Fitting in Or Desperate for Attention? What does it Mean to Accept Somebody Unconditionally?

I’ve come to some pretty difficult realizations lately about the relationships in my life. The main take away being, I was so desperate to feel liked or accepted, to feel as though I were fitting in, I had completely changed my personality to cater to those I wanted to be liked by. And no surprises, I completely lost myself in the process. I’ll be talking about how I woke from the trance of not knowing that I was “playing a part” to feel as though I was fitting in with those who I saw as the keepers of me feeling accepted and ultimately loved. But let’s start first with the beginning, where it all started for me.

Withholding Acceptance & Not Feeling as Though I was Fitting in

I believe one of the very first lessons I learned from my family was, when they looked at me with a critical, judgmental eye, that meant that I was not meeting their expectations. And maybe more importantly, I didn’t belong. This is were much of my personality was forged. In the search for approval from those who were supposed to love me unconditionally. And as a child, if you don’t feel loved by your family, you’ll go to great lengths to gain the love that is being held back.

I can remember very distinctively, pulling back from my family at an early age because I just didn’t feel like I was fitting in or a part of my family. My sibling and cousins would often times drink in the hot tub together. Something that sound relaxing to me now. But I hid from them. Too scared to be a part of their revelry. Knowing that I would incur some emotional wounding if I jumped in with them. So I spent a good portion of my time on my own.

Because my family, including myself, excelled at withholding love from each other and doling it out, not unlike a drug, to keep the other person constantly in a state of feeling as though they were about to get the love we needed if we could just measure up. We did this to feel as though we were needed. By having someone begging for our love. To feel more valuable. But what happens when those who are withholding love, don’t know how to give and receive love?

When We’re all Uncertain of How to Feel like We’re Fitting in

What I’ve come to realize is, that nobody in my family knew how to feel loved or belonging. We had all been so afraid to open up for so long, that we just forgot how to do it. Withholding love was so second nature, that even if we did manage to measure up to some impossible standard, we’d have to raise it higher because we didn’t know how to nurture affection.

So we were all left in very lonely and confusing states. Wanting to be loved, but not knowing what to do when somebody willing, showed us that they needed to be loved. This is when we would run from the other. Wanting to love and be loved and not knowing how, but also too afraid to open up to the hurt the other would inevitably cause. These were the lessons that were passed down in my family and the ones I used to navigate all of my relationships in life.

The Legacy of Uncertainty

From friends to romantic relationships, I was trapped in this cycle of not knowing how to feel belonging, mixed with being to fearful to open to those closest to me. Eventually, I learned to fit the mold of what I thought others expected from me. In order to feel that the other saw me as worth belonging to, as fitting in, without question. But this left me adjusting to what others thought fitting in looked like. This left me unable to express myself as I truly was or wanted to be.

Though even if I was granted permission to be unapologetically me, I didn’t know who I was. I had been so focused on what everybody else wanted from me, that I completely lost who I was. And I was scared of being ousted from my friend group and family if I stopped being what was expected of me, but also feeling lonely as well. I never felt as though I could relax around those closest to me. This left me feeling as though I had to protect myself from those whom should have brought me comfort. This was what was so confusing, me not realizing I was trying to be somebody I wasn’t to be liked.

I had been taught from such an early age how to pretend to be something in order to fit in, that I hadn’t realize what I was doing. It was the norm in my family. We were so disconnected from what we truly liked and enjoyed, that we just didn’t realize when we genuinely liked something, from our authentic selves. Or if we liked it due to it being just a fad that was popular.

Fads are for Fitting In, Not Finding our Authentic Selves

This type of seeking approval was most apparent with my grandmother. She was a model in the 40’s and 50’s for home beauty products. And this experience, of gaining acceptance for her physical appearance, was one that was at the core of her identity. Everything had to be brand name and looks were more important than any other type of bond. She was also emotionally and verbally abusive.

She would viscously criticize her daughters appearances consistently and once, slammed my hand in her car door and left me there for fifteen minutes. This type of behavior is more in line with fascist dictators that with a loving matriarch. So it’s no wonder that we were all left scrambling to figure out what fitting in looked like in this climate of fear.

No body ever asked, “what do you like?” Nor did we ever ask what the other person was like. We were all too busy telling each other how we were, in order to control the them. So we would know for certain how to feel loved by them because we controlled them. And all this while judging how to change ourselves to be most accepted by those we saw as holders of our belonging. So to be our authentic selves would mean that we’d have to be brave enough to sever ourselves from the ways of belonging we had been taught. Which meant we’d be completely on our own. And we just weren’t strong enough to be this vulnerable or our authentic selves. Not on our own anyway.

Finding Support in being Our Authentic Selves

This was a tough one for me. All I knew of belonging was of what others were expecting of me. So when I decided to be my own person, I needed a new map. Luckily, we can’t ever completely lose ourselves. I had some ideas of what I liked and so that’s where I started. I think the place where this was most apparent was with the music I was listening to.

Music

No matter who I was trying to be, I was always honest with myself around the kinds of music I liked. And it’s important to be able to relate to this aspect of your personality. I know for me, that the music I listen to is usually a reflection of my mood. Fitting in, when it comes to music, was never a concern for me. My connection to music has always been an emotionally cathartic one. The tones and beats, to the lyrics and cadence, the music I relate to is usually a reflection of how I feel. And embodying that feeling is empowering. So if you’re looking to get in touch with yourself, music is a great place to start.

Fashion

As I’ve said before, I spent much of my childhood shopping with my family. Looking to feel belonging through what we purchased instead of who we are. I went through a period in my twenties where I was wearing designer clothing because it was what my friends were doing. I wore lots of cologne and drank expensive liquor, thinking this was what fitting in entailed. This lead to me feeling uncomfortable in my own clothing most of the time. Not to mention uncomfortable with myself.

Now my dress suits my personality. I dress in mostly thrifted clothing and in plain, understated pieces. For example, I’m wearing a a yoga with Adriene sweatshirt with my favorite pair of jeans and a bandana from an old work shirt and a pair of crocks for comfort. And on occasion I’ll wear sandalwood essential oil. Comfort is priority for me now. I still like the way I look, but it’s not the core of my self worth.

Friends & Family

And when it comes to friends and family, I’m finally surrounding myself with people who are accepting. I’ve lost a lot of friends along the way. Mostly due to the ways I was choosing to be in relationship with them. Now that I’m valuing my authentic self, I’ve also implemented some much needed boundaries around my relationships. This was no easy task seeing how most of my relationships were built on unclear and unhealthy boundaries.

I used to believe that any boundary, as healthy as it may have been, was a block to me feeling loved and accepted. So I would allow those I was in relationship with, to do whatever they wanted to me. This left me feeling hurt, guarded and uncertain of where I stood in their regard.

Now, the people I rely on for support all practice healthy boundaries. We are able to support each other without losing ourselves to the other. There are no longer the thousand tiny wounds I used to incur by just being in relationship. I know now that I am keeping myself safe by removing myself from relationships that are harmful to me. And those that I trust, have shown me that they are trust worthy and safe to be around. And that feels good : )

Outlets for Creativity

Finding a way to communicate my personality is another important aspect of finding my authentic self. Bullet journaling is a great example of this type of self expression. Journaling is a place where I can plan and organize. Two facets of myself that I enjoy expressing and are helping me to live the life I want to live.

This blog too, is a place where I can unpack my experiences and make sense of them. Writing down my experiences, matching feelings to them and organizing them into a fashion that’s cohesive, is the map I’m able to use to navigate my narrative. My bearings in my emotional life. Because in my youth, there was no mirroring. My upbringing was so volatile, that I was thrown into one crisis after another, without time to stop and understand how my circumstances were effecting me.

Blogging not only allows me to make sense of what’s happened to me, but also shows me how to be more of myself. And relax a little more in the process. I’m unpacking the past and making some much needed room for myself to feel at ease with all the pieces I’ve been unpacking. Getting to know myself better by relating to the experiences I’ve been through.

Finding Your Place

This type of work isn’t easy. For me, there was the fear of not knowing how to belong, followed by the anxiety of desperately trying to find a way to feel acceptance. When I realized I wasn’t going to feel accepted by those who couldn’t accept themselves, there was the confusion of what to do to feel belonging. And finally, the work I had to do to help to make myself feel at ease in knowing that I can choose healthy ways to belong, in healthy forms of relationship.

But doing this type of work is important to feeling at home in your relationships. It was for me anyway. Without feeling like I belong to the people I choose to be in my life, I feel a loneliness. Because we belong to each other. No one person is built to do everything on their own. We need each other, and it feel good to be needed. An integral part of somebodies life.

So find those people that bring out the best in you. The ones that bring you ease just being around them. This is where you’ll find your belonging. Fitting in is more than just looking good to somebody else because you say or do the right things at the right times. It’s about finding the people who appreciate you for showing your authentic self. Then we can grow in our relationships in the ways that makes us truly the best version of ourselves. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Hug” by zhouxuan12345678 is licensed under CC BY-SA 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 Brené 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

What Happens When We Confuse Self-Sacrifice for Caring

For as long as I can remember, it’s been common practice for my family members to act as though any favor or deed, no matter how small, was an unconscionable burden to be born and a great sacrifice. I’ve said before on this blog, we used the term “martyr” liberally and with harsh judgement. Anytime somebody did something that was akin to self-care, it was viewed as selfish. And the person committing the act was made to feel as though they were inherently bad and selfish.

Sacrificing Our Resources for Those Who Didn’t Ask for Them

From what I’m able tell, and since no one in our family ever spoke about how they were feeling was, that we felt resentment for other people doing for themselves. This was due to feeling as though we were already giving everything we had to the other, so why would they need anything else. Wasn’t that enough? It makes sense in a way, but it is also unhealthy. And also a sign of codependent relationship.

And even though we were doing for one another, there was never a sense of feeling grateful for what was being done. It was almost always viewed as an obligation. And seldom were we happy to receive what was being given. Looking back on it, the whole exchange seems so strange. Who wouldn’t be happy to have a loved one do something for them? Or the chance to make someone close to you happy?

Fear & Resentment in Our Relational Ties

From what I can tell, there was a fair amount of resentment tied to the experience of giving and receiving between us. And one thing is for certain, resentment will erode most all bonds in any relationship. So if we were all so unhappy with one another, on such a consistent basis, then why were we still doing for each other?

I’m not entirely sure to be honest. But I’m going to take a few guesses at what our motivations were. Duty was a big one. We felt as though we had to. Because if we didn’t, our very belonging was in question. The fear of not belonging was quite possibly the one constant in all of our connections. There was a lot of validation happening, with rancorous overtones. We were willing to say pretty much anything if we thought it would make us look better than, or to, somebody else. No matter how mean spirited it was.

Also, self-righteousness was another trait that was in abundance. Making ourselves look good at the expense of somebody else was a lesson I learned very early on. We always wanted to have something we could use to make the other person feel bad about themselves. AKA, emotional blackmail.

A good example of this is something I felt often, “all the things I do for you and this is how you treat me?!” I’m not sure that we spoke those exact words, but that was definitely the unspoken message being sent. No wonder there was so much resentment flowing so freely between us.

Why Resentment Leads to Codependent Relationships

The ways we were treating our relational connections were unhealthy. One of the hallmarks of this way of being was by abandoning our needs altogether, to take care of those of another. We then expected the same in return from the other person. The reason for this was, because we were never taught how to take care of ourselves. Or because we were told we were selfish for doing so.

It wasn’t until very recently that I even understood what self-care is. And even more recently since I’ve begun practicing it. But these were not values taught in my family. The values that were taught in their place were, the man takes care of the woman by making money and providing for her. And the woman takes care of the domestic needs, feeding, clothing, cleaning, including the man. There was a whole host of life skills that, as a man in my family, I was just never taught.

And anything outside of these constraints was considered to go against the natural order of what it means to be a family, according to our unspoken rules. But really it was just a thin covering to veil the deep-seated fear of having to take responsibility for our own lives. The fear was of not being strong enough to live this life on our own. So we needed somebody else to do it for us.

Choosing a Partner to Resent

This, sadly, was true for me in the relationships that I chose to be in. I was usually with another who would make all the decisions in our “shared” decision making. When I spoke about past relationships, I would complain about not having a voice in our relationship, and how it led to us braking up. But I was secretly grateful that I didn’t have to accept the responsibility of living my life as my own. I was a coward in that regard. Life is most definitely not for the faint of heart. And what I’ve learned from my experience is, that there will almost always be someone to pick up those reigns for you, if you let them.

So if we’re so used to neglecting ourselves for the sake of another, or because we just don’t want the responsibility of living our own lives, how do we take control of our lives again? For me, following the fear has been a helpful guide to understanding what I’ve been running from.

Self-Sacrifice: Pros & Cons

Self-sacrifice isn’t always a bad thing. If done with good intention and knowing how to recharge afterwards, it can be a rewarding experience. But done to often and without concern for your own emotional needs, it can leave you depleted, empty. The latter was what was most common in my family. And led to unhealthy ways of relating to one another. The following are some of the lessons I’ve learned from the unhealthy ways we would sacrifice ourselves in the name of taking care of each other.

Emotional Blackmail

As I’ve said above, if somebody was sacrificing themselves for somebody else in my family, there was usually a catch. This is where emotional blackmail enters the equation. We were constantly trying to feel better about ourselves by making the other person feel bad for taking our sacrifice for granted and not doing or being enough. And also, making sure they knew how we felt about it. What we didn’t realize was, that this makes both people feel worse. This leads to feelings of resentment towards one another. And trying to control each other using guilt and fear, only breeds more guilt and fear. No surprises here.

This is a difficult habit to break though. Because you have to feel through the fear of what’s keeping your need for control so strong. Finding and confronting that fear is what will set you free from the cycles of using fear and judgement to control and manipulate others. What triggered my fear was, feeling as though I wasn’t worthy of somebody else’s time, love or efforts.

Reality Check Your Fears

For me, love and acceptance was constantly being held just out of reach, over my head. So when I start to feel as though I’m not worthy of love and attention, fear sets in. This is where I need to reality check my thoughts and beliefs. Because the fear is usually coming from a very young place of feeling rejected, and I will want to act in unhealthy ways in order to feel belonging.

Now I’m able to take stock of the caring and loving relationships I’ve built and fostered with those closest to me. I remind myself that I can choose to build and keep healthy relationships. Instead of relying on a set of caregivers to provide all my relational needs for me. As was the case when I was a child.

Using Self-Sacrifice to Feel Superior

This was another way we held love back from each other. The more we did for one another, the more we sacrificed, the more material we had to use to feel as though we were better than the other. Because we were being so “selfless” in our sacrifice by not asking for anything in return. But what we hadn’t realized was, that we were expecting something. The feeling of superiority over the other, at the expense of somebody else feeling emotionally indebted to us, because of our sacrifice. Because we never asked for reciprocation, we just made the other feel as though their emotional needs were a burden to us. A part of our sacrifice to the other.

We did this, I believe, because we didn’t understand how to feel valued in relationships any other way. We didn’t know how to feel relaxed around each other without having three or four drinks first! Feeling valued in our relationships for who we are, might as well have been a trig course while we were still trying to figure out basic addition. And again, fear was behind our motivations. If we stop sacrificing ourselves for the other, we thought we’d no longer be needed. And therefore, our self worth would cease to exist.

This is a sad and terrifying place to be. I know I felt alone, isolated and without value. It’s no wonder we used each other the ways that we did. We built our relationships on a common fear of one another not needing us anymore, all the while trying to feel loved and accepted by the same people we feared would leave us. Confusing for sure. So how do we untangle this mess? This mass of confusion?

Finding Self Worth

It starts with understanding our own self worth, absent of the judgements from others. Your value as a person, is not contingent on somebody else’s good regard. When we understand this, then we can take a look at the relationships we’ve been keeping. How do those we keep closest to us make us feel about ourselves? Are they overly critical of us and others? When you speak about other people, is it usually a negative conversation? These are some indications that our relationship may need some tighter boundaries.

But you don’t have to completely abandon your relationships either. It’s possible to take care of yourself, while connecting with someone who is acting from a place of being judgmental. You just need to know when to step away from the relationship. To give yourself time to feel strong and confident enough in yourself and in the relationship. Not giving in to the judgments we used to connect to others with.

Not Falling Back into the Cycles of Petty Judgments

Because these cycles are easy to fall back into, it’s best to keep an eye on how you are being in the relationship, while interacting with these types of people. So as not to pick up where you left off. But try not to close off completely to them either. From my experience, when I was acting from a fearful place, when I would sacrifice myself to gain acceptance, I didn’t even realize I had an effect on others. I was so concerned about how I was being seen, that I was self-absorbed to the point of being oblivious to the hurtful things I was doing and saying.

This may also be the case with others who seem to be self absorbed as well. Maybe they just don’t know what they’re doing. That doesn’t change the fact that what they do can still be hurtful. But it helps to know that it’s most likely not out of malicious intent. So if you have the patience, try to stay open enough to be connected, but without draining yourself completely. And don’t forget to set boundaries with these types of relationships too. Because the other person is most likely incapable of seeing how they are abusing yours.

And don’t forget, it’s not your job to “save” or “fix” the other person. Whether or not they change is up to them, and is in no way within our control. The best we can do is lead by example and by setting and sticking to healthy boundaries in our relationships. And always make sure that you’re taking care of yourself first. Otherwise we’re back at square one. Where we sacrifice too much of ourselves, without reciprocation.

And Don’t Forget, be Kind : )

For me, one of the traps I used to fall into was belittling others so I could feel morally superior. And those that I surrounded myself with followed suit. So if we’re looking to make the change from finding belonging by demeaning others to feeling inherent self worth, we need to be kind. To ourselves and others.

Being petty and judgmental were some of the main foundations of my former relationships. In order to make the shift to kindness, I needed to be conscious of how I was speaking to and about others. And also what I was thinking about them as well. Because being needlessly negative to fit in is a habit that gets stronger the more we practice it. And it takes a great deal of willpower to recognize this habit as it’s happening, and to change its course.

So when old patterns of negative thoughts come up, don’t try to block them. Recognize that they are there and reality check them. Are you thinking this way because it’s how you used to fit in? Or maybe it’s a stroke of bad luck that you’re in a difficult situation. Make sure you’re not just defaulting to negativity out of old habit.

Actively Seek the Good

I’ve also been making it a point to pick out the positive I see in either people or situations too. In hopes that the more I practice this habit, the stronger it will become. And this doesn’t mean I’m being nice to cover over the discomfort of the negative thoughts that do come up. This can turn into denial if left unchecked. Rather allow both negative and positive thoughts to coexist, but choose to practice the positive.

I hope this has been helpful in some way. Making positive changes in our life isn’t always easy. But if you’re looking, you can usually find help and support when you need it. I hope this has been both. And as always, peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Ritual Sacrifice of the Gummulate Tribe!” by Grizdave is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated: 11/24/22

When Feeling Loved is Scarce: How do We Find Care in Our Relationships When Love is Finite

It’s no secret that I grew up in a household that confused feeling loved and belonging with how we were seen by others. There were undercurrents, okay maybe tidal waves of insecure self-image that ran through my family. Starting with weight and extending to the clothing we wore. Or how clean our house was, whatever the focus was, there was always the feeling of being judged. And who we were was written all over us by the things we did and owned.

Growing Up in a Cold, Unloving Environment

This was a very cold environment to grow up in. Or rather I imagine it would feel cold if I had the ability to feel anything. There was always a numbness that came with the lifestyle. A heavy feeling. As though the air were ripe with criticism and it was only the work of a moment for someone to descend, dispensing with whatever it was that I was doing wrong. There’s a line in a song by Peter, Bjorn and John’s, “The Chills” that sums up this feeling, “your tongue is sharp, but I miss the taste of it.”

And that’s how it felt. There was a maddening search for approval from someone who constantly held it just out of reach. And feeling approved of was a precursor to feeling loved and belonging. But the game was rigged. I would never meet my caregivers impossible standards, because they in turn never met the impossible standards set by their caregivers. You can’t give what you don’t have. And in this case it was approval for reaching a standard they themselves never reached.

Lack of Feeling Loved is Generational

Looking back now, I’m able to see with some clarity as to how this has played out from generation to generation. Also the sheer amount of emotional manipulation my family has endured and doled out simultaneously has help me to piece together that, we all probably feel a little like frauds when it comes to feeling love and belonging. That’s how I felt for a long time.

The feeling still pops up from time to time. Something I’ve come to expect. You don’t experience years of neglect and abuse and suddenly expect those feelings of inadequacy to go away overnight. It takes years of self-care and reparenting to even begin to feel again. This was the case for me anyways. Then you’d better buckle your seatbelts because all those feelings come crashing in like the aforementioned emotional tidal-wave, taking with it just about all of your stability and core sense of self.

Navigating Expectations and Practicing Feeling Loved

So if we’ve only really experienced critical judgement from caregivers and the moments of care, love and tenderness were fleeting if present at all, then how do we chose love? From my experience, it helps to practice the actions that add up to feeling loved. The patience, with yourself and others. Keeping a nonjudgmental state of mind is another piece of the puzzle. Or at least not getting wrapped up in the story you tell yourself about what you’re doing wrong or how you or somebody else isn’t adding up to someone’s expectations.

And none of this is easy. So another aspect of practicing feeling loved is being forgiving. Of ourselves and others when we’ve stumbled. It’s inevitable that we will make mistakes. Maybe by judging somebody else for making a mistake, instead of asking if they’re experiencing stress in their lives that may be impacting them in the here and now. Or beating ourselves up for overlooking a task we should have gotten to. Where we could be appreciative of how much we’ve accomplished during the day.

Patience and Understanding Leads to Forgiveness and Change

So if patience and understanding are the pieces to feeling loved, forgiveness is the glue that binds them together. But don’t forget to be open to the feelings we have that follow, when we practice patience. Or how we feel when we’re being accepting of and listening to others. Because those are the spaces where we change. When we “be the change you want to see in the world” or ourselves.

And of course like anything worth the while, this all takes time. Another way to practice patients with yourself. When I started noticing how often I was judging others, it took some time before I could look at someone and not automatically deem them as overweight. Or unattractive. Two main areas of focus in my family when it came to being judgmental. And it still happens. The difference now is, that I can recognize the thoughts that come to mind. And now I can let them be, without judging myself for having them.

When Your Thoughts Aren’t So Loving

Tara Brach said something that really hit home with me in one of her talks. To paraphrase, she said that you don’t have thoughts, your mind secretes them. Saying you’re having a thought is like saying you’re circulating your blood. They just happen and the mind has no shame. And from my experience, I can get pretty worked up over the thoughts that are popping up.

Especially if you’ve experienced any sort of verbal abuse or emotional manipulation from those closest to you. Self-doubt, fear and frustration are only a few of the emotions that come to pay a visit. And the thoughts that accompany them just as unpleasant. So it’s nice to know that the thoughts that run through your mind aren’t a reflection of who you are. Or that you’re being too judgmental.

Once we begin to cultivate these traits in ourselves and with others, we then can have the experience of feeling loved. Also feeling caring and ease in our relationships. Emotions that may not have had modeled for us in our youth. It may not be easy, but it’s worth the while. To foster these aspects of our relationships in order to feel a deeper connection and maybe more fulfilled. So stay the course! It’ll be difficult at times, but it gets easier with practice. Peace, and thanks for reading :]

Image Credits: “Scarce blood enough in all their sickly veins” by harold.lloyd is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated: 7/29/22

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

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