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

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

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

What Does Support Mean?

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

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

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

When Your Environment is Corrosive to Support

In the environment that my caregivers created, we told the other how they were feeling. We never asked any questions about the other’s emotional states. Nor did any sort of mirroring emotions. We never asked one another, “how did that make you feel?” When we did talk about emotions, it was usually in a way in which one person was telling the other what the other was feeling.

For example, comments such as, “you were just so selfish, pissy or narcissistic” were injected into our interactions without asking how the other person was feeling at the time. We just told them how they felt, but if we dug a little deeper, behind the reactions, we most likely would have seen the hurt and neglect we were inflicting on one another.

And if we did speak about emotions, they were usually the more difficult ones such as anger. We did not have a vocabulary for what we were experiencing emotionally, because it wasn’t safe to explore our emotional worlds around each other. So we never developed a language to speak about them with. This was due to us being viciously demeaning and mean to anybody who was foolish enough to let their guard down and share an emotion.

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

Losing the Support I Once Knew

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

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

So we all avoided contact with each other. Seeing each other only when we had to. This was our way of keeping ourselves safe from the wounds of the past from being brushed up against. By an old memory or from a current interaction. And it was in this environment that we forgot how to not be support, for ourselves and another.

Licking the Wounds

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

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

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

Finding Support by Owning My Present

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

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

Types of Support

Finance

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

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

Friends & Family

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

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

Internal & Emotional

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

Reaching Out

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

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

Friends

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

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

And It Gets Easier

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

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

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

Updated: 1/20/23

Pushing Yourself & Resilience or Self Abuse: Where’s the Line Between Being Tough and Being Abusive?

Ahh, more lessons from the toxically masculine 80’s. And everybody had a good time… When I was a child in the 80’s, there was a hyper focus on what the roles of men and women were and what it means to be tough. These were crazy, polarizing times. What I was taught about how to be a man is pretty much summed up by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from “The Predator”. In this post, I’ll be going over the difference between being tough, and resilience, and how I’ve cultivated a new definition for myself around what it means to be, “tough”. So lets take a look at where my definition was forged.

What it Meant to be a Man in my Childhood

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

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

Manly Expectations

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

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

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

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

While I was taught how to be tough, there wasn’t really much of a lesson plan. There was however, a lot of bravado. Posturing and drinking were ways we covered over our emotions. There were other ways we covered over our emotions too. Pleasure seeking by abusing pornography and dissociating from our emotions by projecting them onto the women in our lives and denying we had them at all. We were neither tough nor showed resilience. We did however, run from our emotions to the point of denial. And numbed them out when we were too tired to run.

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

Resilience Not Toughness, Why Words Matter

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

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

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

Quick Fixes are Not Long Term Solutions

Too often we get caught up in wanting to feel better in the moment. For me, I would drink lots of caffeine to alter my emotional state. Or alcohol if it was after work. Looking at pornography was another way of pleasure seeking in the moment. But pornography, along with going to strip clubs and objectifying women, and other ways of covering over difficult emotions, were the mark of a “real man”, as taught to me by my caregivers.

Of course, I didn’t realize I was covering over my difficult emotions. I didn’t even really know what I was feeling. I was just doing what was taught to me, and what felt good in the moment. So when I started feeling the emotions I was covering over without directly, without a quick fix of pleasure, they were most definitely overwhelming. But my friend was right. The more I feel my emotions, without covering them over, the less intense they become. It’s amazing what a little practice and patience can accomplish.

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

When Pride is Confused for Being Tough

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

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

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

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

Disengaging From Patterns of Abuse

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

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

Setting Boundaries

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

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

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

Finding Support

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

Therapy

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

Friends

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

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

Finally, Being Tough Means Finding Support

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

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

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

Updated: 11/25/22

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

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

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

Dissociating From Our Emotions

So we ran from one another. The most prevalent ways we did this was through drinking alcohol. The easiest way to numb ourselves from what was happening in our emotional selves, while avoiding the emotions we recognized in others that remind us of our own hurt emotions. Also, we told each other what the other was feeling, by say things like, “you are so ___ right now”. This way, we were safe from the unexpected emotions that would pop up in another, and the opinions of others, by blaming them for how we were feeling. We did this by projecting our perspective onto the other. All while not challenging our views about what we thought our relationships and ourselves should look like to our standard. We wanted control over the others experiences of us.

This was one of the ways we avoided change and growing. Other ways we avoided growth was through dissociative behaviors. Drinking for sure, but we mostly watched TV and read, as a way to escape from our own emotions and the emotions of others. This type of self absorbed behavior is a way to disconnect from the relationships in our lives. While also skirting personal growth at the same time.

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

This explains why I was never able to make the emotional connections with them that I was seeking. But this is still difficult to not only realize, but also experience. So the question is, how do we begin to rebuild connections we’ve lost so long ago, if we never really had them to begin with? Or how do we build new ones? Short answer: I don’t know. But, there are somethings I’m attempting, in hopes that I can start building my relationships a fresh.

Reconnecting with Ourselves & Our Relationships to Find Support

Finding support has been especially difficult work for me. Seeing as how I’ve had no guidance or role models in the realm of relationships. Everything I’m trying is either something new for me, or advice I’ve received from a trusted source, that I don’t fully understand. But I’m trying anyway, regardless of how difficult it may seem. Here are some of the ways I’m practicing personal connection, in hopes of fostering healthy connections and finding support.

Being Consistent

This is an important one for me. I had zero consistency from those who were supposed to be my role mode for healthy relationships. I usually took on too much responsibility for the other people in my life, usually because they were telling I was making them feel a certain way, and none for myself. Now that I’ve recognized that I’m in control of my half of my relationships, I’m learning to be accountable for myself, in them. This is also the new standard I’m setting for those I’m in relationship with too. They need to be accountable for themselves in our relationship as well.

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

So, I’ve set some new boundaries in our relationship. This is a person I want to spend time with. But if the relationship is one sided, i.e. I’m doing most of the work, it isn’t an equal, reciprocal relationship. So the new boundaries are, every Monday, one of us will make a plan for the next Monday. And we’ll take turns making plans for the upcoming week. This way, we both have an equal role in making the relationship work. Instead of one person doing the work and letting resentment build about the lack of shared responsibility.

Practice, Patience & Persistance

But this doesn’t come naturally for some people. For those of us who have been severely neglected, the most basic relational maintenance and upkeep are a mystery. This is why practice, patience and persistence are of the utmost importance when connecting with those who have little skill in keeping relationships afloat. We sometimes need these schedules, like my Monday standing dates, to remind us that relationships sometimes need a little maintenance. Because if you’ve only ever looked after yourself, then there’s a good chance you won’t be able to tell what the subtle nuances are that your relationship with another needs shoring up.

This is especially true for those of us who have learned to neglect our own needs. If you were neglected and abandoned as a child, there is little chance you will have learned to gauge how you are being treated isn’t normal. If you haven’t had healthy connection, this type of attunement is like putting a puzzle together blindfolded. This is where self-care can teach us how to find support in relationships.

Self-Care as Guidance

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

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

What’s Stopping Us from Caring for Ourselves

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

So instead of recognizing that we collectively had a weight problem, and that my caregiver did for others as a way to feel needed and simultaneously resenting those they did for because they were spreading themselves too thin, we called each other names. Like fat and lazy. This however, made everybody feel ill at ease. We were all just reacting to the emotions that were coming to the surface, without asking, “how can we change the ways we’re reacting to these emotion that won’t cause the other person pain?”

This is where being taught self-care, would have been a way for us to heal these wounds, and be more at peace in our own skins, together. By learning how to nourish ourselves in healthy activities and connections. Such as healthy eating habits or how to manage a healthy amount of responsibility, AKA boundaries, we could have communicated our emotion in a more positive way. Instead of tearing each other apart for not reaching an impossible standard. The result would have been, building self-confidence and self-worth. Having a sense of being intrinsically valuable. This is the power that self-care holds if fostered.

Reaching Out Often & Fostering Relationships

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

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

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

Finding & Fostering Connection

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

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

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

Sharing Intimacy

In my family, there was a lot of time and emotion spent on how we thought we needed to act, to feel accepted. As though we needed to live up to some impossible and ever changing standard. One that I’m not even sure where it came from or how we came to a consensus on the subject. If everybody was so uncertain of themselves all the time, how could we know for certain how to belong? It kind of blows my mind a little to think about the origins of our standards.

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

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

Finding Support Takes Persistence

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

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

Updated: 11/25/22

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

Self-Care: Setting Healthy Boundaries and Finding Balance

Setting healthy boundaries and balance. This is a tough one for a lot of folks including myself. We’re taught from an early age that it is better to give than to receive and that being selfless is a virtue. And in some cases those are noble values. But when the list of people to please and of tasks to do mount, what was a value can become a drain of your energy, vitality and your willingness to engage with those around you. And depending on the veracity to which you hold to these values, the effects can be dramatic.

Step One: Find Out Where Your Boundaries Are

I used to have poorly defined boundaries, as did those who were closest in to me. If I had a grievance with somebody, I would hold it in and resentment would eventually take hold. Leaving me with a silent grudge that was left to fester. But it wasn’t just me. Most of the people I was in close contact with day to day acted the same way. Arguments would erupt because of the smallest infraction or mistaken intention. All of which could have been avoided if we had just spoken candidly about how we felt about whatever the issue was.

I had a sort of falling out with a loved one recently who won’t talk to me because I asked them a question about a shared experience from our past. The question was benign enough. I asked if they had something from our youth that smelled of jasmine. They responded with, “I love you, but I just need time.” Time from what I’m not sure, but I know this person has a good heart. They just give more than they have to give and the result is, in this case anyway, a loss of a friend who could be a source of support.

We’ve all been in this person’s shoes. Too much to do and too many people and things to keep track of with not enough time to do it all in. The stress mounts until it feels like it’s all just too much to keep in. This is where setting healthy boundaries and finding balance by offsetting some of life’s stressors is most important. Ideally we would have some resources to fall back on before we get to this level of stress. But it’s never too late to take a break and give yourself the time and space needed to recover from the constant inflow of life stressors, whatever they may be.

Defining What Our Healthy Boundaries Look Like

One of the first steps in psychological self care is prevention. If the above scenario feels all too familiar, difficulty saying no to added responsibility, then setting healthy boundaries around saying no to added responsibility, will help to prevent some stress. It’s healthy to want to do for others. It’s one of the ways we create tight bonds and close relationships with one another and is one of the five love languages. But when we take on so much that the tasks we agree to do become a source of distress or breeds resentment, then we’re tearing apart the connections we were trying to build when we agreed to take them on in the first place.

Journaling

Alternately when stress does mount, journalling can be a way to put some distance between yourself and the situation. Giving yourself the time and space needed to gain a new perspective. Coming up with a resource list can be helpful as well. Something I’ve added to my journal for times when you feel as though you’ve run out of ideas or are just too tired to think. Check, been there 😀

I bullet journal. This is a mix of scrap booking/journaling/budgeting/day dreaming/daily planner, and whatever else you can put on a blank page. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination and it is a wonderful outlet for organizing life as it comes. I have a link to it over on my community page if you’re interested in starting one of your own. And don’t be intimidated either. You can start one regardless of whether or not you feel you’re artistic enough for such a project. It’s only for you anyways, unless you want to share it : )

Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

Laughter is another obvious, though sometimes elusive resource and release from stress. It seems funny because at any given moment if I were asked if I’d like to have a good laugh, I would most likely be happy to. But I’m usually too preoccupied or engaged in what I’m doing to relax enough. If you’re uptight like I am, not to worry. Humor is something that can be cultivated. One way is by searching for shows or comedians that strike a chord with you. Or by finding an author who speaks to your sense of humor.

And don’t forget conversations with friends, family or co-workers that you are able to be comfortable with can also be a great comedic interlude to your day. We all have a friend who is funny regardless of what they’re doing or saying. Text them and see what they’re up to. Maybe start a conversation around a funny thing that happened to you in the past. And asking about others’ funny stories can be the start of a great conversation. From my experience there are some gems out there just waiting to be told!

Though, stressful times are often when it’s most difficult to focus on cultivating a relaxed state. Being mindful of the times we are stressed can be a powerful tool in helping us to come back to the mindset that can help cultivate a relaxed way of being, while aiding in developing a sense of humor. By recognizing we are stressed, we can then realize that it is a passing emotional state and allow it to flow through us. Rather than tighten our focus on how to stop, avoid or get rid of the stress.

Relax, You’ll Be Alright : )

Exploring and cultivating interests and hobbies. Saying no to stressful situations and responsibilities when you know you’ve taken too much on. Journaling or spending time with friends and family communicating and laughing, are all ways to help cultivate a relaxed state of being. They also allow us the time and space necessary to create the healthy boundaries and balance that are so important in caring for our mental health and well being.

So whether it’s asking a co-worker to pick up a task that you know you just won’t have the time to do. Writing about the emotions that come up during the day in your journal. Or finding a new comic or author to immerse yourself in. Taking time to recognize when you’re stressed and how to bring yourself back to a more relaxed version of you is a skill worth cultivating. And one that will bring you peace and balance. Peace and thanks for reading : )

“Finding balance” by James Jordan is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Updated: 2/13/2022

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