bunch of live wires! Trusting that others will not project their emotions onto you while you’re untangling your own emotional knot can feel like you’re being overloaded.

Finding Resources

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 or somebody else’s. Don’t be afraid to take the time you need to sort through what your feeling and putting responsibility where it belongs. 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 understand what the other person is feeling.

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.

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

Updated: 9/29/22

When Feeling Loved is Scarce: How do We Find Care in Our Relationships When Love is Finite

It’s no secret that I grew up in a household that confused feeling loved 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. Or how clean our house was, whatever the focus was, there was always the feeling of being judged. And who we were was written all over us by the things we did and owned.

Growing Up in a Cold, Unloving Environment

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. There was always a numbness that came with the lifestyle. A heavy feeling. As though the air were ripe with criticism and it was only the work of a moment for someone to descend, dispensing 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 a 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. But 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. And in this case it was approval for reaching a standard they themselves never reached.

Lack of Feeling Loved is Generational

Looking back now, I’m able to see with some clarity as to how this has played out from generation to generation. Also 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 how I felt for a long time.

The feeling still pops up from time to time. Something I’ve come to expect. You don’t experience years of neglect and abuse and suddenly expect those feelings of inadequacy to go away overnight. It takes years of self-care and reparenting to even begin to feel again. This was the case for me anyways. 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 all of your stability and core sense of self.

Navigating Expectations and Practicing Feeling Loved

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? From my experience, it helps to practice the actions that add up to feeling loved. The patience, with yourself and others. Keeping a nonjudgmental state of mind is another piece of the puzzle. Or at least not getting wrapped up in the story you tell yourself about what you’re doing wrong or how you or somebody else isn’t adding up to someone’s expectations.

And none of this is easy. So another aspect of practicing feeling loved is being forgiving. Of ourselves and others when we’ve stumbled. It’s inevitable that we will make mistakes. Maybe by judging somebody else for making a mistake, instead of asking if they’re experiencing stress in their lives that may be impacting them in the here and now. Or beating ourselves up for overlooking a task we should have gotten to. Where we could be appreciative of how much we’ve accomplished during the day.

Patience and Understanding Leads to Forgiveness and Change

So if patience and understanding are the pieces to feeling loved, forgiveness is the glue that binds them together. But don’t forget to be open to the feelings we have that follow, when we practice patience. Or how we feel when we’re 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 when it came to being judgmental. And it still happens. The difference now is, that I can recognize the thoughts that come to mind. And now I can let them be, without judging myself for having them.

When Your Thoughts Aren’t So Loving

Tara Brach said something that really hit home with me in one of her 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. And the thoughts that accompany them just as unpleasant. So it’s nice to know that the thoughts that run through your mind aren’t a reflection of who you are. Or that you’re being too judgmental.

Once we begin to cultivate these traits in ourselves and with others, we then can have the experience of feeling loved. Also feeling caring and ease in our relationships. Emotions that 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 in order to feel a deeper connection and maybe more fulfilled. 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

Updated: 7/29/22

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. Most of my family has a very strong judgement function. Usually when it comes to autonomy and deciding what’s the best course of action. And further more, this only extends so far as their own needs are concerned. Not usually taking others into consideration. Hence the fear of connecting with one another. So what do we feel the benefit is, of acting so independently?

Extreme Independence and Acting the Part

The ability to choose decisively how to act in a situation is useful. It usually gives us the added benefit of being seen as someone who is in charge. A.k.a. someone who is competent, 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. They chose extreme independence so they could feel as though they were doing what was best for themselves. Also for those they were in charge of caring for. But it was only an act.

They had to keep up the façade of always being seen as in charge. Strong, never letting on that they had the same fears, vulnerabilities and worries that everyone else does. We were playing a part. 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 in our relationships. There were only stark, contrasting times and polarized ways of being with one another. On an emotional level, this usually took the shape of heated arguments, judgements or just being mean to each other.

The Fear Under The Act of Extreme Independence

For example, the good times consisted of us drinking, while loudly verbalizing our opinions of whomever or whatever was around. The difficult times were filled with more loud verbalizing. Only this time, focusing on how the men weren’t being heeded, while sometimes being accompanied by shattering dinner wear. This happened while the women spewed hurtful and demeaning messages. Words designed to cut emotional wounds that were left to fester.

What both these examples have in common is, the “good” and the “difficult” times 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. Nursing these wounds in the midst of the relationships that we were supposed to be enjoying. So why does this happen? I have a feeling it has to do with a few different factors. Ones that we all experience and shape the ways we see our world and how we build relationships. And it starts in childhood. While we’re bonding with our caregivers.

Forging Our Attachments

When we first learn to love and trust, it is usually with our parents or guardians. These bonds tend to be tight. These bonds 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, neglect and abuse, 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 or loved by those who are supposed to love us unconditionally would add an undercurrent of uncertainty and fear to our everyday interactions with just about everyone we meet. The lessons learned being that no one is trustworthy and we need to protect ourselves from everybody. So we learn to survive. Feeling that the only person we’re able to trust is ourselves. And that’s only if we somehow learn to attune to our own needs! In my experience, this most likely comes in the form of pleasure seeking. And pleasure seeking is not substitute for attunement.

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. As though we have no one to rely on. So we rely solely on ourselves.

The Difference Between Isolation and Extreme Independence

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. Or romanticized as braving the wilderness, armed with only our 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 to some extent.

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 those from the whole of their communities. And if we see this type of isolation as punishment, then staying in this isolation is a form of unrealized self punishment. Or 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 in extreme independence. 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.

Isolation Doesn’t Only Effect those Isolating

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. This is 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. But it also hurts those who care for us as well.

If we’re isolating all the time, then when someone does get close enough to do something that hurts us, or rubs up against an old wound, our reaction is to neglect the other relationships in our lives as well. Those that remind us of our initial hurt. And what triggered our initial isolation. Also, the ways we act aren’t solely relegated to our own worlds. They have a ripple effect that touch almost every other aspect of our lives.

Knowing When to Take Healthy Breaks

For sure there are times we need to take a break from everything when it gets to be too much. 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.

When We Realize We Need to Change But the Other Doesn’t Want to

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 and 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 can bring that along with us when we attempt to reconnect with someone who has historically been difficult to connect with. So we don’t fall into familiar territory 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 🙂 and thanks for reading.


Selling Image, Selling Belonging

Buying Into Belonging

Finding Belonging isn’t always easy. So naturally there are many ways to take advantage of our not feeling belonging. For example, there’s a store nearby that sells all things home related. Bedding, mugs, kitchen wares, furniture and the like. 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 that I couldn’t place. The message seemed to be in line with my meditation and yoga practice, so it wasn’t the phrase. If anything the word should have brought me some peace of mind.

Image and Belonging

I bought the candle anyway, 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, nothing assumingly off about it. 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. 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 of the store who was selling the candle and supporting the message with my purchase, all to feel belonging.

Gender Roles and Image Branding

If you’ve read my post on toxic masculinity, you’ll know that buying into gender specific roles such as self-care being a woman’s job, were the teachings I received from my early caregivers. And something I’ve been re-parenting myself around. Knowing that feelings and emotions are not gender specific, but part of the human experience. Also that self-care is just part of it, 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 are 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 seems absurd to me. Or at very least, that I need someone who filled that description to provide for me the care I could not give myself. Which seems equally as absurd.

How We’re Raised and How That Effects Our Views

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 to be a healing outlet. One to get in touch 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. I’ve also had excellent instructors both male and female. But the idea that I somehow got a gender specific correlation with the candle I bought 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.

Feeling Belonging is Important

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 involved. Especially 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. Like we’re not worthy of belonging.

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.

Repetitive Messaging and Our Belonging

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 of people. Their 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. That and feeling manipulated into unease around what usually sparks joy.

What We Can do About it

And I did like the candle. It was simple, white and had black lettering. I just didn’t like 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.

What’s Trending

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 that time without going too deep. But there are a lot of ways that our wanting to feel belonging can be taken advantage of. Usually for someone else’s profit.

Trying to Buy Belonging

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 duties 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. Also don’t forget about the 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 and had probably just enough money for groceries. More like beer actually. Buying an expensive desk from Pottery Barn that I barely used was definitely not in the budget. 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.

Finding Value In Ourselves Not Our Things

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 looked like those who had those values would have, would then thrust me into the mindset/mentality of the values that I wished to embody. Along with underlying currents of confusing taste and style with what I valued.

For example, I was a hippy in my late teens. Something I haven’t really shed. Mostly because of the feelings of when I was first introduced to the culture. Also the aesthetic was 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 while fostering open and caring community. All aspects of the culture I value. Also values I wish to embody in my day to day life. Including my clothing and style.

Knowing When You Are Embodying Your Values and Not the Values of the Things You Own

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 the wood’s mirror finish, the desk 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. Something not in line with my values.

You Can’t Buy Your Values

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 do I feel empty”. As though something didn’t add up. This was the other message that was being sold to me. 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 in my twenties. And if I could buy a desk that looked the part, while allowing me to avoid the work I could have been putting in, then that was what my younger self would do. Of course at the time I was unaware of the dynamic at play. I was just trying to fill a part. One that looked most appealing and trendy at the time. Luckily for me there are plenty of stores willing to aid me in looking to avoid work.

So therein lies the danger. Being told that buying something that seems to embody your 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 and looks like, to embody your values by using their product.

The Perennial Problem

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. 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 to represent our values, then we’re left as I was. Behind a desk, feeling confused and a little empty.

Feeling confused and a little like a empty left me thinking “why do I feel this way?”. Which led to me feeling 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 not knowing that the things I buy don’t guaranty my belonging, but also of not knowing what would if I couldn’t buy it.

Where Are We Learning These Lessons

These feelings and beliefs are deeply entrenched in our society. I know I’ve learned them not only from companies 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 unconditionally, there’s usually a fear that comes with the uncertainty.

“Who will or could love me now”, may take the place of love and belonging. And if we let it, it will dominate our thoughts and actions in our relationships. This is where I believe Brene Brown’s phrase, “hustling for worthiness”, may take control of our reasoning selves. 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 in the moment. Or somebodies “answer” to your feeling a lack of belonging. What Tara Brach refers to as “false refuges”. This could be anything from alcohol to shopping (as were the cases with me and my family). But also drugs or even using other people, are also examples of false refuges. And unsurprisingly, they aren’t sustainable and they usually cause harm to ourselves and others. Which is why they’re named false refuges.

Finding Our Way To Belonging

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 also getting to know who we are and what we need to feel belonging. Most importantly to ourselves. Or 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”.

Be Patient

Other ways to avoid the hustle is to be patient. After you know what your values are and you’re embodying those values by practicing them, dialogue with how something new makes you feel. After the excitement of something new subsides, is what you’re doing a way to practice your values? Or is it just novelty?

More often than not, the things that you do to bring joy to you practicing your values, won’t cost money. For instance, if you value spending time with friends, cooking a meal together can be more intimate and enjoyable than eating out. Or a rowdy night at the bar. 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.

Be Trusting and Forgiving

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

%d bloggers like this: