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

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

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

Extreme Independence and Acting the Part

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

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

The Fear Under The Act of Extreme Independence

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

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

Forging Our Attachments

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

This, I imagine, is where extreme independence is adopted. Not knowing if we are accepted or loved by those who are supposed to love us unconditionally would add an undercurrent of uncertainty and fear to our everyday interactions with just about everyone we meet. The lessons learned being that no one is trustworthy and we need to protect ourselves from everybody. So we learn to survive. Feeling that the only person we’re able to trust is ourselves. And that’s only if we somehow learn to attune to our own needs! In my experience, this most likely comes in the form of pleasure seeking. And pleasure seeking is not substitute for attunement.

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

The Difference Between Isolation and Extreme Independence

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

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

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

Isolation Doesn’t Only Effect those Isolating

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

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

Knowing When to Take Healthy Breaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. And what I feel is worse is, that this isn’t something new. So the question I’m asking and I’m sure others are as well is, “are we all that united?”

The Divide

We’ve been talking about one divide or another in the U.S. for a long time. Economic and racial 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 isn’t being heard. Or at very least, feeling as though they’re not being heard when it comes to what’s important to them. This is not a recipe for feeling united, for sure.

That’s a lot of people. And if people aren’t feeling heard, united, they will find ways of making themselves heard to feel unity. This country was based on this premise. No taxation without representation. So we revolted. There are more positive ways to feel heard. Such as peaceful protesting or volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about. But there are also other, more tragic ways of being heard.

Unsettling Trends

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” movement. 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 through this before. Then it struck me. I realized that it reminds me of the ways my own family is divided. All of us in our own, small, fractured factions. Feeling hurt and unheard. We’re all alone, not knowing how to connect or if it’s even safe to reach out. This leaves me, and us, with the questions, what do we do now? How do we reconnect? Do we start from scratch? And build new relationships after having been so badly damaged from past abuses?

I know I’m not alone in this experience. Many people I’ve talked to have had similarly difficult familial relationships. And with a 50% divorce rate in our nation, 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.

Power and Its Effects

For example, abuse of authority may look similar from parent to child as it does from political authority to constituent. 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 unease 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 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.

Coming Home

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 either. 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. There’s an old saying that goes, “if you want to go fast, travel alone. If you want to go far, travel together”. Let’s see how far we can go. Thanks for reading, peace :]

If you’re interested in reading about healthy connection and feeling united, check these articles out:

Food and Family

Creating Healthy Boundaries

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 Just Positive Self Talk

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

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

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

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

Rigid Values Added to the Confusion

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

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

Consequences of Living the Toxically Masculine Life

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

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

Positive Affirmations and Self Talk

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

Checking the Baggage

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

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

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

Practice, Practice, Practice

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

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

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

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

Context Matters

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

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

Sometimes Being Kind Means Going Against the Grain

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

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

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

And Remember, Be Kind To Yourself

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

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

Selling Image, Selling Belonging

Buying Into Belonging

Finding Belonging isn’t always easy. So naturally there are many ways to take advantage of our not feeling belonging. For example, there’s a store nearby that sells all things home related. Bedding, mugs, kitchen wares, furniture and the like. And, as part of my evening routine I’ve been in the habit of burning candles. I find they set a relaxing tone with their ambient light and they help to ease some of the stress from the day. So off I went, to said local store, in search of some candles.

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

Image and Belonging

I bought the candle anyway, brought it home, unwrapped it and left it on my shelf next to some plants. I looked at it again and still found I had some aversion to the lettering and the word. It vaguely reminded me of something my sister would purchase. It was white, floral scented, nothing assumingly off about it. Then I understood what was bothering me about it.

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

Gender Roles and Image Branding

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

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

How We’re Raised and How That Effects Our Views

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

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

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

Feeling Belonging is Important

I could be reading into this a bit. I have a minor in communications so the critical side of me comes to the forefront whenever I see advertising involved. Especially involving something I’m interested in. But I feel like this candle is part of a larger problem. If we hear time and again that something we’re interested in is exclusive to a certain demographic, we may begin to feel like an outsider. Like we’re not worthy of belonging.

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

Repetitive Messaging and Our Belonging

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

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

What We Can do About it

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

What’s Trending

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

Trying to Buy Belonging

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

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

Finding Value In Ourselves Not Our Things

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

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

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

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

But it was not substitute for them. This is the trap that most people fall into when purchasing things they feel are in line with their values. The same ways I did with the desk. The wood was not reclaimed. In fact it was most likely harvested in a way that was environmentally unsound. Something not in line with my values.

You Can’t Buy Your Values

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

But that takes work. Something I was not inclined to do in my twenties. And if I could buy a desk that looked the part, while allowing me to avoid the work I could have been putting in, then that was what my younger self would do. Of course at the time I was unaware of the dynamic at play. I was just trying to fill a part. One that looked most appealing and trendy at the time. Luckily for me there are plenty of stores willing to aid me in looking to avoid work.

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

The Perennial Problem

I’m not stating anything new here. And I hope I’m not blowing any minds. But I’m often surprised at how it feels like every generation finds another way of buying into this system of buying values. I feel a large part of this cycle is perpetuated by the feeling of a lack of belonging. If we’re trying to fill our sense of self worth with the values we hold closest but only have a desk to represent our values, then we’re left as I was. Behind a desk, feeling confused and a little empty.

Feeling confused and a little like a empty left me thinking “why do I feel this way?”. Which led to me feeling slightly guarded, not wanting people to see that I wasn’t confident in myself and the values I was trying to represent. The vulnerability of not knowing that the things I buy don’t guaranty my belonging, but also of not knowing what would if I couldn’t buy it.

Where Are We Learning These Lessons

These feelings and beliefs are deeply entrenched in our society. I know I’ve learned them not only from companies with assistance from large advertising firms, but also from my family. I mentioned this in my Search for a Blog page. When you question your own belonging to the people who are supposed to accept and love you unconditionally, there’s usually a fear that comes with the uncertainty.

“Who will or could love me now”, may take the place of love and belonging. And if we let it, it will dominate our thoughts and actions in our relationships. This is where I believe Brene Brown’s phrase, “hustling for worthiness”, may take control of our reasoning selves. If we feel we’ve been rejected by the people we love most, than the most important goal becomes how do I get back what I lost.

That’s when we turn to whatever feels good in the moment. Or somebodies “answer” to your feeling a lack of belonging. What Tara Brach refers to as “false refuges”. This could be anything from alcohol to shopping (as were the cases with me and my family). But also drugs or even using other people, are also examples of false refuges. And unsurprisingly, they aren’t sustainable and they usually cause harm to ourselves and others. Which is why they’re named false refuges.

Finding Our Way To Belonging

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

Be Patient

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

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

Be Trusting and Forgiving

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

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

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

Self-Care Sundays! Coming to Terms With Your Fear and Neglect by Creating Healthy, Sustainable 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 that I had deeply entrenched beliefs about the nature of men. Mainly, men having to be tough and unfeeling while women were afforded the luxury of being pampered or taken care of.

What Are Your Beliefs About Self-Care Based On

If that was tough to read, then I’m on the right track because it definitely
did not feel good to write. The strong sexist overtones were literally and figuratively 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 emotions. I’m grateful that I found my way out of the maze they dropped me in, because it was a bumpy ride.

In my youth, I would spend my days watching one of my caregivers drink coffee all morning long, while driving to multiple locations to shop for clothing or house wares that they called running errands. They would then meet their mother and would gossip and complain about the people closest to them.

In the early evening they would switch to drinking vodka tonics, cooking dinner and paying bills or budgeting at the kitchen table and finish the night by watching hours of television. They were in perpetual motion. Or at very least, filled their time with distractions that would keep them from sitting with their internal life. I love my caregiver, but from them is where I learned to avoid my emotions with either chemicals or distractions.

My Unkempt Maze Of Emotions

The men in my life weren’t much more emotionally intelligent that the women. They would use mostly anger and aggression to hammer their points home. I don’t remember many teachable moments in my childhood from the men in my family. There was however, a lot of yelling and beatings for not following their rules. 

So it was here that I was left. In the maze of my lessons of neglecting my emotional self and the fear of the male role models in my life. Fear, anxiety and neglect were states I knew well growing up in my family. Though I now know that it wasn’t their fault. They themselves 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 you completely” was all of the unattended emotions. The ones that were wildly in need of some kind and structured attention. But when you’re a child learning how to communicate with your loved ones and learning the different types of languages they’re modeling for you, using their spoken and implied rules, it’s difficult to understand that it’ not your fault that you don’t understand. That it’s not personal.

Navigating Anger in the Family Maze Of Communication

Also, anger and conditional belonging can be another area to be fearful of when learning our place in the family structure. As children we’re the centers of our own worlds. When we sit at the kitchen table as children and listen to our parents cut up others for their perceived shortcomings often enough, it can be tough. Tough to know that when they turn their disdain towards us, in a moment of frustration and we become the target, that the we have not fallen into the category of “other”. Or that we no longer belong with or to our parents. In turn, showing us that the love our parents once gave so freely is conditional and unstable.

This can be a lonely place and one filled with fear for not feeling as though we belong and with it, feelings of self-doubt. I know I was left to wonder what I could have done that made my caregivers turn on me so quickly. And this family dynamic is something that I’ve carried with me. And inadvertently, have tried to recreate it in my other relationships. If the foundation of how we view ourselves is built on the criticisms of our family relationships, then we are left with a very unstable vision of how we see ourselves and our relationships. And luckily, this is where a self-care routine helped me overcome and nourish some of the fear and neglect that had been instilled in me from childhood.

Self-Care and it’s Positive Effects

From my experience, practicing self-care means we are sending the message to ourselves that we are important and valuable. And the more often we send ourselves these positive messages, the less we believe unhealthy messages. The ones of feeling unloved. Those that we receive by the neglect and abuse from our caregivers. As an old co-worker of mine used to say, it’s like you’re telling 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. Added to the neglect from the past it can feel insurmountable at times! But what helps us to embody and strengthen these messages of self-care we give to ourselves is, repetition and consistency. We need to make showing up for ourselves a habit.

Self-Care Routine, Self-Care Sundays

Which brings us to self-care Sundays! For me and my schedule, I needed to set some time aside each week. This is so I know I have some slotted time to relax. And even learning to relax is a challenge! So I started by choosing a time to begin to learn, which for me became Sunday nights. Since I work in the food industry, my Sunday is my Friday. So 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 my day or week gets, or the tasks that pile up, I’ve set aside some time where I can do something special for myself. Or just be. Without worrying about what I need to do next.

And this is where consistency is important. I needed the set structure of having a specific day and set time, to be able to learn that I could count on myself to show up. Or that I’m here, I care. 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 said above, from my experience growing up as a man, it was difficult societally because self-care has historically fallen in the realm of the feminine.

Self-Care is Everybody’ Job Not Gender Specific

Which was another obstacle I found myself navigating. Around the gender specific roles I was taught. Whom should do what. 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 by nature. I had to teach myself that kindness was not a feminine emotion, but a human one.

The following 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 and children. She cooked, cleaned and soothed her man using whatever means necessary. She was submissive and navigated her world with a childlike naivety and cruelty. 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 I couldn’t do it for myself. I was unable to feel kindness being a man, so instead, I needed a woman to feel it for me. Asides from this being an extremely unhealthy dynamic, it taught me the lesson that I couldn’t be kind to myself or others.

Gender Specific Emotions Breeds Contempt

As a child, I was given a considerable amount of unhealthy messages. Kindness being the woman’s job or even having emotions as being feminine, were a few of them. But to my younger self this made sense. This was due to all the men in my life being terrifying and the source of most of my abuse. But the women were just as fear provoking, 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 while enduring all the contempt we were generating under these unspoken rules.

Little did I realize that this was my family 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 belonging and care is threatened and you are unable to provide that care for yourself, then you would go to great lengths to try to control that source of external “care”. Even if it is abusive.

The Importance of Self-Care

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, we’re still capable of giving ourselves the care we need. We’re still worthy of love and we still belong. We’re not only willing, but perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves.

Now that I’ve gone over some of the ways we may find resistance in attempting 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 take care of ourselves. Till next time, 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

Edited: 6/3/22

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