Contempt & Pride: Relationship Destroyers

I’ve been thinking about the quality of my relationships lately and have come to the conclusion that they need some work. Actually, I don’t have many relationships. This realization left me feeling angry and sad. While I was thinking about what the root of the problem was, pertaining to my lack of relationships, I’ve finally decided that contempt, pride and hyper critical judgements were the foundation of most of my old relationships. From romantic to friendships to familial, most shared contempt as being their foundational element.

The Root

What sparked this for me was a dream I had recently. In the dream I was at work, which shifted to a bus stop, as is apt to happen in dreams. I was sitting next to a friend of mine, actually I believe he was my only friend, when I turned to my right and my ex was suddenly sitting next to me. We cried together, for what we shared in the past and when I looked up, there was a throng of people between us. I asked if they were going home. They looked confused as if they knew what to say, but didn’t want to reveal it to me. Then they vanished.

I knew in my dream what my old partner wanted to say, but was to proud to admit their feelings of vulnerability. I understand that this is only a dream. And most likely my subconscious processing some old emotions. But this interaction played out a thousand times in our relationship and in our daily interactions. Both of us too proud to show our true emotions to one another for fear of being vulnerable with one another.

As to where I learned to hide my vulnerabilities from those closest to me, this was the type of relationship that I had modeled for me by my family when I was a child. The same was also the case with my ex. We were just too proud to be open with our emotions in one another’s presence. And this type of holding back, from my experience, breeds contempt.

Contempt Ends Relationships

My family members are experts in this way of being in relationship. I especially was adept at using contempt to cover over my vulnerability and to distance myself emotionally from those closest to me. But to be fair, we were so mean to one another, that it felt crazy to want to get close to anybody else. Especially after the damage we had already caused. Why would we want to go back for more of the same?

The result? We lived isolated lives with few, if any, friends we could rely on for emotional support. We had been so emotionally damaged by one another, that we were unable and unwilling to connect. Or to even know what a healthy relationship looked like. In this climate, it is nearly impossible for a relationship to grow. In fact, our family is just now starting to reconnect after decades of our fields being left fallow. And that’s only after doing a tremendous amount of work on ourselves.

So the next question I asked myself was, if we are looking to be loved by our family and friends, why are we so mean to one another? I believe that most of us are looking to feel a sense of belonging to something larger than just ourselves. Usually that type of belonging comes from our immediate family. So if we want to feel loved by each other, then why are we pushing each other away? For me, I think it has to do with survival.

Surviving Our Closest Relationships

What I remember growing up, more than any other type of connection was, a hyper critical environment. No matter what I was doing, it was never good enough and there was always some cutting remark to be made at my expense. How did I respond to this? By raising the standard so high, that nobody would be able to achieve it. Especially those judging me.

This was how I learned to put distance between me and those who were looking to hurt me. This was my way of surviving in a loveless, hostile environment. My reasoning being, if you couldn’t meet my standard, I could look down on you with contempt. That way I could feel superior than those I was judging, while keeping my distance. However, this did not work.

What happened in reaction to what I was doing was more of the same. They would in turn raised the bar even higher than I had. And I in turn would raise it again. All the while all of us looking down on each other with contempt. This was a viscous cycle that continued until someone would have the strength to break free and change the course of our trajectory.

Changing Course

As I’ve said above, this isn’t easy. When I decided I no longer wanted to live a life where I was cutting people out, I realized I had already cut almost everybody out of my life. This is where it got tough. To look back at all the relationships I had and look for what was salvageable. And there was a lot of wreckage.

As a testament to how I was living, there are many people who, to this day, refuse to talk to me. These include almost everybody I would have considered my close friends and romantic partners. But I take solace in knowing that the relationships weren’t 100% my responsibility and there for not completely my fault.

Taking Your Half

This is something my father says often when talking about blame in relationships. Take your half. Half the blame, half the resentment, half the contempt… Whatever negative feelings you’re experiencing, know that it isn’t entirely your fault.

I came to this realization a little late in the game. The realization I came to recently was, that every loving relationship that I had with somebody close, that had ended in some big way, the number one take away for me was, it was my fault. I was so used to being abandoned by those closest to me, that I just began to think that it was me who was worth leaving. This however is not the case.

The more I thought about the disintegration and breakdown of my major relationships, the more I recognized that there was a pattern in the people who were doing the breaking up. Sure, I played my part, but the other halves in my relationships were unwilling to take responsibility for their part in our breakdown.

We were unforgiving and intolerant of each other due to the thousand tiny cuts we endured, which breed contempt for one another. So when it came down to whether we were able to forgive each other, the answer was a resounding no. Or at least that’s what it seems like from my perspective. Because it was never my intention to leave any of these relationships. I was the one being left.

Forgiveness & Mending the Pain

Forgiveness is something that I am recently coming to understand as a virtue. Historically, forgiveness has not been something that I’ve ever practiced. I would hold people to their actions and misdeeds and use it against them to apply pain or make someone feel guilty. I did this because it was what was modeled for me, but also because, it’s all I knew.

All of my friends, family and partners had a zero tolerance policy when it came to making mistakes. We were expected to be more than human in our relationships. I think this has to do with how high we were setting the standards, in order to feel superior to those trying to get close to us. This left no margin for error and anything short of perfection was unacceptable.

This was most prevalent in my family growing up, but it also translated to my romantic relationships as well. In one relationship, something had happened to wake me from my emotional cocoon. From the numbness I was living under for two decades. While I was waking to these new emotions, I had no idea what was happening. For scope, imagine being 32 years old and feeling accepted and understood for the first time since you were 8 years old, after experiencing a life’s time worth of traumatic events.

Putting Forgiveness into Practice

I was terrified. Realizing I was living life in a state of numbness and waking into the full spectrum of my emotional world was overwhelming. This is where I had began to make some bad decisions. But when it came down to making a choice, when I confronted my then partner with what was happening to me and what she wanted to do, she chose to leave. Like everybody else before her. She chose to avoid confronting the real work that needed to be done. Later I would try to run to Maine to start a blueberry farm for her, but that’s another story all together.

And it’s important to note that this isn’t a soapbox for me to hop on some high moral ground. I made my share of mistakes, that’s for certain. And I’m not trying to say that my ex didn’t have a difficult decision to make. But when it came to practicing forgiveness, something she would say we needed to do often, she was unwilling to.

And again, I know that this isn’t easy work. It’s one thing to look back on what we have done and criticize ourselves for not doing the right thing with the luxury of time and perspective. But when we’re caught in the moment and the emotions are so big that we can’t see our way out of them, it’s not so easy to see things rationally. So how do we get to a place where we can practice forgiveness? Even if it’s been something we’ve been avoiding for a very long time? Practice.

Practice, Practice, Practice

I know what’s true for me, is that contempt came easy because it was what I practiced. Everyday, while I was interacting in my relationships, I was practicing distancing myself from others by feeling contempt for them. So the antidote to that? Practice forgiveness.

For me, I started by getting in touch with the people that I had lost contact with. This was no easy task. And I should say that I didn’t go into the reconnection with an air of needing to forgive the other. That in itself can be arrogant. My main intention was to open up to the other. To let them know that, as a friend of mine used to say, “I’m here, I care.” And also because we were friends once. I genuinely want my friends to be happy and successful.

Though my intentions are good, they weren’t always met with warm regards. One person that hurt me particularly badly responded with, “blow it out your ass.” Something I can laugh about now, but it still doesn’t stop me from worrying about them from time to time. Which brings me to another facet of practicing forgiveness, humility.

Being Humble

This wasn’t so easy for me to practice. I was over the top with my machismo attitude and posturing. I wanted to be seen as in charge and beyond reproach. This goes hand in hand with me setting the bar too high to be questioned about my own actions. This was also my way of distancing myself from others. But it did little in the way of making me a strong individual.

My past self would hold on to the smallest insults. Blowing them way out of proportion and find ways to retaliate to make the other person feel small. But this made me aggressive and petty. Also unable to truly withstand the little blows that life dealt me.

What practicing humility means for me is, sitting inside of the discomfort of somebody else’s hurtful comments without reacting emotionally. It’s here that I’m able to release these emotions and let them pass without looking for some way to bolster my hurt ego. From this calm place, it is easier to find forgiveness.

So my friends, here is where I leave you. If you’re like me and have more than a few relationships in critical condition, know that it’s not too late. You can still work to reconnect and salvage some of those friendships. You won’t save them all, but that’s okay too. Take what you can from the experience and know that there are more likeminded people out there to meet still. Good luck, peace & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Broken heart” by bored-now is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

How to Own a Mistake: Hint, It’s Not Always Easy

In the very recent past, I had a conversation with my supervisor about the direction we are going to take at the agency that I work for. The talk didn’t go very smoothly at first, but we ended up close to on the same page in the end. Though during the conversation, there were a few things that really hit home. Namely, how surprisingly difficult it is for some people to take ownership of a mistake or in this case, a bad situation.

In contrast, my other place of employment is a place where we take ownership of our current situations and actions including our errors. Whenever a mistake is made, the person who’s made the error usually owns up to it almost immediately. This is a refreshing environment, and one I was definitely not raised in.

In the Family I grew up in, much like the environment of the first place I mentioned, though to their credit to a lesser degree, everybody had to be right no matter what the cost. Being wrong or not knowing the answer to something was a sign of “weakness”, according to the family dynamic. So why was it so difficult to just say, “I don’t know”, or “my fault, sorry”? I think it has something to do with how we were treated emotionally by those who were judging us and whether or not we believe we are “worthy” of love and belonging.

Shame, Disgust and Not Feeling Belonging

Growing up around my caregivers was tough. Everybody acted as though they were superior to one another and also as though almost every action, however small, was a personal affront to whomever was in close proximity, me included. This is no hyperbole. We also were in a perpetual state of tearing somebody’s character down verbally. We were mean and not afraid to make it be known.

So when one in our own ranks made a mistake, or erred in some way, rest assured we would jump at the opportunity to make that person feel as small as possible. Contempt was an emotion that flowed freely throughout all of our relationships, leaving us calloused and numb to one another. But it was the only way we could survive. To completely sever our emotions from ourselves so as not to feel the constant sting from the steady stream of cutting remarks. It was brutal.

And this is where the shame came into play. Someone would inevitably make a mistake, or say something that was incorrect, because we are human. Then the other would latch onto that mistake and tear whomever apart for it without reservation. The other would feel shame for the error and then feel excluded from the others who were pointing out their short comings. This is how my family built bonds, by excluding those around them to feel included.

So having a special relationship with someone usually came at the cost of cutting somebody else out. In My family, there was never any way to include people and feel belonging. We had to exclude people to feel special. And we excluded others when they made a mistake, something we could use against them to feel special, superior. As though we know how to be accepted and the other does not. As though we’re perfect. This however is a very lonely place to be.

Being Accepted Meant Not Making Mistakes

And this is why it was so important for the members of our family to never make a mistake, because it meant not belonging. This is why it was so difficult for us to own a mistake, admit we don’t know something or even to say we were sorry. Because if we did, we lost our rank in the family pecking order and on top of that, were abused emotionally and made to feel as though we had no inherent self-worth.

But this way of being only bred loneliness and contempt for each other. Because there were no bonds that held us together that were lasting in anyway. You could be turned on at any moment and cut apart by the person who you were just cutting someone else apart with. There was no loyalty and this way of being breaded contempt for one another.

So on top of feeling as though we never belonged, we also felt that we had to be perfect, in order to avoid the feelings of being severed from those we didn’t trust in the first place, to feel a sense of belonging. This is the definition of a dysfunctional relationship. In this environment, you couldn’t rely on anybody and you were always on your own, trying to find a way to belong while nursing the wounds that we were constantly inflicting on each other.

We were Left With So Much Contempt, But Where Does That Leave Us?

The short answer, lonely. Our family used to be large and gather frequently. We had some good experiences and times spent together. But slowly over the years, these bonds corroded under the blankets of contempt, shame and anger that we were fostering towards one another. We steadily drifted apart from each other and seldom speak now for fear of bring up one of the many old wounds we’ve inflicted to ourselves and each other.

And it’s here that I was left to choose, in what direction do I want to head? If you’ve read my post on “Rebuilding What’s Been Broken“, You’ll know that I’ve been choosing to rebuild those relationships from my past. I’ve come to the realization that it’s not about how we’re seen that’s important, but rather the people we spend our time with.

For me, it’s about building those relationships by cooking dinner together, sitting around the dinning room table and talking about our days. Finding that special someone to take a weekend trip with to go explore a new city or trail. These experiences are what matter most. Building something together, regardless of what’s been torn down in the past. But also recognizing that it’s not always easy.

Rebuilding Our Relationships By Owning Our Mistakes

So how do we get to a place where we can build these lasting and fulfilling relationships? One aspect is by owning our mistakes and apologizing if we’ve done somebody wrong.

Something as small as saying, “my bad” can go a long way to build trust in a relationship. It’s in this way that we’re essentially saying, “I made a mistake, but I’m willing to work towards making it right and healing the wounds I’ve caused.” And it’s a difficult thing to do. To be that vulnerable and say something that has, in the past, maybe severed our belonging. But it’s also in this vulnerability that we can learn to become stronger. As Tara Brach says, “we were wounded in relationship, we heal in relationship.”

Independence and Feeling Whole

Knowing that our belonging doesn’t hinge on one persons opinion of us is an important step to becoming strong enough to be vulnerable with those who have hurt us in the past. The key here is, to find a core group of people who support you and accept you in the healthy and unconditional ways that we may not have been accepted in the past.

For me, I have a few friends and some close family that I know I can rely on to help me out and accept me where I’m at, regardless of what that may look like. For example, I may be feeling lonely and just need someone to recognize that and just be there. Believe it or not, this was something that was seen as a weakness in my past relationships. You may need to shore up some boundaries before finding these new healthy relationships, so you don’t fall into old patterns, but once you’ve found them, they are invaluable in helping to foster a sense of safety and feeling accepted.

And this may seem like a no brainer, but acceptance almost always starts with accepting ourselves and where we’re at. If we can’t accept ourselves for who we are, if we’ve picked up the reigns of those in our pasts in telling us we don’t belong, and have turned that message inward, then no matter how much we do or try to gain another’s approval, we’ll never feel accepted because we haven’t accepted ourselves.

For me, this journey took some time to go through. I wasn’t really even sure what healthy belonging looked like at first, because for so long I was used to feeling pushed to the side. I thought belonging wasn’t worth while unless I needed to work towards it. Turns out, this was a super unhealthy way to view my sense of belonging. So what are some healthy ways of self acceptance? I think that self trust is an important and foundational place to start.

Self-Trust, Self-Care

In my experience, my self-care has gone a long way to show me that I’m able to trust myself. When I take the time to slow down and take care of my needs and find comfort in my day, I’m really telling myself, “I know it’s tough sometimes, but I’m here and taking care of myself when I need the break.” Or as an old coworker of mine used to put it, it’s like you’re saying to yourself, ” I’m here, I care” -Heide.

This is also something that’s built and takes time to build. It’s taken me a few years to really get to know what I need and when to slow down and take breaks, while caring for myself when I need it. This may be something that is especially difficult if you’ve experienced neglect in your past. After all, our model for self care come from our caregivers. And if they’ve neglected us in the past, those are the lessons we’ll most likely take into our futures.

Self-Care Routines

Cooking

It was important for me to incorporate this aspect of self-care into my schedule. This way I can build in some down time during the week when I know I’ll need it most. This usually comes in the form of my self-care dinners that I make for myself once a week. I plan a special dinner that I know I’ll enjoy, take my time cooking it, mostly because I enjoy the process but I also don’t want to feel rushed. Then I make my environment comfortable and inviting by lighting some candles and turning on my essential oil diffuser and put on some relaxing music.

It’s a nice way to unwind and enjoy something that I’m fond of. And the more I do it, the more I’m able to trust that I’m caring for myself and am cementing myself in belonging to myself. Then I can extend that belonging to those closest to me and build stronger relationships from a more whole place.

Other ways I care for myself are by batch cooking my meals for a two week period at a time. I take one day to cook, something I’m used to doing anyway being in the food service industry, then I have an easy reheat for the next two weeks. This frees up a lot of time, especially if you have a busy schedule like I do.

Cleaning

I also enjoy a clean and organized environment. Coming home to a mess, for me, is stressful. So I try to keep my spaces as clean as possible, to feel as relaxed as possible when I’m spending time in them. I usually do this on my days off, cleaning the spaces I use most while my diffuser slowly fills my space with my favorite scent. Then I can relax with a cup of iced herbal peach tea and write or watch something to help me feel more at ease.

Owning Ourselves = Feeling Belonging

And it’s when we own these feelings, the ones that are difficult and it’s usually unique to our individual experiences. Maybe it’s a sense of shame or of inferiority, it’s then that we realize that they are only passing, and not who we really are. We are so much more than the opinions of somebody who is withholding acceptance from us. All we have to do is realize this, accept ourselves and our feelings and trust that we are worthy of belonging. It’s from this place of self-care and acceptance, that we can truly feel belonging. To ourselves and others, but also find others who will accept us as we are, without condition.

And it’s tough, don’t forget. We may slip up along the way. But these are great opportunities to accept that we are not perfect and that it’s okay to be human. So next time you make a mistake, try to see if you can own it. It may be tough at first, but in the end, it’ll definitely help you to feel more confident in who you are. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “‘You can learn by making mistakes’” by AmberStrocel is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

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