Quarantine and Neglect: How Isolating can Help to Resource

I’m quarantining now and it’s been a week or so since I’ve started. It’s the first time I’ve had to since the pandemic began and it’s not easy or pleasant, that’s for sure. I’m catching up here on NLL a bit. Doing some research and looking into tutorials which is nice, productive and a resource. But there’s another aspect to quarantining that has me feeling a bit off. I wasn’t sure what it was at first. But the more I sat with the feelings the more they reminded me of growing up in my childhood home. What I was experiencing was reminiscent of my feelings of neglect.

Isolation and it’s Emotional Effects

We already know some of the downsides to quarantining are being disconnected from family and friends. But I had no Idea what I was going to experience when I shut the door and the world out for seven days. The feelings first came on as a bit of boredom. I currently live with two others, so I only leave my room for a few things. But isolating in a 15’x15′ foot room with very little in the way of social interaction is trying on me emotionally.

At first I thought, “this isn’t so bad. People have it much worse than I do.” But the more time I have to think about my situation and feel my emotions, the clearer it feels. That I’m reliving the neglect of my past. The times where I wouldn’t see my caregivers for what felt like days.

Boredom & Loneliness

Just me sitting in front of the T.V. by myself, watching another episode of the Simpsons. Except when I would occasionally go into the kitchen to try to find something to eat that wasn’t soda or cereal. The same friend of mine that coined the phrase, “I’m here, I care”, also said that they were raised by the Simpsons. And with the show being on for close to four hours a day, I definitely spent more of my time with that family than I did my own.

I understand the sacrifices my caregivers had to make in order to provide for me. It wasn’t always easy for us when I was growing up. But I feel as though they could have struck a balance between working and spending time with their family. Subsequently there are few moments I can reflect on that feel like quality family time.

It Felt as Though Life Stopped

Instead it felt like I was walking around my house feeling like a ghost. Empty. Which brings me back to quarantining for the past week. There is that same ghost like quality to sitting in my room alone. Feeling the emptiness of years past weighing down on me. As I said above, it wasn’t easy. I didn’t have the same routines to fall back on. Usually I drink a few cups of herbal tea with honey before I go to bed. I also talk to the people I live with over dinner. Instead I eat my meals in my room in solitary with only water and a lemonade.

The dishes pile up on my shelf because I don’t want to make too many trips to shared common areas for fear of infecting someone if I have gotten the virus. It reminded me of the ways I used to live. Some of my apartments as I’ve mentioned before were manifestations of the ways I learned to neglect myself. So isolating for a few days is bringing those feelings of neglect right back, front and center.

Feeling and being alone, possible being sick and living in questionable surroundings is for all the reasons I’ve started above, like feeling and being neglected. Reliving some of these emotions is draining. And I imagine I’m not alone in noticing this. With more and more people quarantining it would only make sense that this type of isolation would bring back some painful memories of past neglect.

We work so hard to create comfortable lives. Filled with people, activities and rituals that when we lose it all so swiftly, what we could be left with is old feelings of painful neglect. But it’s not as bleak as it seems. We can Resource.

Finding the Resources to Ease the Pain

I’m definitely able to rely on a resource or two to help me through some of the more difficult times here while I’m alone. And to remind myself that I’m in the here and now. Not feeling the neglect from my past anymore. Because it’s so easy to get swept up into reliving the past when old feelings come tumbling in. Remember that the lives we’re building aren’t gone. We just need to access them maybe in different ways.

Reaching Out To Loved Ones

Some of the ways I keep myself company are obvious ones. I reach out to friends via text or IM. Catching up with old friends and being support for them makes me feel more connected. Sharing thoughts and memories that keep me company during the times I feel most stressed and isolated is comforting also and a resource to me. And I imagine to them as well.

Also making plans to go visit them when we’re able to travel again gives me something to look forward to. I haven’t seen these friends in a very long time. So seeing how they’ve changed over the years while rehashing some old stories sounds like a great way to reconnect.

The friends I’m talking about live on the west coast. I’ve known them since I was in grade school and high school, when we were living in the same city and they’ve been a great resource as well. I’ve also only recently reconnected with them. Finding I have more time on my hands and less to do thanks to Covid. I’m happy I did because like I’ve said above, they’ve become a source of emotional support. So if you’ve always wondered how an old friend of yours is doing, maybe you lost touch after high school when you both went your separate ways to different colleges, don’t be held back from reaching out because you feel things are too different now. Send that text, message or email. You’ll probably be surprised with how welcoming they are. I know I was and I’m happier for it.

Move Your Body

Another resource I’ve come to rediscover in a new way is doing yoga. I didn’t think I’d be able to keep up with my practice in the area I have. I usually exercise in a separate room where there’s plenty of space to flow through my vinyasas. But the useable space in my room is just enough to walk through to strategic places. I.e. the wardrobe, hampers and bedside.

They are already cramped quarters and I didn’t think I’d be able to fully extend into my warrior IIs. But after moving some stuff around I find that I have just enough room to do my practice in.

I also shifted the time I practice to early in the evening when the sun is going down. I light a few candles and find that my space is cozier than the room I usually work out in. It reminds me of one of the first studios I started my practice in. There isn’t as much room, but with the sun setting and the ambient lighting from the candles, and all the pieces in my room that come together to give shape to my personality, it feels as though I am in a more intimate version of the studio where I first learned to love yoga. It is more me in every way and I definitely feel less isolated.

Start Your Own Flow

If you’ve been thinking of starting a workout routine but can’t find the time, now maybe the best opportunity to get into a healthier habit. The reason I like yoga so much is because you don’t need a lot of equipment to get started. A mat, maybe some videos and time. Yoga with Adriene has a wide selection of different length videos to choose from and is a great resource. So if you only have the time or energy for twenty minutes of yoga, she’s got your back.

Pick Up a Book

Another resource I’m able to cultivate is reading. I never used to read that much. I picked up reading as a hobby in my early twenties. Even then I wouldn’t call myself an avid reader. It felt as though it were taking up too much of my time. I’m not sure from what because I mostly played video games and consumed a lot of television.

When I did read I mostly read nonfiction. But reading only one subject matter for any length of time is a good way to burn yourself out. Lately I’m keeping a few different genres of books around for some variety. I have one science fiction, one on sustainable living and another I just put on hold at the library for houseplants that purify and cleanse the air in your home.

My old reading habits were one book at a time. And I had to finish that one before I started another regardless of whether or not I liked it. It felt more like work actually. But now I try to read twenty minutes before I go to bed. And if I don’t feel like reading the book I read last night, that’s okay. I just pick up another. Or if I don’t feel like reading, that’s fine too. But knowing I have that twenty minutes before bed set aside for that purpose makes me feel a little better about my reading habits. Like I’m cultivating something that will make me a little healthier. And it feels good.

Finding Something New to Read

Do you have a Goodreads account? If so, it may be fun to revisit some of the books you put on your shelf to look into for later. That’s where I found the book on houseplants I ordered from the library. And if you haven’t checked out your local library in a while, it may be worth the endeavor. It’s a huge resource for readers and they are all free as long as you have a library card. They’ll even deliver materials from other libraries that are in your network. So if you can’t find what you’re looking for at your local library, chances are one in your network will have it.

Self Expression

Writing

NLL has been a huge resource for me as well. I’ve set a word limit and some R&D time as well as goals for the week or day. I don’t always meet them, but it’s good to connect with my creativity and explore some of my emotional spaces through writing. Also I keep a bullet journal as I’ve mentioned before on this blog.

Writing is a passion of mine. But if it wasn’t writing I’d be pursuing some other creative outlet. Cooking or maybe looking into brewing beer again comes to mind. Being alone is the perfect time to pick up a hobby that you may have started a few years ago. Or maybe there’s something that you’ve always wanted to try but can’t find the time.

Woodworking

A friend of mine is watch YouTube videos on woodworking. The same friend who helped me build the shelves that I spoke about in my post on, building shelves building community. He’s finding people who are doing creative and interesting projects that are in line with his shared interests in woodworking. The Bourbon Moth is one resource he told me about. They’re a company that makes furniture using reclaimed pieces of wood. They also have loads of YouTube videos on DIY woodworking projects.

If woodworking’s not your thing, maybe you’re into a sport or knitting. There are so many people out there sharing their passions on YouTube or by blogging and podcasting, that there is no shortage of ways to connect with others about what you’re into. All you need to do is get out there and look around a bit. Who knows what you’ll discover. And don’t forget to let those you care about know along the way. You may just learn something new about an old friend or family member.

Connect With What You’re Eating

Another way I’m taking care of myself is through the resource of my need for some variety in my diet. Before I went into quarantine, I went to the grocery store to stock up on some supplies. Snack foods I could keep in my room that I knew would lift my spirits while I was pacing around the tiny square footage of my bedroom.

I knew I wasn’t going to be spending the time in my kitchen that I normally do, cooking meals for the week and going food shopping. So having a few healthy snacks that I could munch on during the day in between leftovers from the fridge or takeout is something I look forward to. Knowing that I’m looking out for myself and taking care of those small needs is gratifying and comforting. It’s like knowing I’m here for myself when things get tough.

Listening to and Finding New Music

If you’ve read my post on sorting your music collection, you’ll know that I’m weeding out some of my music library as well. I’ve also started a new playlist of songs to look into, that I’ve heard while at work or out and around. I’ll play it on shuffle when I’m doing a task and if I hear a song I like, I listen to the album to see if it’s a keeper.

I noticed that I play the same few albums over and over again on repeat. And it’s not that I don’t like those songs, but after a while I need a little variety with what I’m listening to. Doing the same things, whatever they are, over and over again is mentally draining. This way I’m mixing things up in my daily routine musically and discovering new songs I like at the same time. I’m also thinking less about the past as well.

Ghosts in Our Musical Past

Music has always been a resource for me. It’s strange how music has the ability to bring us back to times and places in our lives. I know for me I avoided a lot of the music I used to listen to. I’m not hitched to the old songs as I once was when they come up. I know that they’re there, but I don’t fear them popping up as much as I used to. Because I’m building a more positive connection with the tracks I’m listening to now. Associating them with a brighter outlook and a more positive times and places.

Befriending Your Plant Friends

Another aspect of my life I’m tending to and resource is, taking care of my house plants. I have a moderate collection of plants I’ve collected over the years. I have them on a schedule for watering and feeding, but asides from the basics I haven’t put a lot of effort into their maintenance. Lately I’ve been doing some research on them. What their ideal environments are, what’s the difference between low light and medium light needs? Ways to get more moisture to plants that like high humidity.

I’m currently trying to bring a crispy wave birds nest fern back to life. It isn’t quite the right time of year for it’s growing season, but I’ve put a plan in place to bring it the love it needs when it wakes up. For example I was watering the center of the plant before, which is where the new frond growth happens. A little research said that this is a good way to stop new fronds from coming up. So I’ve started watering around the sides.

Bringing it All Together

It’s a nice feeling attuning to my plants needs. Searching out new ways to care for them while adjusting my care routine to reflect these new habits I’m trying to develop. Because that’s what I’m also doing for myself really. Creating resources. I know I need food, but I don’t want just any food. I want something nutritious but also something I’ll enjoy. Same with music and reading. I enjoy these things and want to cultivate positive experiences around them while discovering new favorites. There’s so much out there to discover and experience, but we won’t find what we’re looking for if we’re focused on how alone we feel.

Those are the current ways I am attending to my needs while isolated in quarantine. The stress of isolation is still here, that doesn’t go away. But knowing that I’m connected to my larger support group, and caring for my own needs is a huge resource. The old feelings of neglect still pop up once and awhile, but they are surrounded by so much more support then they ever have been before. And they aren’t as pressing or encompassing, intense as they once were.

The loneliness isn’t so lonely knowing I can reach out to people. The boredom isn’t so heavy knowing that I’m pursuing interests and hobbies. Life feels a little more full. Like I’m more me. As Tara Brach put it, “it’s survival of the nurtured, not survival of the fittest.” And while I’m attending to my fitness levels, I’m thriving because I’m nurturing the parts of my life that used to lay neglected. First by others, then by myself.

It took a lot of work to get to the place where I can feel this nurtured. But it’s not impossible and it gets easier with help. It may seem bleak for the moment, but remember that this too shall pass. And a little bit of self nurturing can go a long way. So be kind to yourself. Pick up that hobby that you’ve always been interested in. Reach out to that friend you haven’t spoken to in years. Go through your libraries and rediscover some old favorites or find some new ones. Whatever it is, do it with kindness and you will be nurturing yourself. Until next time, peace and thanks for reading 🙂

Image Credits: “empty room” by tozzer577 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated: 7/31/22

Search for a Laundry Basket: What your Environment Tells you About Your Self Value

I’ve been looking for a laundry basket. Two actually. To replace the ones I have currently. The ones I have work in that they’re functional and they hold dirty clothes. But for some reason they don’t sit right with me. I recently bought one of the baskets I’m using and the other is a hand-me-down. But the one I recently bought has since bent in a few places, due to it not being the most sturdily designed basket. And the hand-me-down is cracked, dirty and an eye sore.

Realizing the Things I Own are a Marker For My Self Value

For a while I was telling myself “they’re only laundry baskets, it doesn’t matter what they look like”. But the more I use them, cleaned around them and walked past them, the more I realized they were not only less functional because of how cheaply they were made, but I also feel as though they were saying to me, “are you willing to settle for this? Two cheaply made hampers that you will be looking at for however long it takes for them to break?”

And the answer was a resounding no! So why was I holding on to them when I could replace them with so much ease? The easy answer is, if you’ve read my post on budgeting, you’ll know I’m saving money for an emergency fund. So being frugal was my default, easy out. But the tough answer is that I just didn’t feel like I was worth something better. I felt a definite lack of self value.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me and the sadder it all felt. They were something I looked at everyday and every time I looked at them I felt a little worse that they were there. But I just kept telling myself that they were doing their jobs. Don’t fix what’s not broken. You can make do.

Finding My Value

So there they sat. When I got dressed in the morning or undressed in the evening. I just accepted that I was settling for less, felt less self value. Until I got it in me that they needed replacing. I’m not positive what the final straw was, but by the grace of God, I decided to start searching for new baskets. I’m looking for something sturdy, cheap and preferably sustainable. But most importantly, I’m looking for something that makes me feel better about the ways I choose to live my life and what I surround myself with.

Rough Beginnings

As a comparison, one of the first apartments I lived in more resembled a trash heap than a dwelling. I was living in a run down part of town and I remember one day or maybe it was a week, the trash had piled up so high on the floor that I had to wade through calf high drifts to get to the bathroom. That’s how I lived my life. Surrounded by piles of garbage.

And my surroundings were definitely a reflection of how I was feeling about myself and self value. Worthless. As though I wasn’t worthy of the time or effort to deserve nicer or more quality things. My past living circumstances were most likely the catalyst for my decision to replace my laundry baskets. But it took a long time to come to that conclusion. It has been 17 years since I lived in that apartment. My house is much cleaner than it used to be and I was still clinging to parts of the past that I no longer needed. So why was I holding on so tight? What was I afraid of?

Self Value is a Learned Trait

Part of the problem was that my experience was a learned one from my caregivers. Not that either live in squalor, but they never expressed a sense of inherent self value to themselves or to me. No doubt they learned this lack of self value from their caregivers as well as I did. So much of their value was based on the things they owned or wore. Or were just resigning to living with the dysfunction as I had.

So it’s not their fault as they fell into the trap that is perpetuated by the never ending chase to feel accepted and cool. Or just gave up on themselves all together. But the message still persisted: “I’m not worth the time and effort to take care of myself and my surroundings. I’m willing to settle for less.” And it was this mindset that I grew up with and was surrounded by. And attitudes I carried these with me into adulthood.

The more we decide to take care of ourselves, replace the broken things in our lives with the things we enjoy, the more we are telling ourselves that we are worth the time, effort and care. We don’t have to just settle for what’s here because it’s working for now and that’s good enough.

An Argument For Buying New

And this may seem to run counter to the message of my blog. That buying things will not bring you happiness. And in a way, it does. But the act of replacing things that are causing you suffering or some disease with those things that bring joy, seems to me anyway more an act of self-care than setting our self value at what we purchase or how we are seen. The more we can enjoy the spaces we dwell in, the greater the ability we have of cultivating a sense of ease, joy and comfort. And these things are important. If they weren’t, places like prisons wouldn’t feel like you were paying a debt to society, it’d be more like a hotel.

Letting Your Environment Decay is Equivalent to Decayed Self Value

This type of settling for less is also another form of self neglect. Settling for less or letting the broken pieces fill up your life until you are surrounded by a life’s time worth of cobbled together pieces of the unusable, is not the way to feel as though you are a whole, dynamic person. That you are worth something or have inherent value.

Self Value Evaluation

This is what I am talking about when I say our environment is telling us stories about ourselves. All you need to do is look around the areas of your life. Where do you spend the most time? This will help you to get a feel for what condition your self value is in. Are these places filled with trinkets that remind you of loved ones or good times? Are they cluttered or disorganized? Do you use or appreciate the things that are in these places? Or are they just taking up space?

For me, the bedroom, kitchen and living room are the big three where I spend the most amount time. They all have aspects that I’d like to change, but unfortunately I’m not in a position to make the definitive decision on how or when to change them. Though regardless, it’s worth the time to take stock of your surroundings and notice, what are the things you’d like to see changed?

As I said, I’m not able to make the changes I’d like to, but I have a list and a few boards on Pinterest where I’ve already planned out what my future living spaces are going to look like. So even if you’re not in a position to make the changes you’d like to, it never hurts to make some, some-day plans, for when you’re able.

Get Together to Create Something special

Or if it’s a shared space, bring everybody together that uses the space and find out how they feel about it. Start a discussion. Who knows where it could lead. And you’d also be building better, stronger relationships while doing these projects together. And healthier communication skills by understanding and attuning to each other’s needs. Getting to know their likes and dislikes and in turn, know them more wholly as a people.

So if you’ve been holding on to something for far too long just because it still works, a chipped glass, broken mug or a shower caddy that’s seen one too many showers, maybe it’s time to ask yourself, “what am I holding onto this for?” Changing your surroundings may help to bring more ease to your day to day life. And it may help to establish a stronger feeling of self-worth and value. Peace, 🙂 and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Dirty Laundry” by Changhai Travis is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 7/31/22

Knowing How to Attune to Our Feeling Selves

I grew up in a family that never spoke about their feelings or how to attune to them. That’s not hyperbole. We never spoke about anything really. But feelings were especially taboo. If you view emotions as a language to convey and communicate needs, we were deaf and mute. It has taken me decades, fumbling around with and trying to understand this language. Something that had eluded me and my caregivers for so long. So now that I’ve grasped the basics of my emotional language, I’m coming to understand how knowing how to attune to our emotional selves and connecting with my emotional states, are intertwined with self-care.

Self-Care and Our Emotions

For some (hopefully most), this is not new news. Knowing how you’re feeling at any given time and then being able to respond appropriately in the moment to your emotions hopefully comes as second nature to you. But if you’ve experienced trauma and you’ve disconnected from your emotions and body, then reconnecting is no easy task. Even if you haven’t experienced trauma, but have been under chronic stress. Then attunement can be a chore as well. So how do we begin the work of reconnecting to our emotional bodies? So we can better attune to our needs and foster the emotional space necessary for self-care? For me it started with finding patience.

Be Patient

I remember the day clearly that I found the emotional space to hold difficult emotions without reacting to the discomfort I was feeling. I was waiting for a woman who I loved and we were running late for something. A situation that would normally invoke irritation in me. But I found the space to let the emotion be, while focusing on how I really felt about the person. The love that was at the core of our bond and not the irritation that was transient. And it’s important to note that the irritation was still there. Only it wasn’t stronger than the feelings of love and patience. If we’ve been brought up in families where we feel like a burden, or we’ve been neglected, we can internalize those as signs of there being something wrong with us. And if we’re not told and reinforced that we are loved and belong, then when the people who are supposed to show us love are instead filled with contempt, we may take on that contempt and aim it inwardly. Usually towards the places we feel are “unlovable”. Because if we didn’t have these “unlovable” places, we would be loved.

Forgetting Who I Am

This was how I lost track of who I was on an emotional level. With so much neglect and contempt, I was constantly looking for a way to feel part of and accepted by my family. I took everything personally because I didn’t know how to draw clear boundaries between my emotions and those of my caregivers. Because I felt so much of my belonging hinged on their approval. Their good or bad moods, the ones that I may or may not be responsible for. I was constantly in tune to them. Even their slightest of shifts could fill me with fear. But along the way I learned to stop listening to my own wants and needs. For instance I didn’t really know how I was feeling most of the time. But I also didn’t even know if I was hungry or tired. I did learn how to push myself beyond my limits though. Mostly fueled by coffee, to keep me going during the day and beer to slow me down at night. This was how I learned to ignore the most basic of my needs. To feel loved and belonging.

Learning to Listen, Learning to Attune

There was a lot of confusion and fear without a doubt. But it wasn’t hopeless. If it was the love of a woman that allowed me to understand how patience felt, it was meditation, yoga and running that helped me practice and foster a place for patience to grow in defiance of the fear. And it wasn’t easy. I had put off feeling a lot of my emotions. And when I sat down to learn how to feel again, they all came flooding back in. It was overwhelming for sure. But they needed to be felt. And there was a learning curve. Understanding how to let in a metered amount of emotion while learning what my limits are is something I’m still coming to understand.

Overcoming Our Barriers

Running and yoga helped me to understand how to push my boundaries and limits in a healthy way. To build resilience. The reason these methods were so helpful was because it was tough work being with my difficult emotions. Running and yoga mirrored the difficulty of being in a difficult emotional state. But it also gave me a sense of being physically capable of overcoming obstacles. Barriers that were holding me back from being wholly present in my body. Either during a difficult workout or sitting with a difficult emotion. And what’s more is, I was stronger after the effort. On the other side of my physical and emotional barriers. And it seemed insurmountable at times. But it was and is possible. And coming to terms with unfelt emotions doesn’t solely lay with those of us who have experienced trauma. In the day to day, so often we put off things that we see as being difficult. Talking with a friend or family member that have wronged us to some degree. Or apologizing to a coworker we may not like when we know we’ve been insensitive. Both examples of ways we avoid difficult emotions.

Practice and Be Forgiving

And the more we practice coming home to the space where we put unwanted feelings, what we’ve been avoiding, the more we show ourselves the patience and kindness that are necessary for self-care. Much like my workouts, the work you put in, is the resilience you receive. And what holds it all together is practice. Especially when it gets difficult. Those are the times where we need to double down, hold in just a little longer. And be forgiving if we don’t feel we’ve lived up to our standards. If you’re like me, you’ve probably set the bar too high to begin with! And it’s a practice anyways. We’re never really done with the work of living, so why beat ourselves up for not getting it “right”. Or just the way we want it? Practice kindness to yourself, be patient with yourself and forgive yourself and you’ll learn to attune to yourself. These are the tools I’ve found to be helpful to attune and reconnect with my emotional self. Thanks for reading, peace : ] Image Credits:“LISTEN” by elycefeliz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Self-Care Sundays! Coming to Terms With Your Fear and Neglect by Creating Healthy, Sustainable Habits.

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

What Are Your Beliefs About Self-Care Based On

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

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

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

My Unkempt Maze Of Emotions

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

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

In the case of my family, what “could consume you completely” was all of the unattended emotions. The ones that were wildly in need of some kind and structured attention. But when you’re a child learning how to communicate with your loved ones and learning the different types of languages they’re modeling for you, using their spoken and implied rules, it’s difficult to understand that it’ not your fault that you don’t understand. That it’s not personal.

Navigating Anger in the Family Maze Of Communication

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

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

Self-Care and it’s Positive Effects

From my experience, practicing self-care means we are sending the message to ourselves that we are important and valuable. And the more often we send ourselves these positive messages, the less we believe unhealthy messages. The ones of feeling unloved. Those that we receive by the neglect and abuse from our caregivers. As an old co-worker of mine used to say, it’s like you’re telling yourself, “I’m here, I care”.

And a little bit of care goes a long way. Especially since we have everyday stressors to deal with. Added to the neglect from the past it can feel insurmountable at times! But what helps us to embody and strengthen these messages of self-care we give to ourselves is, repetition and consistency. We need to make showing up for ourselves a habit.

Self-Care Routine, Self-Care Sundays

Which brings us to self-care Sundays! For me and my schedule, I needed to set some time aside each week. This is so I know I have some slotted time to relax. And even learning to relax is a challenge! So I started by choosing a time to begin to learn, which for me became Sunday nights. Since I work in the food industry, my Sunday is my Friday. So I thought, what better way to start my weekend than with a little down time for myself.

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

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

Self-Care is Everybody’ Job Not Gender Specific

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

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

Under this model I was taught that I needed a woman to be kind to me, because I couldn’t do it for myself. I was unable to feel kindness being a man, so instead, I needed a woman to feel it for me. Asides from this being an extremely unhealthy dynamic, it taught me the lesson that I couldn’t be kind to myself or others.

Gender Specific Emotions Breeds Contempt

As a child, I was given a considerable amount of unhealthy messages. Kindness being the woman’s job or even having emotions as being feminine, were a few of them. But to my younger self this made sense. This was due to all the men in my life being terrifying and the source of most of my abuse. But the women were just as fear provoking, neglectful and spiteful. So fitting into the roles I had laid out for me meant, I needed to be hard and unfeeling. In control of myself and others while enduring all the contempt we were generating under these unspoken rules.

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

What I feel was the missing piece to my family’s way of being in relationship was, they were relying on someone else to take care of themselves while they took care of another. And if your source of belonging and care is threatened and you are unable to provide that care for yourself, then you would go to great lengths to try to control that source of external “care”. Even if it is abusive.

The Importance of Self-Care

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

Now that I’ve gone over some of the ways we may find resistance in attempting self care, next week I’ll go over some of my routines and how I made them stick. Because it’s not always easy starting a new routine. Especially one that is at the very core of how we take care of ourselves. Till next time, Peace : )

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

Edited: 6/3/22

Toxic Masculinity: The Pitfalls of Growing Up Male

I was a child of the eighties. As a male, that meant a lot of different things but toxic masculinity was near the top. As far as my most influential role models were concerned, they were Sylvester Stallone from “Rambo 2” and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in, “The Predator”. Two men who used gratuitous violence to get what they wanted and to defend what was rightfully theirs (usually a woman). These two characters, for me, defined what it meant to be a man, in my childhood.

With regards to male emotions, as far as I knew we only had two. Anger, which was most prevalent and the self righteousness to use our anger to protect what was morally right. These were the lessons that I used to view my world with and they started before I was able to communicate with those teaching me.

What I Thought It Meant to Be a Man

In the world I grew up in, men were men and took what they wanted while drinking whiskey doing it. Women were weak, caretakers of the men and children and watched soap operas during the day and went shopping, a lot. At the time, I had no idea how unhealthy this polarized idea of how men and women “should act” was. But I was also a child, where black and white thinking was how I, and most children, view and navigated their worlds.

Unfortunately for me, I experienced a fair amount of abuse, trauma and neglect, because of the above form of masculinity. Something I’ve come to know as toxic masculinity. I would later break the mold of this toxic masculinity and the lessons I endured as a child from it. Although not before I bought into the curriculum.

I drank whiskey neat, because I thought it was the mark of a real man. This was because two of my role models, James Bond and Jim Morrison, did and I wanted to be just like them. I watched movies like “Apocalypse Now” and “Fight Club” on repeat. Taking notes on how to be the manliest of men by mostly looking, but also acting the part. I even studied Heath Ledger’s Joker from “Batman”, because he was sort of in line with the ideology of what I thought it meant to be a man. It helped that the role models I had terrorized me in the way I saw the Joker psychologically terrify people.

Luckily I no longer look to role models like these. Or God only knows where I’d be. But what was so insidious about how I came to idolize these characters was, not because I had loads of quality time with my male role models. Role models who mirrored the above type of behavior. But rather it was the neglect mixed with criticism from them, that left me not knowing how to be my own man.

Unclear Messages About Being a Man From Unhealthy Role Models

There were a lot of unspoken messages around what was and was not okay for a man to display. For instance, one of my caregivers told me that I was sensitive on a regular basis. Something that I was sure was not a manly trait, though never explicitly told to me. This usually happened when I was showing an emotion other than the two, pre-approved “manly” emotions of anger and self-righteousness.

I unfortunately did not have the ware-with-all to say that they’d be sensitive too, if they were neglected while wave after wave of terrifying men abuse them. That being said, I recognize that it didn’t start with my caregiver. Their caregivers handed down to them, their child-rearing handbook. So I know they must have lived through some of what I experienced and for that I have empathy for them.

Though telling me that I was sensitive in a way that felt as though I were being harshly and critically judged, taught me that it wasn’t only not okay to display my feelings, but to have these feelings at all. And for a good portion of my adult life, I didn’t even know what emotions were. Not only was there no one there to model healthy emotional states for me, anytime I expressed one that wasn’t acceptable or was considered “unmanly”, I was shamed for having them.

Not Having Words For My Emotions

The one feeling I came to know by name and understand well was anxiety. And that was only in the times between the 4 to 5 lattes I would drink during the day to stay ahead of my emotions and the 5 to 6 beers or mixed drinks I would have at night to numb them when they eventually caught up with me. And the anxiety was paralyzing.

Even then, my ingrained trainings on how to be a “man” still wouldn’t allow me to see my emotions as something to be listened to and cared for. As a marker for something being out of alignment and that they (my emotions) were there for a reason. The degree to which my perception of manliness was skewed was represented in a conversation I had with my doctor. During one of my yearly physicals, I was speaking to my doctor about the anxiety attacks I would sometimes have. I was looking to be prescribed an anti-anxiety medication for them. Only I referred to them as, not being able to live with this weakness inside of me anymore, referring to my anxiety attacks. Luckily, he looked at me with empathy and said that feelings aren’t weaknesses.

Unfortunately, that was one of the few times I could remember receiving any kind of healthy emotional modeling. I had a life’s time worth of harsh criticism and lessons all leading me in the unhealthful direction of toxic masculinity. And resulting in understanding my inner emotional life as a “weakness” to be rooted out.

Changing My Ideas of What it Means to be a Man

So what sparked this awakening so to speak, of how I came to understand just how the toxic masculinity of my caregivers’ perceptions of what being a man meant? And what gave me the ability to want to change myself for the better? It all started when I stopped running from my emotions. But to do that, I had to go digging through my past first.

The Legacy of Toxic Masculinity

When I realized how unhealthy this all was, I couldn’t help but wonder, why do we as men stay so wrapped in this idea of toxic masculinity and perpetually being unable to speak about our emotions? Is it that it’s just the way men are told to be? My caregivers are good examples of this legacy. One of them said to me countless times while I was growing up, “I don’t know how to raise a man”.

This sent me the message that I wasn’t adding up to what their standard of how a man should behave. But it also told me that there was no way I would be able to be a proper man in their eyes because first, they told me they didn’t know how to raise one, and second, I was terrified of all the male role models in my life due their abusive tendencies. The type of man I was supposed to grow into.

What I think my caregiver may have been alluding to when they said they “didn’t know how to raise a man” was, that I had no male role models, healthy or unhealthy that stuck around. None that took the time to show an interest in me and to find out what my strengths were and how I could cultivate them and become my own person. But these are just guesses and I’m no mind reader.

Looking For Guidance Still as an Adult

With the amount of fear and uncertainty I had delt with as a child, it was easy to fall into the trap later on in life, of looking for someone who would tell me what to do. Who to be and how to feel as a man. And there was definitely no shortage of people willing to fill this role for me.

I spent the first half of my life looking for someone to tell me how to be a man to my caregivers standards. To criticize me into being the man I was told I should be. There was a sort of comfort in knowing that your life isn’t your responsibility and that’s what I was looking for. Someone who would tell me who to be. But this way of living led me to stagnate and left me unwilling to move on with my life or effect real change in it. Not to mention the unhealthy drinking habit I picked up along the way as well. Mostly to avoid the responsibility of my emotional life.

I felt trapped in my life without direction. Due to being unable to get passed my feelings that I wasn’t in charge of my own life. That somehow, how others saw me was more important than how I was treating and responding to myself. Or more to the point, I thought I needed someone else to tell me I was on the right path when the only person who could know that was me.

Why These Lessons Were Toxic

I was unable to foster and keep close relationships with others. Or with myself to any meaningful degree because I was unable to empathize with or understand how or what someone was going through on an emotional level. I was completely controlled by my emotions. In that I was terrified of them popping up unexpectedly. So I stayed hyper vigilant to keep the fear of my “unmanly” emotions, those that felt most vulnerable at bay while finding ways of controlling my inner experience. This usually happened by numbing them or by using pleasure seeking habits.

This type of outlook, on how men should be raised according to my family and to a larger degree societally, is founded on two basic principles from what I can gather. The first principle being men should not talk about their emotions and the second, normalizing this form of abuse by labeling it what it means to grow up male.

Men were not supposed to talk about their emotions. As I mentioned above there were only two emotions that were acceptable for men to express in my experience. Anything outside the realm of anger or self-righteous was labeled as not masculine and as a man and in my case, you would be labeled “too sensitive” if you expressed them. Men were supposed to be hard, physically and emotionally, unyielding and unforgiving. 

Recognizing I Needed to Change

What then allowed me to recognize these unspoken family rules and implement the changes I needed for a healthier version of myself? It was the time spent away from my caregivers and me hitting my bottom which came in the form of a few failed relationships.

I had been married to a woman that I was with for about eight years, after which I left her and into the arms another woman. It wasn’t my best decision looking back, but the reason I left my then wife was because when I was with the other woman, I felt heard and seen for the first time since I was a child. I felt like the man that I was expected to be through her and more importantly, through my family’s eyes.

This woman would later leave me. Which was for the best, but this experience left me with nowhere to go and nothing to do, except to come to terms with the person I had become. I moved back in with one of my childhood caregivers at 34 and began rebuilding a relationship with them. Only this time, it wasn’t based around the unspoken rules of how to be a man, as had previously been defined for me in my childhood relationship to my caregivers. And I was scared.

New Lessons On Being a Man

What I was doing went against all my teachings of what it means to be a man. This left me feeling vulnerable and uncertain about how to proceed with the new rules that I hadn’t figured out quite what they were yet. I was confused and scared, but I learned that I could live through these emotions. The confusion and fear and be the stronger for it. Not only that, but I was still the man I was coming to know more and more, without the old and toxic lessons from my past.

Since letting go of those toxically masculine lessons I was raised with, I’ve gained control of my life again. I’ve come to make healthier choices about my diet and spending habits. I seldom drink alcohol and have one to two cups of green tea a day. I’ve found direction in my life and I’m starting to build and maintain healthy relationships with friends and family members on my own terms. It isn’t always easy, but my life is my own to live. And now I no longer seek the approval of somebody else to tell me how I’m doing, at being my own man. And maybe more importantly, if I’m measuring up.

These are the gifts that being your own man are able to yield. Strong and soft are my new goals, not hard and unyielding. Because unlike the curriculum I was given in my childhood, might does not equal right. There is strength in coming to understand, attune and attend to our own inner emotional lives with care. But it takes courage and time.

We have it in us, to embody the strength we need. Some say we were built for it. So take heart reader. Know you are not alone, if you’ve felt as though you haven’t measured up to an unreasonable standard of manliness. And that it is not only possible to be the best version of yourself, however that may look, it’s doable too. You need only to allow yourself to be what you already are : ) Peace and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Texans bravado is a little chilling.” by Tolka Rover is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Edited: 6/1/22

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