Aggression and Dominance Are Not Benchmarks of Masculinity

I’ve been dealing with some pretty heavy topics lately, so why change the pace now : ). I want to talk a little about anger and aggression, how they were related to dominance in my past and a little about how to avoid them taking control of our actions and internal, emotional worlds. This is a tough one for many, including myself, so if you’re sensitive to the subject, take it slow. Good advice for many subjects for sure.

When is it Okay to Display Your Temper?

In the culture I grew up in, in the eighties and early nineties, it seemed that losing your temper was no big deal. People were pretty angry a majority of the time. And if they weren’t already angry, they were apt to fly into a rage with expedience. At least, this was how I remember many of the role models in my generation being.

But we were also idolizing characters from action movies who were supposed to be the epitome of masculinity. I remember a scene from one such movie, I believe it was “Rambo 3”, where Rambo cauterized a gunshot wound by breaking open a bullet, placing the gunpowder on his wound and igniting the powder! This seems a tad unreasonable to me : ). But those were the times that we were living in. And every boy and man alike, that I knew at least, wanted to be that type of man.

This type of bravado was the norm and something to aspire to in the culture of my youth. And this is nothing new, to be sure. My father will sometimes tell me about the westerns he watched as a child. Clint Eastwood being another unreasonable role model for a young child. Though when you grow up around this type of violence, it’s bound to leach into your personality some. This being said, we also have control over our own actions and the ways in which we relate to our emotions of anger and our aggression.

Parenting and Aggression

And this type of aggression was definitely present in my family’s parenting styles. And I don’t want to make this a post about how unjustly I was treated a child. I’m not holding any grudges against those who mistreated me. It was common practice back then and I can only imagine the fear that comes with raising a child. That said, I gave both my parents a run for their money when it came to parenting me. It couldn’t have been easy, that’s for certain.

But what happens when we are consistently showing our aggression to exercise dominance over those we love? From my experience, losing your temper without attuning to those you hurt, if done often enough, leads to feelings of severed belonging. This was most definitely how I felt, and the more I speak to my parents, the more I’m realizing it’s how they felt too. So why did we choose fear, dominance and aggression, over tempered and patient guidance?

I’m sure that fear is a large part of the picture, but fear from what? I can remember being torn apart by my grandfather, verbally, when I was very young, four maybe five. I believe that was one of the many pieces of the puzzle that turned my idea of family from something that was warm and caring to something terrifying and anxiety provoking.

A Legacy of Brutality

I believe my family held on to this parenting style so tightly because it was all they knew. They were too wrapped up in their emotions of anger and feelings of loosing control that they couldn’t see that there were other ways of doing and being.

For anyone that’s been caught in the grip of an emotion, you’ll know that it’s no easy to see your way out of it. We’re so focused on what’s happening to us in the moment that we can’t relate to anything outside of our experience at the time, before or after. And I believe this is where my parents found themselves when they were using tactics such as aggression and dominance to control their surroundings.

I imagine they were feeling in over their heads. Responsible for the little lives they brought into the world and on top of that, the guidance they received from their parents was probably just as brutal, if not more so. For this reason I can empathize with those who have experienced this type of aggression.

Changing the Ways We Relate to Our Aggression

Though, even though we may have been relating with each other through use of force of will or trying to control using aggression, it isn’t how we have to be with one another. We can choose to relate to one another with kindness and loving attention. Easier said than done, right? So how do we make the change from feeling our only option is loosing our temper to relating to others with kindness? For me, it started with slowing down long enough to understand what I was feeling, while I was feeling it.

Slowing Down the Pace

I used to drink a lot of coffee. And on occasion I would take an Adderall to help me through the day. This was however, unsustainable. It left me unable to recognize how I was feeling while I was in the middle of having an emotion. All I felt was the buzz from whatever I ingested and in a way I was really running from what was right here. Which most of the time was a lot of fear and anxiety. So what was I so afraid of?

Most of the time it was connecting with people in an authentic way. I had been so cut apart from my family growing up, that I was massively ashamed of the person I was. Not realizing that their critical judgements of me, is not who I am as a person. But I was so focused on the uneasy feelings that I didn’t have the bandwidth to take in new information. Information that could have helped me to feel more at ease with my emotions.

Meditation Helps

I stopped drinking coffee a while back, maybe seven years ago. This helped to slow my pace down long enough to know how I was feeling. I drink a cup of tea here and there, but for the most part I’ve given up my caffeine intake. It isn’t always easy, but I feel better when I’m more in my emotional space. And around the time I gave up drinking coffee, I also started to meditate. This helped immensely with coming to know my feelings.

The longer I stayed, the more I was able to understand what was happening to me in the moment. I could now give names to the emotions I was trying to speed past before. And it feels good to finally connect with my emotional world again. Something that hasn’t been the case since my early childhood. It’s something that takes a lot of patients, but once you’re able to sit with your emotions, it’s as though a whole new world opens up to you. But once you slow down, how do you know what to do next? In order to avoid falling back into old familiar patterns of aggressive ways of being? For me, it started with recognizing what was happening to me, while I was experiencing it.

Patience and Asking Inwardly, The Answer Usually Will Come to You

What I’ve been doing, as a way of recognizing what’s been happening in my emotional world while slowing down enough to recognize what’s happening is, when I feel an intense emotion, I pause. After I let the emotion pass, I then sit with my experience of what just happened. Then I ask why it’s here, what does the emotion need?

A great example of this, and one I’ve come to understand more recently is, sometimes when I here a child’s voice ask a question, I suddenly feel a sensation in my groin and throat. My groin due to me experiencing my initial abuse, and my throat because when I told my caregiver what happened, they turned their back on me. So the sensations are really trying to tell me that, my emotional self is still waiting to be heard by my caregiver, long after the time for attunement has passed.

Afterwards, I like to take a page from Tara Brach’s book and nurture the emotional self that’s hurting. This step is crucial for building the trust that was severed so long ago. First, by my parents, and secondly, by myself for picking up treating myself the ways they left off. I assure myself that I’m safe and secure. I remind myself of the ways I’m taking care of myself now. My workout, my cooking healthy meals and taking time to achieve my financial and career goals. All in all it has been so healing to nurture myself after the waves of fear subside. It’s been a really gratifying process.

The Frustration of Not Feeling Heard

Another way that the fear comes to manifest in my day to day is, when I’m texting. I use swipe-to-text, so often times my words are misspelled when the auto correct doesn’t always work as intended. This brings up a primal fear in me though. Something that is more unsettling than just a spelling mistake. And I believe it has to do directly with, not being able to communicate myself in the way I feel I need to.

This is directly linked to my parent turning their back on me when I told them about my abuse. But now, instead of reacting from a place of anger and slamming my phone down or seething with anger, I stop, recognize what’s happening inside of me and where it’s coming from. This is the time where I can see the fear for what it is, the fear of not being understood and feeling unsafe because of it.

And this is something that we all have a mild anxiety about. Not feeling heard or seen. Our feelings not being attuned with to some degree. This is natural, and something to be nurtured and cared for. That being said, it isn’t always easy. These are the times where we may need to practice a little self-care, after experiencing a wave of unsettling emotions.

Self-Care And Nurturing Your Emotional World

For me, I have a list of resources that I know I can rely on to sooth myself when I need a little extra boost to keep me grounded. Here’s a copy of my list:

Resource list: Don’t feel like you have to settle for something lesser. You deserve the best possible life. Be persistent.

Herbal tea. Friends and family. Journal. Clean living and work spaces. Music. My plants. Smiley faces. My blog. Hot showers. Candles.

Values:

  • Kindness to myself and others, be forgiving, don’t talk badly about others or myself.
  • Physically fit and a healthy lifestyle so I can avoid injury and stay healthy. Another way to care for myself ūüôā
  • Patience and calm
  • Women are not sex objects
  • Hard working and take pride in my work. Do a good job whatever I’m doing. Don’t cut corners.
  • Honesty
  • Stay away from drugs. alcohol is okay once and a while.
  • Find the time to relax and take care of myself.
  • Be humble, watch my judgements of people.
  • Stay clean and organized
  • Don’t over consume, less is more.

I added a list of values to my resource list due to me needing a reminder of the ways I want to be in the world. It isn’t always easy to follow, but it’s worth the while. And I feel better for it : )

I hope you’ve found this helpful in some way. As always, I’d love to hear from you and maybe some of your fears and resources. And remember, you’re not in this alone, we’re all in this together. Peace, : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Anger” by Isengardt is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Rebuilding What’s Been Broken: Why I’m Repairing The Broken Bonds From My Past

With any amount of luck, your past will not resemble mine. I’ve left more than a few broken relationships in my wake through the years I’ve been on this planet. But in my defense, I was never taught how to foster and nurture, caring and loving bonds. It just wasn’t in my upbringing.

But regardless of how I got here, they are still my broken relationships and therefore, my responsibility to do what I can to make right what I neglected and abandoned so long ago. In the following, I’ll go over what some of my past experiences were, how I realized I needed a change and what I’m learning about repairing the relationships I’ve neglected. Let’s jump in.

Where To Even Start

I began the work of setting my relationships right a few years ago. I can’t really explain how I got to the place where they had been neglected so badly except, it was how I was taught to treat them. I was left alone in a house, raised by television, until I was old enough to realize that I didn’t have to stay inside anymore. It was then, in my early teens, that I began roaming around the city I grew up in, looking for ways to drink or have a good time, avoiding going home to the neglected and abandonment, in a house that used to feel like a home.

So instead of building lasting friendships and tight bonds with others, I was looking for someone to buy me alcohol so I could avoid the pervasive loneliness I was living with for so long. I think the worst part about it was, I didn’t even realize that that’s what I was doing. It just felt good in the moment, drinking to avoid feeling. But I’m sure most people feel that way when they’re in the middle of making a bad choice. Like eating that extra pastry or skipping this workout just this once. For me it was drinking that extra 4-5 beers or popping a pill.

But what I was really avoiding was, the hard work I needed to put in, in order to get the return I desired, lasting friendships. I was an expert at this. I was drinking to avoid coming home to my emotional world and racked up enough debt to keep me busy paying it off for years. And along the way, I think I neglected all of my relationships almost to the point where I had nobody to rely on. This was a frightening place to be.

Arrogance: The Relationship Destroyer

When I saw the mess I had made of my relationships, that’s when I realized something needed to change. Not to mention how lonely I was feeling. I was lonely because I had been pushing everybody away to protect myself from getting hurt. By them leaving me or tearing me apart as most people had done to me in my past. And one of the ways I isolated was by acting arrogant, better than those around me.

I went into this a little in last weeks post about impossible standards. My caregivers had held me to such a high standard, that there was no way that I would ever meet it. So instead of admitting that I wasn’t “good enough” for my caregivers by failing to meet their standards, I chose to adopt the same method of keeping people at a distance as was being done to me. By acting as though nothing were good enough to meet my standards.

I hadn’t realized that my caregivers were acting from the same hurt place of feeling insecure as I was, or that I had learned how to disconnect from others through them. I only knew that I felt like I wasn’t enough to be loved. So I was scared of other people “realizing” the same thing I had felt and endured, not realizing it wasn’t my fault. We were all too arrogant to let our guard down for long enough to realize that, we all wanted the same thing. To be loved and accepted by one another.

And this is how I neglected just about every relationship I had. Too afraid to connect, too scared to be alone. These were confusing times filled with anxiety and a pervasive loneliness. But things changed for me when I thought I fell in love with a woman. Something changed in me that woke me and suddenly made me realized that the ways in which I was living were truly unsustainable.

What Really Matters

It was in this life changing relationship that I truly felt heard and seen for the first time since I was abandoned in my childhood. This is when I came to understand that what really matters isn’t how somebody else sees you, or what they think about you, but instead it is about the quality of the connections you have with these people.

Most of my connections with others were based on how I wanted them to see me. Which was really whatever they wanted me to be, so I could feel liked, accepted and approved of by them. It was all a game on the most superficial of levels. I thought that if I looked or acted a certain way, the way that I saw those I was seeking attention from act, that I would then be loved and accepted those I was acting like.

But what I didn’t realize was, that they were just acting the part also. Not really knowing what to do to feel belonging. So they did what they saw others do that gained them acceptance. It seems so silly thinking about it now, because it’s something a simple, direct and honest conversation would have resolved. But we were so insecure in our belonging that we were scared to death to even broach the topic.

Instead we just did the dance of trying to follow whatever trend was popular in hopes that someone would accept us for our rendition of it. When I thought I was in love, I thought I was feeling the recognition of being seen for who I was, not the person who was hustling for others approval that I was putting on, and feeling accepted for the authentic person I thought they saw in me. But they really fell in love with the version of me that I was acting as, not who I was.

The relationship ended in a way fitting to how it began. But it made me think about how I had built my relationships in the past and how I wanted to build them going forward into the future. I’ve come to the understanding that, our connections to one another, in authentic and intimate ways, are really what matters most.

But I also understood that, you don’t write people off. I recognized the changes I went through, how difficult they (the changes) were to initiate and endure as they were happening and the resiliency I cultivated in the process. And if I could do it, than others could do it too. This is what made me reach out to the people that had once populated my past self’s life and ask for a fresh start.

Authenticity

What I’ve come to understand about what being authentic means to me is, that I never really wanted to be mean or arrogant in the first place. All the ways I was acting to find approval from those I sought to feel belonging with, wasn’t really who I was. I wasn’t mean, nor did I want to be mean. I wasn’t better than others and acting that way was exhausting and lead to me feeling isolated and judged by others.

These were the barriers I needed break down in order to be in authentic relationships with people, hoping that the bridges I burned along the way weren’t so damaged that I couldn’t repair them.

I started by reaching out to those who I used to be good friends with in the past. This was surprisingly fruitful, as I heard from some people I hadn’t talked to for at least a decade or two. This is where being friends with most of the people I knew from my past on Facebook came in handy. All I had to do was send a message and see if they would reply.

And I began talking to quite a few people this way. But this time, instead of complaining about somebody or something, finding comradery in misery the ways I used to do, I asked them questions about what was happening in their lives and explored common interests we shared. Which, not surprisingly, we had quite a few. This is when I realized that we were friends for a reason. Our shared interests were the foundation of our relationship and why we were able to stand the test of time. This realization felt good : )

We were now exploring who we were in ways that made us feel more connected and a better representation of who we were as people. Sure, we would still commiserate from time to time, about the difficult things in life. But we were no longer basing all of our interactions in this mind frame. Life was more than the difficult experiences we had to endure. It helped that we were also grown adults now, instead of self absorbed teenagers too : ) And this level of authenticity lead to another dimension of feeling belonging. And that i of building intimacy.

Intimacy

When I talk about intimacy, I’m talking about the feeling of being close with another, and not only in a sexual way. Sure, there is that facet of knowing somebody, but it isn’t the ONLY expression of feeling soothed by another’s presence.

This was however, not the message I was sent as a child growing up. The physical act of making love was what was most valued in my environment. Especially when it was connected to how somebody looked physically. This left us all feeling like we didn’t quite belong because it all hinged on the condition of us being attractive. As Melba would say, no bueno.

So when I started rebuilding the relationships from my past over again, I was now focused on our shared interests and how we could turn those into shared experiences. For instance, my stepsister loves to hike. I love to hike. So I’ve recently connected with her and made plans to hit the trails together.

This not only gives us the chance to experience something we both love together, but it will also give me the opportunity to apologize for not being the bigger brother I could have been, had known then what I know now. And hopefully, we’ll start something new. This reminds me of a line from a Peter, Bjorn and John song, “Object of My Affection” that goes, “just because something starts differently, doesn’t mean it’s worth less.”

And that’s just it, the chance to start something new. It doesn’t mean that it’ll be perfect, or that the pain from the past will magically go away, but we have the chance to make something stronger. And hopefully in the process, be happier for it.

Why We Should Even Bother

And this is really what it comes down to. We change and build healthy relationships so we can have a better quality of life. o we can be in a more positive disposition more often. We’ll create better memories that we can revisit down the road together. In short, fuller, happier lives.

So if you’ve been neglecting the relationships from your past, or just feel as though you want a fresh start, a chance to rebuild your relationships for the better, there’s no time like the present. Get out there and reconnect. Be honest with yourself and those you want to connect with and you’ll build intimacy from authenticity. And these are the relationships worth building. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “True Lies” by Jack Parrott is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Your Self Worth Is Not Determined By How Much You Do For Others or How You Are Perceived: Why Listening Matters

This is a difficult lesson for a lot of people, including myself. And how well we learn it depends on a lot of varying factors. From how we were treated in our early childhood to the ways we see how we’re able to effect our surroundings and make changes in our lives. If handled poorly, we can be paralyzed by fear for not adding up to our learned expectations. And these standards or expectations can sometimes feel impossible to meet.

Childhood’s What Makes You

For me in my childhood, I was told this message on a regular basis. There was a constant stream of criticism and negative judgements and a finite amount of praise or positive reinforcement. In fact, I only ever remember receiving one compliment from one of my caregivers in my childhood and it was based on how attractive my calves were. This did not make for a caring or warm, nurturing environment.

I was however, told how lazy I was regularly and regardless of whether or not I was doing what was asked of me. A task that usually took the form of a chore of some sort. And to add insult to injury, I wasn’t shown or taught how to do the tasks that I was being called lazy for not doing correctly, with any amount of patience or thoughtful guidance. It was just expected that I should know how to do the task and do it perfect. This is the definition of an impossible standard.

So with all these negative messages and impossible standards I was being pummeled with and measured against, how did I find my way out of the trap of beating myself up for never feeling enough? Short answer, I didn’t for a long time. I continued to abuse myself and others in the same ways I was abused.

Living Under Unachievable Expectations

These dangerously unreasonable expectations I was raised with, followed me throughout my life. I was using the insanity producing sentiment of, “is that all you are capable of?” to pass judgement on everything that not only I was doing, but of those who were close to me as well. I almost always had a condescending attitude towards what others were doing and nothing anybody did was ever good enough.

What I feel was most confusing about these impossible expectations I held and those holding me to them was, that there was nothing backing them. They had no foundation, but I held on to them with conviction. Never questioning why I was measuring everything/body up in this way. But I was holding onto this way of being while being gripped with a sense of fear that if I didn’t meet my own impossible standards, I would be abandoned again as I had felt I was in my childhood.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my caregivers were acting under this same convictions of feeling unworthy of feeling belonging. For no other reason than because we were withholding our acceptance of one another from each other. We were keeping the very thing we wanted from ourselves by holding it back from those we were judging so harshly.

This is probably what is meant by we have the keys to our own prison. But if the keys are so buried under the rubble of our unreasonable standards, how do we even know what to look for? We need a guide, or a role model in the first place to begin the search for our own release from out of our prisons of unreasonable expectations and critical judgements.

Waking Up From The Unachievable

This is no easy task. I was so inundated with the ideas of perfection that were floating around in my head that the unachievable seemed reasonable. And this is a dangerous head space to inhabit. I was acting mean, entitled and made sure everybody within hearing range knew what my thoughts on the matter, whatever it was, were.

I was so entrenched in my unsustainable beliefs, that it took an act of God to wake me from them. This act came in the form of a woman. I met, and thought I fell in love with a woman who made me change my entire way of being. The relationship didn’t start out in a way that was romantic, or even healthy. But she taught me a few lessons that were essential to me changing the person I used to be. The most important one being how to forgive.

Learning to Forgive and Accept What Is

As I’ve said, we didn’t start out on the best note, but we were infatuated with one another. For me, the term, “real recognize real and you looking familiar”-Jay-Z, resonates with me because it describes the feeling of recognizing the same type of hurt in the other and knowing how to care for it. This, I’m convinced, is what was happening with us. We would have been much better as friends, but the alure of helping each other to heal from our similar wounds was much too strong to let our relationship just be casual.

So we stayed together. And again, we were tested every step of the way. Some things happened that I won’t go into detail about, but they were comprised of what usually bring most relationships to a bitter end without any chance for reconciliation. And I was asked to move past them in the first month of our relationship.

This wasn’t easy, but I was willing to come to terms with them, confront them and heal from them. Even giving up things I loved for her sake, hoping to make it a little easier for her to bear the cost of her actions. But all my efforts were for not as she continued to spiral down. Again, not easy to watch.

But I don’t for a second regret the changes and sacrifices I made on her behalf, mostly because they ended up making me a better person in the end. And for that, I am grateful to her. But forgiveness was easy when I felt heard and seen for the first time since I was a child. Real recognize real has a powerful effect on those who’ve been neglected, and it was just the remedy I was looking for from feeling as though I was never adding up.

Real Recognize Real, Or, Stellar Communication

The ability for me to learn how to forgive myself and others, for not meeting my impossible standards and just about every other infraction, perceived or real, came down to how well I felt as though I was being heard and seen and then reciprocating to that. And feeling heard and seen really comes down to how well we communicate with one another.

So the lesson I learned in that relationship was, that for me, communication and feeling heard and seen were most important to feeling enough. This may seem like a no brainer, but for the chronically neglected, this set off all sorts of lightbulbs. The ability to be recognized in my emotions and having someone react to them in real time was what had been missing from my emotional world for what felt like my entire life.

It felt so comforting to be held in a space of feeling heard instead of the feelings of not adding up to the others expectations, that I would do just about anything to hold onto that feeling. This is what made forgiveness so easy for me. This space of feeling heard and seen allowed me the courage to overcome the feelings of hurt and sense of being done wrong and not adding up. And it’s from here that I was willing and able to build a healthy relationship.

These were the tools I was missing, was never taught by my caregivers in my youth. No wonder my relationships all failed in the past. But I also learned from our relationship that, just because I was ready to communicate open and honestly with my partner, didn’t also mean that she was ready to. So in the end, our relationship failed. Though this time not for lack of me trying to make it work.

Finding the Right Person Being Willing to Do the Difficult Work of Communicating

As I’ve said above, it can’t just be one person doing the work of communicating. If this is the case, there will most likely come with it a feeling of unrest, of not feeling heard and not quite knowing why. This was how I felt when I was unable to communicate my feelings to my partners. And in my case, I chose partners who were outspoken and knew exactly what they wanted. They wanted somebody who would come along for the ride while they made the decisions and I was looking for someone to do the work of living my life for me.

It seemed like a win win, but this type of control over another usually leaves one person feeling as though they have no control over their life and as though they aren’t doing enough to feel loved. For me, I was feeling listless and left wanting more. More out of my life, out of my relationships, more belonging. I was drinking a lot to numb the dis-ease of these feelings of lacking and feeling isolated. This was a lonely place to be.

So now that I know what was lacking from my past relationships, what’s changed? How does what I know now change the ways I see and choose my relationships in the present? For starters, I’m more aware of the people around me and their ability to listen to what I have to say.

Listening to Feel Heard

A partners ability to listen to feel a sense of being enough is now at the top of my list of desirable attributes. Before I was looking for one thing only, and that’s how good looking my partner was. This seemed to be the only thing that mattered to me, but looking back now it was the number one value that all of my caregivers could agree on. You could do terrible things to others, but as long as you were attractive, it was okay.

Only, this type of foundation in a relationship leads to connections based on superficialities that do not last. It also breeds resentment from my experience. There is a feeling of distance between each other that translates into the question, am I enough? This is because our emotional worlds are usually left unattended, uncared for by our partners and probably ourselves. And if you don’t feel heard or seen in a relationship, then you have what I’ve described above. Something that is based on control over the other and feeling as though you have to do more or be more to feel loved. The sentiment in this type of relationship being, I have what you want and you’d better do as I say or or fit my idea of you or I’ll take it away.

But if we listen to each other, attune to each other’s need, then we begin to build true intimacy. Feeling heard brings with it a sense of feeling loved and belonging. So being heard and listening to one another is a way to feeling belonging to each other. Finally feeling enough for the other person. The sentiment in this type of relationship being, I hear you and I’m here for you. This is how we build connections that are strong and lasting. Not withholding love from the other to feel belonging, but giving love to be open to receive love.

Giving Love to Feel Enough

So in the search for healthy relationships, we don’t have to push ourselves to give as much as humanly possible to feel loved and accepted. This is a trap that we get caught in usually because we already don’t feel as though we’re enough as we are, in order to feel loved. Instead of focusing on what we can do for others to feel loved, instead focus on how do we accept ourselves and others as we are. Then we’ll be driven to do for ourselves and others, only not from a place as Brene Brown so aptly puts it as, “hustling for approval”, but because we want what’s best for ourselves and our loved ones.

So if you feel as though you’re not adding up in some way, or have to do more in order to feel loved and belong to and with another, slow down and take a look at why you feel this way. Question what you’re believing about yourself and your belonging. You may just find that you’re already enough. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Impossible standards just make life difficult. #fortunecookie”¬†by¬†dziner¬†is marked with¬†CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Narcissism, All I Can Think About Is Me, or Is It?

I was talking with somebody who is close to me a few weeks ago when I realized that they weren’t really listening to what I was saying, or rather they inferred or interpreted what I was saying differently from how I meant it. I noticed that this happens a lot with us. In fact, it happens all the time. And not just with this person either. It’s been happening with many of the people I’ve been close with. Especially when I was a child.

At first I though that the person was being self-absorbed. Not listen because what they were thinking about was more important, or rather assumed they knew what I was saying and made a split second judgement about what my intentions are. This is and was a frustrating place to be. To feel as though someone is telling you how you feel or what your intentions are.

Narcissistic or Self Absorbed, Is There a Difference?

When I was a child, I had caregivers that were, well the only way to describe it was vein. They talked about most people and things with a condescending tone in their voice. One was also a model when they were a young adult and had a shopping habit that was borderline unhealthy. I remember their home was filled with caches of clothing and make-up as though they were stock piling for an odd kind of emergency.

This trait was something that was passed down through the generations in my family. It seemed as though they were constantly buying new things to feel some sense of belonging or to look the part. I’m not entirely sure what the drive was behind the urge to shop, because we never spoke about it. But the primping and need to buy new things mixed with the condescending demeanor towards others for the ways they looked, led me to believe that it had something to do with how they were being seen. Translating to narcissistic tendencies. And maybe an unhealthy way to bond as well. This may very well be the impetus behind my writing this blog.

But regardless, the above way of being was slightly different from the latest conversation I had, the one I referenced at the start of this article. Where the person was slightly indifferent, but the results were the same: nobody was listening to anybody else. We were just guessing at what the other person was thinking and feeling instead of asking them directly. It was a giant game of mind reading where no one was the winner and the result was, there were an awful lot of feelings going unrecognized, neglected.

So We’ve been Neglecting Each Other, Now What?

When I realized that we weren’t not listening to each other, instead we were hyper focused on what the other person’s intent was in what they were saying, without asking directly, this made sense to me. This is what I had been doing for years. I was searching out hidden meanings in the conversations I had with those closest to me to find out what they wanted from me. I thought, “maybe if I can figure out what they like and be that, I’ll be liked and accepted by them.” This however did not workout in my favor.

I spent a lot of time, as I’ve said above, trying to read between the lines to infer what the other wanted from me because I was too afraid to ask directly for fear or being rent limb from limb. We were mean in my family. But everything I seemed to try, I was rejected for time and again. It didn’t seem as though there was anything I could do to gain their favor.

At the mere suggestion that they showed some positive regard towards something or someone, I clung to it like a life jacket, hoping I could resemble something they liked, however small. As I’ve said before on this blog, that’s how I became to live like Jim Morrison. After being scolded by my family when I made fun of “The Doors” because I thought it would make me look cool. Again, did not work out in my favor.

So when all of my “hustling for approval” didn’t work, as Bren√© Brown so aptly put it, what was there left for me to try? Well, by the time I figured out that no matter what I did, I was never going to be good, cool or desirable enough to win the affections of my caregivers, I had already done some serious damage in my life and to my relationships.

I left my then beautiful wife for a woman two thirds my age and reverted back to my former self from my early twenties. It wasn’t pretty. After the woman I left my wife for, left me because I left my then wife for her, and rightly so, I was forced to move back in with my father and stepmom, or become homeless. Spoiler alert, I chose family.

I say rightly so not in a way to chastise myself. I’ve been through enough of that in my earlier years to know shaming yourself into change doesn’t work. But because I needed the time to sort out an entire battery of emotions, a life’s time worth of experiences that led me to where I had ended up. I was making poor decisions based on the unhealthy lessons of my past. I wasn’t going to change until I had the chance to examine where I was, what got me there and new ways of being that were healthy and sustainable.

What Got Me Here

The short answer, on how I got to a place in my life where I had done so much damage to my relationships is, fear. I was scared to death that I was missing something. Something I should have learned by now that would grant me access to those who were supposed to show me love, their affections. Only there was nobody there to teach me what it was that I was missing.

So I was left alone and filled with fear. Never quite knowing what to do or where I was headed. Hitching myself to any relationship that showed me even the smallest amount of acceptance. Afraid and lonely was the way I spent a majority of my life. Because it’s difficult to build healthy and lasting connections when you don’t feel as though you are connected to anyone in the first place. You need a role model, a grounding point. Some foundation to build healthy, unconditional acceptance.

And unfortunately, these types of relationships aren’t taught at school if you don’t learn them from your family or those close to you. Add being an introvert as I am, and a healthy dose of fear from the trauma I’ve experienced and you have a recipe for isolation from others for fear of being hurt again. No bueno.

And it was this fear of connecting to others again that was holding me back from making any connections. I was so busy nursing my wounds that I didn’t realize I couldn’t heal them alone. Something Tara Brach has said often in her talks comes to mind. “We were wounded in relationship and we heal in relationship.” And I couldn’t agree more. If it wasn’t for the love and support of those closest to me now, I couldn’t have come through what I have.

Where Do I Go From Here?

When I began to defrost from my emotional freeze, the one I had initiated when I had been hurt one too many times in my youth, I felt a great amount of fear. It seemed as though everybody I had a relationship with currently, reminded me of someone I knew in the past whom had done me harm. This is a vulnerable place to be.

But what’s got me through it and what’s still getting me through is, coming to terms with what’s happened to me in the past with those I should have been able to trust. I can’t change the past. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to play God and create some sterile version of what could have been. I like the person that I’ve become now that I can feel again.

Also, I’ve grown quite a bit from the person I once was. So I can see the situations that my caregivers were going through and the stress that they were under. It may not make it right, but it’s at least relatable. I don’t know how I would have reacted to the situations my caregivers went through. It wasn’t easy for any of us, that’s for sure.

Growing Into Kindness

So how am I moving forward from the wreckage of my past? I wish I could say it was as easy as forgive and forget. Forgive, yes. But I have a feeling that that may take a while to fully understand what that means. I’ve tried forgetting. And for me that meant a lot of covering over what I was trying to feel all along. This is how I froze my emotions. But I know that I’ve got to start with being kind.

Kind first to myself, then to others. Especially those that remind me of the people I’ve known from my past. Because this is where I feel the most vulnerable and therefore, what needs the most love. And I’m doing it with a lot of help from others.

For those interested, this talk from Tara Brach goes into detail of the effects trauma has on the individual. It’s one that was immensely helpful for me when I was defrosting. It talks about how in shamanistic cultures, they believe when a person is greatly traumatized, their soul leaves the body. The person is then surrounded by loving and caring community to invite the soul to come back. And this invitation is really one of being ready to heal.

Heal from the wounds of our past while learning to love ourselves and others as we heal. It’s really an amazing concept and a process I’ve come to understand as I come to terms with the events in my life that have left a mark. And this is where we can begin to realize what our full potential really is and what we’re capable of.

And Don’t Forget, Be Patient

This whole process takes time. And especially patience with ourselves. It’s difficult to sit in the feelings of pain that we have to experience in order to go through them and come out more whole on the other side. Just like the lyrics from Peter, Bjorn & John’s “Objects of my Affections” suggest, after we begin to heal, “I am more me”. And that’s a good feeling : ) Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Self Absorbed”¬†by¬†judy_and_ed¬†is licensed under

The Power of Feeling Heard: Why Listening Matters

This isn’t a new idea or concept by any means. But it seems like each generation discovers it a new. Usually when we first learn what it means to be heard and a part of the whole, a community. For me and my family, it came later in life than is typical for this type of milestone.

In fact, it seems to be working in reverse. The younger generation guiding the more experienced. And this is by no means a judgement on those of us who are slow to learn. I myself am amongst those ranks. Also, life gets pretty weird sometimes. And I totally understand the learning curve that us slow learners are on. So who am I to judge?

But what I’m finding, and the more I talk with those closest to me is, that most of the time when we’re too afraid to connect it’s due to the pain of not feeling heard or understood. Usually from when we were vulnerable enough to put our emotions on the line. And old relational wounding is most likely what’s holding us back. This was the case with my caregivers. And to some extent, still is.

Wounds from the Past Can Sometimes Mute Our Voices

I’ve recently been attempting to reconcile my connections with my childhood caregivers. It seems to be going considerably well, given the circumstances our relationships were ruptured under. But it has taken a lot of pride swallowing on my part. To be able to come to a place where I’m able to let go the anger and listen to my caregivers’ stories. And there was a lot of anger I was holding on to. A subject for another post for sure.

But what I’m realizing is, the more I listen to my caregivers’ stories, the more I understand that they were/are dealing with some of the same issues I was/am dealing with. Only our situations were a bit different. It’s as though we have been handing down these traumatic experiences, from one generation to the next, like some cursed family heirloom. No bueno. So how do we break the cycle of feeling hurt, alone and fearful in our own family? By feeling heard and seen by one another.

Feeling Heard Ain’t So Easy

From my understanding, most of the people in my family are afraid to connect with one another because deep down, we’ve been made to feel as though we’re unlovable to some degree. Whether it’s from the unreasonably high standards we were measured up against, or just plain neglect and abuse. We’ve let the fear of being rejected stop us from connecting with one another fully. To speak and be heard became something to be feared, instead of embraced. And sadly, this is something I feel isn’t unique to my family’s experience.

And the consequences? We’ve learned to hide ourselves and our emotions. The risk of being hurt again, too much to bear. So we lived in a cold, isolated existence from one another. As Tara Brach puts it, “longing to feel belonging” again but to afraid to reach out.

One of the main ways my family has done this is by keeping most of our interactions at surface level. Also by speeding past and numbing out the discomfort of old relational wounding. Avoiding going deeper at any cost, so as not to feel vulnerable around each other, who are in the habit of attacking vulnerability on sight. Because to us, we saw it is a weakness.

This reminds me of a visit to my doctor’s office more than a decade ago. I was talking to my GP about my anxiety level, and described the anxiety attacks I was having as, “a weakness I just couldn’t live with anymore.” But that was how I was raised. To view emotions as weak. Especially as a man, which in my family meant “weaker” emotions, such as tenderness and caring, were feminine by nature. And definitely not something men should be feeling.

The Toxic Lessons I was Taught About Vulnerability

My family was very much a product of the popular machismo culture that has been alive and well for many generations. Owning guns and drinking were prerequisites of this culture. And if you weren’t belittling those who didn’t fit in, you were considered weak and ineffectual. Vulnerability was a trait that was considered “childish”, or “feminine”, while power and control were traits of a “real man”. A man who showed vulnerability, in my family, especially around other men were punished severely and swiftly.

We were mean, with a childlike sense of cruelty. When someone was foolish enough to express an emotion that wasn’t approved of by our family dynamics, they were ridiculed and ostracized by both the men and women. In a misguided attempt to teach me what it means to be a man, when I was seven or eight years old, my uncle would come into my room at three in the morning, pulling me from a dead sleep, and verbally assault me. All the while he would be telling me how to be a man. I don’t remember the lessons from those visits as I’ve blocked them from my memory. But the effects have lasted a life’s time.

You Can’t Listen When You’re Running From One Another

My family started falling apart around the time my abuse was happening. The most independent family member had lost her battle with cancer, and my parents were divorcing in the most hostile ways they were able to muster. And when I told one parent about the abuse, they turned their back on me without a word. With so much anger, hostility and trauma flowing so freely through us, it seemed insanity to open up to what was around me. So we ran from one another. Blocking all attempts to reach out or be comforted or heard, because connection at any level meant pain.

We also didn’t know how to be tender with, or comfort each other. This was another trait that was considered feminine. So the men never learned how to be tender with anyone, especially towards ourselves, and the women were so used to being verbally abused, but also inflicting abuse, that they as well forgot how to foster the seeds of tenderness and compassion. This was a cold and confusing place to call home. Especially since we were all still telling each other that we loved one another! Sometimes in the same breath as some freshly spit venom.

Everybody was paralyzed by fear, and we all had forgotten how to connect in healthy ways. By communicating needs, being heard and seen fully by one another are some examples of healthy connection. So if you’re in this place, one of isolation, how do you begin to forge new and strengthen what bonds are left to salvage? Open and honest communication. It all comes back to being and feeling heard.

Listening to Feel Heard

The journey to feeling heard began for me when I started listening inwardly. I had followed in my family’s footsteps unwittingly and left my then wife for a woman who I felt heard and seen with. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but it wasn’t the love of another woman that would make me feel complete. What I was really looking for was a place I could feel safe enough to feel the child like vulnerability and tenderness that was so abused, and what I was shamed for feeling. All because it wasn’t “manly”, according to my family.

I say childlike not as a way to diminish the feelings of vulnerability and tenderness, only that they were still immature in me. They felt young, as from when my trauma originally happened. But these are human emotions, not ones to be relegated to a gender or age bracket.

I learned how to listen to myself when I started taking care of my basic needs. Needs such as rest by meditating regularly, and exercising consistently to take care of my physical health. Taking care of my nutritional needs by cooking healthy meals, as well as keeping my living space clean and organized. I practice self-care regularly and stay in touch with old friends while making new ones. And this, as they say, is where the magic happens.

Listening to My Friends = Listening to Myself

Learning to be present for my close friends by listening to them as they recounted their day to me. Or when they ask for my perspective on a something they are experiencing. This is where I really understood what it means to be a part of something larger. Community. To find safety in feeling uncertain of opening up to another, but opening anyway and feeling closer because of it. This is similar to how I was looking to feel safe with myself again. By listening to and comforting myself. I wish that my doctor’s visit, so long ago was the wake up call that I needed to start treating myself with more kindness. And that was after him telling me “you know, you’re being too hard on yourself”. An understatement for sure. But that lesson was still a ways off for me.

So when I started taking care of my surroundings and my physical needs, that’s when I began to understand that I had to listen to my emotional needs in the same ways I listened to and attune to those closest to me. For example, if someone I care for isn’t feeling well, I check in with them regularly to see if they need anything. I do the same for myself as well now. Rumi said it best when he wrote, “do you pay regular visits to yourself?”

Attuning to Your Own Emotions Like an Old Friend

When an emotion arises, let’s say I’m feeling a bit fearful, I check to see where my feelings of fear are coming from. Is it situational? Is there someone or something around me that is making me feel this way? Also, how I respond to this fear is equally as important as recognizing its presence.

Maybe the fear is brought up by being around a person who reminds me of someone who’s harmed me in the past. I recognize that I am in the present and that I am now in charge of keeping myself safe. Also that the past is in the past. And if I need to, I can remove myself from the situation. There is great power in the ability to choose.

Responding to the fear without reacting is an important step to break from these cycles. Because we make poor choices when we’re afraid! And it takes some digging to come to understand where your fear cycle starts. For me, it’s usually when I’m around somebody that reminds me of someone who’s abused me in the past. Stay curious about your fear and its cycle. Note when the fear takes hold. You can learn a great deal from being open to what’s happening internally, as it’s happening.

For me, the more I recognize what’s happening inside of me, my emotional states, the more I feel taken care of by myself. This is how I’ve been practicing loving myself. And no surprise, it’s similar to the ways I practice love and care with those closest to me. It’s not always easy, but it is most definitely worth it : )

Don’t Forget to be Kind

And what holds this all together is, you guessed it, being kind. When I remember that conversation I had with my doctor about my anxiety, I shutter a bit. To realize that I had been so far removed from my tenderness made me feel as though I wasn’t able to trust myself to be kind to myself. I had become my own abuser in the ways that were modeled for me in my abuse. And that was a terrifying thought.

But I remember all the work I’ve been putting into healing and feeling heard, and the ways that I am now listening to myself, and that brings me a sense of ease. Knowing that I’m capable of change is comforting also. It shows me that I’m willing and able to take care of myself in the ways that were never done for me. It’s a little scary at times, for sure. But it’s doable.

It’s when we treat ourselves with kindness that we’re able to open up and receive kindness. But it takes persistence. Especially if you were trained to view kindness as weakness, and something to be avoided at all costs. It’s been strange at times for sure. Just remember, take your time and rest when you need to. It’s difficult work. Opening up again emotionally when you’ve been abused and shut down for so long. But there’s no deadline, or need to prove anything. Just do as much as you’re able to when you’re able.

I hope this has been helpful in some way. If you have stories about how you’ve come to listen inwardly, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. And as always, peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Listener Supported”¬†by¬†planeta¬†is licensed under¬†CC BY-SA 2.0

Updated: 11/24/22

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