What to do When You are Surrounded by People Unwilling to Move on, Leaving You to Move Forward on Your Own

I’ve been through and dealt with a lot of trauma and difficult emotions in my past. It’s been a crazy ride to say the least. But I’m finally in a place where I’ve taken the deep dive inward, faced my demons eye to eye, and have come out the stronger for it. But after doing the difficult work of inner reflection, it feels like I’m left with little in the way of support.

After I woke from my trance of fear and self-doubt, I discovered that almost everyone that has been my support to some degree is in exactly the same place I used to be. Scared to move into the future. Clinging to the past in hopes of getting what they never got. This is a frustrating place to be.

Looking Forward While Setting Boundaries

This is a bit of a harsh assessment, but after what I’ve been through it can feel frustrating seeing the reminders of my past in the present. So how did I, and how can we move on when we see our past selves reflected in those that are closest to us? From my experience, it starts with setting healthy boundaries and understanding that we are solely responsible for our own actions and emotions.

Everyone is responsible for their own actions and emotions. This is a difficult lesson to learn when you are on your own. Especially when you’re looking to others to help you move on. Others who are locked in their old patterns of blaming others for their emotional states. It can be a confusing place to navigate to say the least.

The dynamic with my caregivers growing up was one where nobody took responsibility for their own actions and emotions. It was everybody else’s fault that they felt the ways they did. This was because others “made” them feel that way. Not that their emotional states are a reaction to an action that originated from someone else. And something that they (the owner of the emotion) have control over (their own emotions).

When the Other is the “Problem”

Coming to relationships from this perspective, it makes perfect sense why it would be scary to foster and develop relationships with others. Other people become the sources of possible discomfort. Of fear and pain. From this mind set it’s not your fault you feel the ways you do. It’s the other person who is unjustly doing you harm. By causing the fear and usually with malicious intent. And this feeling is only compounded if you’ve experienced betrayal or trauma in your past. To quote Iron and Wine’s, “Sacred Vision”, “forgiveness is fickle when trust is a chore”.

I was wrapped up in blaming others for my experience of my emotions for much too long. It was a prison I was holding myself in. To avoid the pain of feeling connected again. Or the hurt and betrayal from those I loved and trusted. I pushed a lot of people away using that method of being. And it wasn’t my fault. This was something that was taught to me. Though even though it wasn’t my fault, it is still my responsibility to take control of my emotional life. Giving myself the loving guidance I needed, but never received. And that was difficult. It still is.

Taking Responsibility for Ourselves & Our Emotions

I sometimes dissociate. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s when you disconnect from your emotions, body and current circumstances. It’s a defense mechanism to protect myself from feelings that are too overwhelming. Usually feelings relating to trauma. It’s like when you blackout from drinking too much, only no drinking involved. This is scary. Knowing that your emotions could overpower you and leave you feeling completely helpless, out of control. But even still, with emotions so powerful that they could render me unable to account for my actions, I was and am still responsible for my emotions.

This may seem harsh to some. I get that it’s not an easy thing to experience, let alone understand. But our emotions are only that, emotions. If we let them, they will control our lives, leaving us victims of our own feeling selves. But if we want to live in peace with our emotions, we need to learn how to self regulate. For me this happened when I slowed down long enough to be able to feel and stay present with each emotion. Regardless of how difficult it was too feel.

Staying With the Emotions

When I slowed down enough, stayed curious enough, that’s when my emotions really began to take shape. I could feel each emotion as it was happening. This made me realize that there was a reason for it being there. Before I had the patience to sit with my emotions, I was drinking a lot of coffee. I think I was doing this to stay ahead of my emotions. So I didn’t have to feel them as I was rushing through my day. This was one way of avoiding my emotions and one I learned from my caregivers.

I also drank a lot of alcohol at night. This was to numb what I was trying to speed past during the day. This was also another habit I picked up from my caregivers. Something I needed to learn to undue. To reconcile with my emotions that had been piling up through the years.

Both the patience and the reconciliation were difficult aspects of my healing to learn. There was a reason I was running from my emotions and it was because they were painful! The amount of neglect and abuse that needed to be processed and at the hands of my caregivers seemed insurmountable. And the process still isn’t over.

Learning to Trust the Emotions

I still hit pockets of feelings of abandonment and distrust. Fear and distress. But the difference now is that I can recognize them for the emotions they are while letting them be. Without trying to cover over, speed past or numb them out. They appear, they are intense, but they subside. As long as I stay present with the feelings, as they are happening, they don’t add up to overwhelm me at some later date or in the moment. As Kings of Leon said in their song “The Face, “ride out the wave”.

And it took a lot of practice to get to this point. A lot of faith too. To know that I would be okay if I let the feelings in again. Especially after feeling betrayed by them so long ago and by so many. It also took a fair amount of forgiveness as well. I had to forgive others for how they abused me, but also myself for the ways I abused myself. Learning to trust again after so much abuse is difficult. But it starts with us. If we trust ourselves, we can learn to trust others again as well.

Trust Others But Go Slow

And that’s not to say we fling the doors wide open and trust whomever happens to walk through them. We need to use wise discernment when evaluating whom is and is not trustworthy. But the first step is to unshackle the doors to our emotional bodies, to be able to feel out how others make us feel with their actions. If our boundaries are being violated in some way, this is a good indicator that something is not right. Off in some way. But we can’t begin to assess, if we don’t at least greet them at the door.

I think this is what me and my caregivers were so afraid of. We wanted some guaranty that we weren’t going to be hurt by another. But there is no guaranty. And in any relationship, there is always the possibility of getting hurt. There’s no way around that. But some people will lock themselves up their entire lives for fear that they will get hurt again. This was the case with my caregivers. Me as well. So along with the intense and crazy amounts of abuse I’ve endured, they also taught me to isolate. To not ask for any help for the emotional pain I was experiencing. Double whammy.

Relating Or Not Relating to Our Emotions

I’ve recently been staying with one of my caregivers and this situation has come to the forefront for us. Recent I realized that my caregiver has been dissociating from their emotions for years. This was kind of a shock to recognize at first. I had been so focused on how I was coming to understand and relate to my emotions, that I hadn’t even realized that I had learned to dissociate from the combination of my caregivers! I had been so desperate for support that I was clinging to whatever was readily available. And what was available was a form of unhealthy attachment.

My caregiver had never learned to relate to their emotions. And in turn, taught me to avoid feeling anything as well. I felt like I was blindsided. What I had been struggling with for so long was in fact a learned behavior from my caregiver. Only the trauma I received was intense enough for me to be in emotional shock for a very long time. I hadn’t even realized I was dissociating until the shock wore off decades after the initial traumas. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Not Knowing How to Be With Emotions in a Healthy Way

So once I wasn’t in emotional shock anymore, the dissociation started. I had been dealing with dissociating for the past five years. Mostly from pushing myself beyond what my mental and physical limitations are in a self-destructive way. For example, the time I ran three miles and did yoga for 45 minutes after a full day of work and not eating anything from the time I woke at 5am. I got out of the shower and passed out. But while I was out, I had a full conversation with my caregiver about how tired I was.

But I also dissociated around others, when I was building some form of relationship. I would begin to feel an overwhelming sense that I was unsafe. Then I wouldn’t remember anything for a chunk of time. Maybe 30-45 seconds. Then everything would continue as normal only I wouldn’t be aware of what just happened. It was confusing for sure, but not totally unexpected. Considering how disconnected I was from everybody and all the traumas I’ve experienced at the hands of loved ones. I was so afraid to be in my body, to feel my emotions, that if I got even close to feeling them, I would panic and leave in the form of dissociation.

Finding Way to Reconnect

But knowing that it was something that I learned from my caregivers gave me hope. Hope that I could reconnect with the parts of me that had been pushed away for so long. As it was, I felt as though I were isolated when I was with my caregivers. So I used this time to reconnect with myself. I learned to listen to myself. How I am feeling when an emotion comes up? I try and give it my full attention as well as I’m able. I ask myself “what do I need”, but also give myself the caring and gentle guidance that was never taught to me. It was in this kind, self talk that I learned how to ease into myself again. To be present in my body. It is a slow process, but it needed to be slow.

I had been running from and numbing my emotions for so long that if I tried to let everything in all at once, it would have unfortunate effects. There were also a lot of difficult emotions to process. Big emotions. Like the fear and shame from the abuses I experienced.

Reconnecting Can Be Rough

I remember many sleepless nights where I held myself against what felt like a cold and malicious world. All while I relived the emotions that had been too painful to endure the first time around. I felt my younger self, huddled in terror as I allowed the emotions to wash over me. I didn’t want to and my instinct was to fight them. But as I let them flow through me, they became lighter, more manageable.

And with this release of emotions came a freedom and insight. The emotions sometimes come back, but I know them now. And I fear them less. Or I am more secure of who I am in knowing that I can handle what comes up. But it was only after I did this work, after I woke from the fear and terror that had gripped me so tight and stayed with the emotions, that I saw those closest to me, who’ve experienced traumas as well, still gripped in that same fear.

Making the Connection Through Emotional Bonding

This was where I was seeing my old fear in their actions and emotions. The way they would knit their hands together in uncertainty made me feel as though they were unsafe. What that meant to my past self was that I was unsafe. These kinds of triggers would happen frequently. From the short conversations we would have about the weather, never really going any deeper than topical subjects. To being too afraid to ask for help with a project. Some sort of shared collaboration that would mean emotional connection and vulnerability.

There was too much fear to connect in any spontaneous way. And even the ways I had planned were tenuous. For example I have been batch cooking my meals. This gave me the idea to start a self-care Sunday dinner where I cook a special meal for myself once a week. This helped to heal some of the raw emotion that was wrapped around food. So I decided to ask my caregivers to join me in a night where we cooked meals together. They agreed, but it was the first thing we had done together since I had been staying there. And I had been there for a while. It was incredibly vulnerable for me to share a resource that has been so healing. But I thought that I would take the risk. Open up.

Knowing Others Experience isn’t Our Responsibility

It was a success the first few times. We enjoyed the meals and had fun cooking. But after having a conversation with one of my caregivers, where they said they didn’t really feel emotions, I began to wonder if what I was trying to build was a mutually shared experience. From my perspective, there needs to be effort put in on all parts. My caregiver hasn’t put a lot of focused effort into any aspect of their life. They never ask for help or try to connect with anyone. If they are doing something, it was someone else’s idea or plan. This is sad to think about, but necessary to understand that for better or worse, my caregiver is responsible for themself, emotions and actions.

And this is where it is most important to keep clear and firm boundaries. Especially with those who will continuously take, without even realizing how much pain they are causing to another. For example, if they don’t really know what feelings are, then they have no idea how vulnerable I am being by sharing something that has been such an important resource for me. They can’t then begin to understand the emotional investment I have in those dinners. And how sad it makes me to think that the only ways we connect are in ways that I come up with. In a way it feels like being used. Yeah, it’s a good time, but when the good time is over and you have a conversation with the person about how they don’t really feel emotions, it feels like a slap in the face.

Not Blaming the Other Taking Control Of How You Allow Other to Treat Us

Where it gets tricky, and where a lot of people get caught up, is in blaming the other person for “taking advantage” of their feelings. It’s a frustrating place to be. To know that the only way you connect is through your own intentions and efforts. But it’s not the other person’s fault that we feel taken advantage of. We have a right to feel however we feel. But the difference is knowing that you have control over how you will allow yourself to be treated.

You give up your power when you make the other person responsible for how you feel. This may be obvious for some, but if your were steeped in an environment where how everybody felt was the responsibility of somebody else, then you are raised to believe you have no power. You are at the emotional whim of those who you give the power to.

But Respecting Our Limits & Boundaries

So in the case that you are sharing something that is close to you, like my self-care dinners turned family dinners, something I hold in a vulnerable space, it’s important to know what your limits and boundaries are. How much are you willing to give? Will you be receiving anything in return? And it’s important to respect your limits and boundaries. This is especially important if you are still cultivating trust in yourself and others. The more we let our boundaries be violated by ourselves and others, the more difficult it is to build and maintain trust.

And it’s also just as important to realize how much the person you are giving to is aware that they are taking without reciprocating. If they don’t know that they’re taking without reciprocating, it may be easier to forgive because the intention isn’t malicious. But the result is still the same regardless. And you have to take care of yourself and your boundaries first. If it is malicious however, then it is important set firm boundaries around the person.

Being Aware of How You’re Feeling

Also, check in on how you’re feeling regularly. So as to not burn yourself out. Life is demanding enough without spreading yourself too thin. Especially if you have someone in your life that may be a taker without realizing it. Setting aside some self-care time is essential to keeping yourself in a place that is healthy enough to meet the demands of everyday life.

Find friends that are willing to listen. I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for the handful of close friends I have. That I can reach out to when I need a pep talk or just someone who understands me. Also take time to understand what your likes and dislikes are. This may take some digging. Especially if you are like so many, wrapped up in the latest trend that feels fun. Just to feel a part of something. For me, my yoga practice and running routine are essential to my peace of mind. Cooking as well.

Find support. When you are dealing with people who are stuck in the past, it’s easy to get locked into old patterns or behavior. Knowing you’re not going it alone is something that is invaluable for your emotional well being. I hope you’ve found this to be helpful in some way. If you have any resources you’d like to share, that help regain your peace of mind, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits:“‘We must learn how to MOVE ON. MOVE PAST THE DISTRACTION.’ James Martin MOVE ON TO WHERE GOD IS TAKING YOU. CHANGE IS AHEAD. GREATER IS IN FRONT OF YOU.” by diva0768 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Affirmations: More than Just Positive Self Talk

“Affirmations? Really?” That used to be what I thought about them. Of course my introduction to them was from the Saturday Night Live’s character, Stuart Smalley. His daily affirmation of, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me.” This scathing introduction to the world of self-help was just the type of fuel an adolescent me needed, to show me that self-help was for the “weak”. It also give me the fuel to make fun of those willing to look for something that would help them. Making them stronger and more resilient. Of course I was thirteen and knew everything at the time. So I should probably cut my younger self some slack : )

Toxic Masculinity and Other Lesson On How Not to Be a Man

All joking aside, I’ve come to see affirmations in a much different light as when I was a teenager. I’ve been using them as a way to help create a stronger sense of self worth. To build confidence and help give myself the guidance I so desperately needed in my childhood. Of course I had to swallow a little bit of pride first. If you’ve read my post on toxic masculinity, you’ll know I was raised to believe that affirmations were for the ineffectual, the weak.

According to my family, I was a man at eight years old. Right after my parents divorced, I became “the Man of the house”. Or so I was told by almost every male role model I had at the time. It seemed a way of consoling me. As if to say “buck up son, no time to be upset, you have new responsibilities to get after”. Looking back now this all seems so ridiculous. But when I was eight, it felt like the weight of the world was just dropped on my shoulders.

Rigid Values Added to the Confusion

From my younger perspective, men took what they wanted and were the embodiment of confidence and strength. If there was a problem, the man would take care of it using sheer force. There was no need to account for feelings. Or even others points of view. So from this mindset, affirmations weren’t something a man needed. Because he already imbued strength and confidence by virtue of being a man. They were a given.

I even came to live life to my family’s standard of what it means to be a man in the ways that made them comfortable. Something I’ve created an affirmation around to combat the toxic masculinity that was handed down to me. Because that way of living left me feeling hollow. I pushed everyone away with cutting criticisms and needed to numb the feelings I had been ignoring in order to be who I thought needed to be. All based on how I saw those closest to me behave. It was anxiety producing. And most of the time it filled me with fear.

Consequences of Living the Toxically Masculine Life

And all this fear that was growing unchecked, was fueled by pride and bravado. I was perpetually putting down others to make myself seem more confident, more capable than I actually was. The nature of my thoughts were negative and born from insecurity. And I was practicing them constantly. The more I practiced them, the deeper I sunk into the hollowness I had creating. There’s a Modest Mouse album I used to listen to often and its name embodies this sentiment for me. “Building Nothing out of Something”. A chilling reminder of my past self.

And that’s what it felt like for sure. After I had burned all my bridges, I was left completely alone. With only my negative thoughts to keep me company. That was about six years ago. And since then I’ve been rebuilding well, just about every aspect of my life. From relationships to people, to food, and maybe most importantly, to myself. I had to find a way to replace that constant negative self talk. Also the doubt that had become my M.O. for so long. That’s when I began using positive affirmations.

Positive Affirmations and Self Talk

I think the idea took root while I was taking a psychology course at my local community college. My professor Gerry, was an upbeat woman in her early sixties. She spoke a lot about positive psychology which is branch of psychology that focuses on the individuals strengths. To help us live a fuller, happier life with more meaning. Affirmations for me, are a way to focus on these. The positive qualities of my life.

Checking the Baggage

But there was a lot of unchecked emotional baggage I needed to go through (that I’m still going through), in order to know what aspects of my life to focus on. Also, how I was relating to both my emotions and areas of my life. This was a way for me to give my life some direction using affirmations to help me stay focused.

I mostly narrow in on the ways that I’ve experienced trauma and how unsafe I feel around others. Also on the loneliness from the neglect and verbal abuse I experienced. I should also mention that I’ve been doing this work with the help of a therapist. They’ve been an invaluable resource for me on my journey. So if there’s one bit of advice I can give, it is do not go this alone.

There are many times where I needed the guidance of someone who knows about the path I’m on. And if you had caregivers like mine, you may not have many healthy lessons to draw from. This is exactly where outsourcing some healthier, new perspectives on how to handle your experiences in the present that may bring up old ways of reacting to emotions would come in handy. It also may help you to see them from a new, positive and strength based perspective. A therapist’s help may be the difference between establishing a healthy, lasting change, or opening an old wound that you may not be capable of processing alone.

Practice, Practice, Practice

And it’s after understanding how we react to our emotions and experiences, that we’re able to forge affirmations that help us to facilitate change. Mine are a work in process. They also alter slightly as I come to understand how I react to the maladaptive lessons I’ve learned.

Because I’m now just finding out that my emotions aren’t anything to be ashamed of. No matter how I was shamed for having them as a child. It took decades of repeated reinforcement of harmful lessons on how to be with my emotions that got me to where I am. So I’m not surprised to discover that it takes practice to reinforce the positive perspectives I wish to embody. Lots of practice. And sure, it’s little frustrating, but not surprising.

One way I’ve been frustrated and veered from the path is, when I’m caught in the grip of an irrational fear that I know stems from my abuse. When the fear sets in in the form of negative thinking, my mind wants to believe the thoughts that are running through my head. This usually leads to more fear and anxiety. It’s then that a part of my affirmations will come to mind. like a firm place to hold on to. Some stability. But it’s because of how persistently I practice positive self-talk that I’m able to create this. The space necessary to gain a clear, positive perspective when I’m in the thick of difficult thoughts and emotions.

And I cannot stress enough that it takes practice. The more often you say and focus on the positive, the more often your mind will default to it when thoughts and circumstances pop up. For example if you’re insecure about meeting new people or being judged, then the more often we say to ourselves, “it’s okay to be me just as I am”, the more likely we are to remember this sentiment when we are in a situation where we are being introduced to someone for the first time.

Context Matters

I say mine once a day. Though sometimes, if a part of them comes to mind, I scan my circumstances to see if it’s tied to an old belief. To see if I’m relating to it (the affirmation) and my current situation and am I using old negative beliefs to define my current experience. If so, I’ll remind myself of the positive ways I want to relate to my thoughts and emotions, in the here and now. Then sometimes I’ll repeat the whole of my affirmations for a little extra boost of confidence. This usually helps to subside any of whatever anxiety and fear may be present.

And it’s not always easy. To be completely honest, sometimes it just plain sucks. But it never lasts very long and it subsides much quicker now than it ever has. Also, the more often I practice them, the better and more confident I feel about myself. All while being able to endure the difficult emotions and finding my footing onto more positive and stable ground.

Sometimes Being Kind Means Going Against the Grain

Practicing affirmations probably isn’t in style. I’m not sure how people would react to me if I told them I regularly give myself pep talks to build confidence. As well as to generally feel better about myself. But maybe that’s part of what helps to build the courage we’re seeking. Doing something that isn’t in line with what others see as “tough” or “strong”. But striking out on our own and finding what helps to make us feel stronger and more courageous.

I know it seems cliché but it’s true. Finding the strength in ourselves first is how we come to feel stronger. It’s not out there, in someone or something else. It’s right here. All we’re really doing when we use affirmations is reminding ourselves of the strength that’s already right here.

The phrase namaste comes to mind when I think about finding strength in ourselves first. “The divine in me, recognizes the divine in you”. The “divine” is what we’re “recognizing” when we decide to reinforce the search for the strength in ourselves. We do this by focusing on the positive in us by using affirmations to help us reinforce how we want to feel, confident. It’s already right here, we just have to recognize that it’s here.

And Remember, Be Kind To Yourself

Using affirmations can be a good foundation to find the personal strength you need to build healthy self image. Or as it was in my case, rebuild the basics of healthy relationships with others. Also building a healthy self-image and how I care for myself. It takes work and it can be tough at times. But learning to use the tools of positive self-talk has the ability to strengthen every other aspect of our lives. From who we choose to surround ourselves with, to where we feel we deserve to live or work. And also how we care for ourselves. If you haven’t thought about it, or are on the fence about them, it may be worth your time to explore them some. Because the nature of your thoughts holds the power to shape your world. Thanks for reading, peace :]

Image Credits: “Ben Eine – The Strangest Week : Smiley Faces / Acid House Faces – Hackney Road / Diss Street, London E2” by bobaliciouslondon is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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