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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

United we Stand..?

I’m from the United States, so for the past few months the only thing that anybody’s been talking about is the election. And I have to admit, I’m breathing a bit easier now that Biden has officially won. But the degree by which this election was called, the contrasting starkness of how this country is divided, is more than a little concerning. This isn’t something new.

We’ve been talking about one divide or another in the U.S. for a long time. Economic, racial, socio-economic, to name a few, but in a system that has two parties that represent two very different halves of the whole, it stands to reason that one half of the country is not being heard, or at least feeling like they’re not being heard, at any given time.

That’s a lot of people. And if people aren’t being heard, they find ways of making themselves heard. There are more acceptable ways, such as peaceful protesting or volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about. But there are other, more tragic ways of being heard. The popular trend of school shootings comes to mind. Something that seemed unimaginable in the not so distant past is now unsettlingly familiar.

Or the “proud boys”, a recent neo-fascist organization that is known for political violence. These are truly unsettling trends, but something about this divide feels all too familiar. Like I’ve lived this before. Then I realized that it reminds me of the ways my own family is divided. All of us in our own, small, ununified factions, feeling hurt and unheard. We’re all alone, not knowing how to connect or if it’s even safe to. Then we’re left with the question, what do we do then? How do we reconnect, or start from scratch and build relationships after having been so badly damaged from past abuses?

I know I’m not alone in this experience. Many people I’ve talked with have had difficult familial relationships and with the national average of almost a 50% divorce rate, it isn’t difficult to see that we are literally a nation divided. It’s also clear that what happens in the smaller units of our families, are the building blocks of what happens in the larger whole of the society that these families compose.

For example, abuse of authority may look similar from parent to child as it does from political authority to voter. Both authorities have the power to take rights away from those who are in their charge. So the settings are similar in some regards. And it’s in those settings of overlap that I want to search for similarities in hopes of finding how we relate to one another. How we may be able to help to heal some of the dis-ease of those who are feeling as though they aren’t being heard. Because regardless of how those who feel unheard react, they are still people. With just as many feelings, hopes, needs and rights as everybody else.

And who’s job is it to listen to those, the members of our society, if it isn’t our own as members of that same society. It is in this vein that I want to explore these areas here on the blog. I don’t have a set list of issues, or even know when I’ll be posting them, or where to even begin, but one thing is for certain, we can’t keep pretending that everybody is being accounted for when there is such a stark divide among us.

This mentality breeds an, I’m right and you’re wrong, way of thinking. In short, those who think they’re right, stop listening to those who they see as wrong. Depending on who holds the power, that could make for dangerous circumstances. And we need to learn to listen to one another again. To be sure, there are probably some puns to be made or parallels to be drawn about how political labeling is in line with the ethos of this blog. And there will be time for that, but right now there is work to be done. We’ve been a house divided for far too long. It’s time to make the journey back home, to one another.

It’s not something that will likely be easy. But few things that are worth the time usually are. But do not lose hope. We’ve seen difficult times before, we can travers them again, together. Thanks for reading, peace :]

Image Credits:“No Known Restrictions: Picketing the White House When Coolidge Refuses to Listen (LOC)” by pingnews.com is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Affirmations: More than Positive Self Talk

“Affirmations? Really?” That used to be how and what I thought about them. Of course my introduction to them was from the Saturday Night Live character, Stuart Smalley, and his daily affirmation, “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 make fun of those willing to look for something that would make them stronger, more resilient. Of course I was thirteen and knew everything at the time, so I should probably cut my younger self some slack ;]

All joking aside, I’ve come to see affirmations in a much different light as when I was a teenager, and have been using them as a way to help create a sense of stability. 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 brought up to believe that things like affirmations were for the ineffectual, the weak.

According to my family, I was a man at eight years old after my parents divorced. I became “the Man of the house”, or so I was told by almost every male role model. Almost as 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 this all seems ridiculous, but when I was eight, it felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders.

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 my family comfortable. Something I’ve created an affirmation around to combat this sense of toxic masculinity that was handed down to me. But it was 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 I should be, according to how I saw those closest to me behave. It was anxiety producing and most of the time I was filled with fear.

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 was creating around me. 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”.

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 and doubt that had become my M.O. for so long. That’s when I began using positive affirmations.

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

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 and how I was relating to my emotional experiences of them, so I could give my affirmations direction.

I mainly focus on the ways that I’ve experienced trauma and how unsafe I feel around others. As well as the loneliness of the neglect and verbal abuse I experienced in my childhood. I’ve been doing this work with the help of a therapist, who has been an invaluable resource for me on my journey, and if there’s one bit of advice I can give, it is do not go this alone.

There are many times where I need the guidance of someone who knows about the path I’m on. And if you were left with caregivers like mine, you may not have many healthy lessons to reflect back on. This is exactly where outsourcing some healthier new views on how to handle experiences in the present, that may bring up old ways of reacting to emotions that may help you to see them from a more positive, strength based perspective. This can make the difference between establishing a healthy, lasting change, or opening an old wound that you may not be capable of processing alone at the time.

And it’s after the work of understanding how we react to our emotions and experiences is done, that we’re then able to forge affirmations that can help us to facilitate change. Mine are a work in process, and alter slightly as I come to understand how I react to the maladaptive lessons I’ve learned to use over the years, to navigate my emotional states.

It’s only now that I’m learning 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 the maladaptive lessons I was taught on how to be with my emotions that got me to where I am today, so I wasn’t totally surprised to find out that it takes lots of practice to reinforce the more positive perspectives I wish to embody. A little frustrating for sure, but not surprising.

And this is where it gets difficult. We have to navigate the result of years of negative reinforcement, while introducing the positive aspects of how we want to interact with our emotions. It can be tricky to figure out on your own. Especially if there has been a lot of verbal abuse. This is where persistence is key to making a lasting, positive change and the aid of someone who can help to steer you back on the path when inevitably you veer off.

One way I’ve veered from the path, many times, is when I’m caught in the grip of some irrational fear that I know stems from my abuse in some way. When the fear sets in, usually in the form of negative thinking, my mind insists on believing the horrible 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 the space necessary to gain a clear perspective when I’m in the thick of these difficult 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, as they do in day to day life events. For example if you’re insecure about meeting new people, or being judged, 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.

I say mine once a day, and sometimes, if a part of them comes to mind, I scan my circumstances to see if it’s tied to an old belief in how I’m relating to it and my current situation. 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, just 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. And the more often I practice them, the better and more confident I feel about myself while being able to endure the difficult emotions and finding my footing onto more stable ground.

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 and 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, more courageous.

I know it seems clicie, 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, but right here. All we’re really doing when we use affirmations is reminding ourselves of what’s already right here. The frase namaste comes to mind, 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 by focusing on the positive in us by using specific affirmations in the ways we feel we are lacking in confidence. Or seeing the positive in ourselves. It’s already right here, we just have to recognize that it’s here.

Using affirmations can be a good foundation to find the personal strength needed to build, or as it was in my case, rebuild the basics of healthy relationships with others, healthy self-image and how we care for ourselves. 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 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 give it some serious thought. 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

Selling Image, Selling Belonging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Care Sundays! Coming to Terms with your Fear and Neglect of Self by Creating Healthy, New, and Self-Sustaining Habits.

Self-care. This used to be a term I knew almost nothing about. For a long time, I didn’t know I had needs that weren’t food, clothes, shelter or water (more like beer actually). Anything beyond the realm of survival was definitely not on my radar. A younger me would most likely scoff at the idea. Self-care in my mind equated to something like getting a mani-pedi. If you’ve read my post on toxic masculinity, you’ll know I had a deeply entrenched belief about the nature of men having to be tough and unfeeling while women were “afforded the luxury” of being pampered and taken care of.

If that was tough to read, then I’m on the right path because it definitely
did not feel okay to write. The strong sexist overtones were literally and metaphorically beaten into me from the time I was a small child. This is no exaggeration. My family ran from their emotions using so many different modalities that I’m not surprised that I literally did not know what it was like to experience them. I’m surprised that I found my way out of the maze they dumped me in at all.

I would spend my days watching my mother drink coffee all morning long while driving to multiple locations to shop for clothing or house wares that she called running errands. She would then meet her mother and they would gossip and complain about the people closest to them in their lives. In the early evening she would switch to drinking vodka tonics, cooking dinner and paying bills or budgeting at the kitchen table. She would finish the night by watching hours of television. She was in perpetual motion or at very least she filled her time with distractions that would keep her from sitting with her internal life.

I love my mother but from her is where I learned to avoid my emotions with either chemicals or distractions. The men in my life weren’t much more emotionally intelligent either. Using mostly anger and aggression to hammer their points home. I don’t remember many teachable moments in my childhood. Where an authority would sit me down and explain to me why what I just did wasn’t the safest or best way to react to a situation. But there was a lot of yelling and beatings for not following the rules. 

So it was here that I was left. The maze between my mother’s teachings of neglecting my emotional body and the fear I learned from the male role models in my life. Fear and neglect were emotional states I knew well growing up in my family. I now know that it wasn’t their fault. They were “faced with something that could consume you completely”, to quote a song lyric from Grimes’ “Skin“.

In the case of my family, what could consume them were all the unattended emotions that were wildly in need of some kind, structured attention. But when you’re a child just learning how to communicate with your loved ones and learning the languages they’re modeling for you with their spoken and implied rules, it’s difficult to understand that it’s not you. It isn’t personal.

As children we are often the centers of our own worlds. When we sit at the kitchen table listening to our parents cutting up others for their perceived shortcomings often enough, it can be tough to suss out when they turn their disdain towards us in a moment of frustration and the child becomes the target, that the children have not fallen into the category of “other”. Not belonging with and to their parents. Showing the child that the love the parents once gave so freely is conditional and unstable.

This can be a lonely place. One filled with fear for not belonging and self-doubt, as to what the child could have done that made their parents turn on them so quickly. I know for myself, that this was how I was feeling and it is something that I’ve carried with me through the years. If our foundation of how we view ourselves is built on these criticisms then we are left with a very unstable vision of how we see ourselves. This is where a nourishing self-care routine came to help me overcome some of the self-doubt and fear that had been instilled in me from very early on.

From my experience, when we practice self-care, we are sending the opposite message to ourselves. One of being important, being valuable. The more often we send ourselves these positive messages that we care enough about ourselves to nurture ourselves, the less we are to believe the messages of neglect and abuse we received from our caretakers in our youth. As an old co-worker of mine used to say, it’s as though you are saying to yourself, “I’m here, I care”.

And a little bit of care goes a long way. Especially since we have everyday stressors to deal with, and if you add neglect on top of that, it can feel insurmountable at times! But what helps to embody these messages of care we take for ourselves is repetition and consistency. We need to make showing up for ourselves a habit.

Which brings us to self-care Sundays! I know for me, I needed to set some time aside each week, so I could just relax. And even learning to relax was a challenge! So it started with finding the time to begin to learn, which for me is Sunday night. Since I work in the food industry, my Sunday is my Friday, and I thought, “what better way to start my weekend than with a little down time for myself”.

The consistency of my routine being once a week gives me the sense that I’m valuing myself, and my time. I know that no matter how stressful the day gets or how many tasks pile up at work, I have some time to myself where I can do something special for myself. Or just be without worrying about what to do next.

And this is where consistency is important. I needed the set structure of having a specific day, with a set time, to be able to learn that I could count on myself to show up. To focus on myself with a kindness and attention that I hadn’t received before from those who were supposed to show me how it’s done. And as I’ve stated above, it’s even more difficult for men because societally, self-care has historically fallen in the realm of the feminine.

Which was another obstacle I found myself navigating around. I felt a mix of guilt, shame and a little bit of fear for showing kindness to myself. As though this was not my job. I was swimming against the current of my family’s unspoken rule of showing kindness at all. It was not only seen as a sign of weakness for a man, but also feminine in nature. I had to teach myself that kindness was not a feminine emotion, but a human one.

The following paragraph sums up the types of role modeling my family members exemplified in my childhood. The man of the house made a living and had a career. He was the unquestioned authority and head of the household. He used violence and aggression to keep his family in line and protected. The woman was caretaker of the man, cooked, cleaned and soothed him using whatever means necessary. She was submissive and navigated her world with a childlike naivety. Alcohol and denial were the two tools most often used to keep this model “working”.

Under this model I was taught that I needed a woman to be kind to me because that was the work of women. I was unable to feel kindness being a man, so I needed a woman to feel it for me. Asides from this being an extremely unhealthy dynamic and possibly co-dependant, it taught me the lesson that I couldn’t be kind to myself or others.

As a child I was given a considerable amount of mixed messages. Kindness being the woman’s job or even having emotions being feminine, being a few of them. But to my younger self it made sense because all the men in my life were terrifying and the source of most of my abuse. While the women were neglectful and spiteful. So fitting into the roles I had laid out for me meant I needed to be hard and unfeeling. In control of myself and others. But it was these roles that were causing me a considerable amount of fear and anxiety.

Little did I realize that this was my family’s way of trying to control their external experiences to feel more in control of their internal worlds. If everybody acts the part that’s pre-approved, then everybody knows where they stand with one another. But asides from being unhealthy, this also takes the spontaneity out of life. Trying to predict everybody else’s emotional states and reactions in order to feel safe in a relationship is more like surviving than being in a conscious loving relationship. And not allowing for people to change is just as bleak an outlook.

What I feel was the missing piece to my family’s way of being in relationship was, they were relying on someone else to take care of themselves while they took care of another. And if your source of care is on the line and you are unable to provide that care for yourself, then I imagine we would go to great lengths to try to control our sources of care. How we’re loved, seen and belong.

This is why self-care is so much more important than just taking ourselves out to dinner once in a while. It’s a way to show ourselves that even if we don’t have someone who is willing to take care of us in certain ways, we are still capable of giving ourselves the care we need. We are still worthy of love and we still belong. We’re not only willing, but perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves and it can be enjoyable too.

Now that I’ve gone over some of the ways we may find resistance in attempting a little self care, next week I’ll go over some of my routines and how I made them stick. Because it’s not always easy starting a new routine. Especially one that is at the very core of how we picture ourselves and how we imagine the rest of the world sees us. Till next time, bring an open mind. Peace 🙂

Image Credits: “2015-03-18c What do I do for self-care — index card #self-care #happiness #comfort” by sachac is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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