Lessons You Taught Me

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I’m the kind of person who consistently tries to learn from her experiences, even the hellish ones. The kind of person who will dig and dig until a gem of insight is found.

Although you gave me a plethora of scars, I am happy to say that even your hellish treatment did not sway me from my self-growth tendencies. You are still responsible for your actions, and always will be, and I am much relieved that you are an ex in the past, and nothing more. But I am happy to say that I have been able to pull many gems from what happened between us.

Lessons I Learned:

  1. Hard, but healthy choices are the best choices to make. That is my new motto. Hard, but healthy choices only. So even if the path I must choose is full of obstacles and difficulties, and I must face head on with my inner demons, I will choose it, if it ultimately means I will be better off in the grand scheme. Which means, I will not stay in a relationship if it tears me up, or it is falling apart. I come first.
  2. Everyone deserves love, yes, but respect is also a necessary pillar in any kind of relationship. I will not stay if there is no respect, because then I am staying at a house with no walls.
  3. Just because people tell me I am ___, does not mean I truly am ___. Sometimes it can get hard to discern between accepting someone’s observation of you as a hidden piece about you that you may not have recognized, and situations when what people say about you are completely false and more having to do with their own issues and projections. In my mind, it comes to one conclusion–learning to build self-trust and insight, so you can better discern between the two and trust in who you know you are.
  4. Love is not the end to all means, and it will certainly not keep a relationship surviving and thriving. In some cases, it can actually keep you in very bad places (i.e., relationships with domestic violence). Communication. Respect. Honesty. Openness. Empathy. These are only some of many parts that stoke the relationship flames.
  5. Self-compassion is essential. I realized my role in the dysfunctional relationship dynamic, and my participation in it (i.e., giving into your emotional abuse, allowing you to blame me for everything, trying too much). But I realized that if I am to accept myself as a human being, beautiful yet very flawed, it naturally follows that I should show myself compassion. It is understandable why I did the things I did, and said the things I said. And I am learning from my own actions. This is the stuff that fertilizes forgiveness, both toward myself and to others.
  6. I have to have standards. Yes, there is such a thing as having ridiculously high standards. But having low standards, or none at all, is just as bad, if not worse. I have to value myself. I have to not only see, but honor my worth. I am important. And I deserve to be treated with love and respect, always. And I deserve to have boundaries when I am not.
  7. There will always be a rather large measure of life that remains unpredictable. One day, I may think things will turn out one way, or that you are the one. The next day, I will find something else, or discover that you were very wrong for me. I used to fight against the chaos and unknown of life, and at times I still do, but I’ve made it a practice to work on accepting this undeniable fact of life. Acceptance brings peace and calm… because I remind myself that even in the chaos, things will ultimately turn out the way it is meant to be.
  8. Not all relationships will last, but that’s okay. Love convinces us when we’re in it that no, this it is, this is the one. But sometimes we do this to our detriment, putting all our energy into making a failing relationship work. But we don’t need to do that to ourselves. All we have is this present moment, and that’s it. We can cherish the love we have in the moment. Maybe there will come a day when the love will be gone and we grow unhappy, or a day when that feeling of love will grow even stronger. #7 makes it so that we can never be sure. But as I am dating now, this lesson is very loud and clear in my head. I feel something with this person, it feels really good, but no need to go into future-predicting. Let the path unfold. And see what the Universe brings to your table. It is what it’s meant to be.
  9. Be with someone who will see you for all that you are, in your weaknesses and all your beauty and glory–and cannot conceive of wanting someone else… someone who treats you like the wonderful being you are. Be with someone who will put in their share of work to keep you in their life, because there is no question in their mind that you are worth it.
  10. I believed when we broke up that I would not find someone better than you. I found the phrase, “There’s more fish in the sea” too cliche to believe.  But standing where I am today, with a new potential ahead in the horizon, patiently waiting, I realize that I was in error. There are better, much better, out there in the wide expanse around me–people are so unique, complex and different, that of course this is the case. I have living proof standing in front of me at this moment that there are better. Perhaps you may be better for another some day, but you were worse for me. I am happy to move on.
  11. Last but not least, never, ever let anyone take who you are, or take your identity. This means rejecting statements that don’t resonate as true for you, or allowing yourself to be consumed by a relationship. Build a life separate from others, an identity with roots deep in the uniqueness and power of you–all the while, sharing that lovely uniqueness with the ones you love.
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the art of moving on

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To the grieving and broken-hearted:

I know how hard it is–to have your heart smashed into pieces, to have that large void growing in your chest where your loved one used to be. And the struggle of every day, every minute, every second. Then the people on the sidelines shout to you from the comfort of their seats, “Just get over it. There’s more fish in the sea. Don’t think about it anymore. They’re gone, but things will get better.” Platitude after platitude falls at your feet and your find yourself tripping over the how-it-should-bes.

But listen to me. It’s not a matter of knowing it will get better–I’m sure, deep down, you already know that. And it’s not a matter of “getting over it” or not thinking about it–surely if it were that easy, we wouldn’t be struggling so hard in the first place. If I could burn those cliches in a glorious bonfire, I would… why? They have it all wrong.

Because it’s not about the destination, or quick, imaginary fixes. But instead, it’s about steps. One step, two steps, ten steps, twenty, hundred, thousand steps… one at a time. Slow, slow, eyes up, moving your body forward, even when you don’t always feel it. That’s it. You got it. Rain and hail pellet you, it’s hard for you to breathe, tears stream down your eyes and you can barely see, but still, you take one tiny step forward, you push through, you don’t give up on the forward motion… it’s your solace, your last thread of hope. That’s right, the rain won’t last forever, just move forward. You can do it. One step. One more step. See how they all add up? There you go, look up, the sun is peaking out from the clouds. But don’t stop moving. One step at a time.

It won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick. Take it from someone who has experienced a myriad of grief and loss experiences, from losing boyfriends and close friends, to losing her own father. There will be days that will be dark indeed, and you’ll forget what you’re living for. But if there is one thing to put your hopes in, it is not that you will “get over it.” No one “gets over it,” and if anything, we must honor the love our loss reminds us of. Yes, it’s tough, so tough. But the day will come and go, and at the rising of the sun, you’ll have an opportunity to start fresh again. And again. No feeling is final. And all things will come to pass.

Soon, on your journey forward, you’ll find yourself somewhere you would’ve never imagined. New people. New opportunities. New skies. New scenery. New feelings inside you. Yes, that grief may come to visit you along the path, but instead of devouring you as it once did, it will walk along side you, like a mournful companion–but then you keep moving, and he leaves once more.

If there is one certainty in this world, it is its impermanence. The world is always changing. So are they. And so are we.

necessary loss

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The concept of “necessary loss” has been revolutionary to me recently. Loss is rarely present without a web of complexity–in not only the grief, but the other emotions that arise, depending on the kind of loss you’re experiencing.

This is not to say all losses are necessary. Losses cannot be generalized that way. But, there are some kinds of loss that may end up falling in the “necessary” category.

I’m reflecting on this, because my life this year has had the overarching theme of “loss.” I did not only lose my romantic partner; I am losing my two current jobs in lieu of a new full-time job I will be starting in two weeks. I am losing clients I have worked with for at least 2-3 years as a result of my leaving. On a personal front, I have been losing all kinds of friends, and even parts of myself.

This is where the necessary part comes in.

When the loss of my ex first started everything off, I was feeling anxious and depressed, in addition to grief. When more losses rolled in, I felt overwhelmed. But now that I am at the end of the year and at a place where I can see all of this more clearly,  I realize that despite the turmoil and struggle, some of those losses were/are needed.

My ex? He was narcissistic and emotionally abusive. My job? Toxic environment and I’ve hated working there the past 10 months. My best friend? He’s been MIA the entire year, and it’s not too much to ask to want a best friend who is present more than 20% of the time. My other best friend? She’s more concerned with getting emotional support than giving it. Other friends and acquaintances I’ve chosen to not engage with anymore? More concerned with meeting their own selfish needs. The part of me that feels compelled to give at the expense of herself, making herself invisible in order to make space for others? Well, it’s because of that part I got into the aforementioned mess in the first place. It’s no longer serving a good purpose–in actuality, that part of myself is harming me a great deal more than helping.

My therapist brought up the term “blessed subtractions,” and I think it’s very fitting for my current life’s circumstances. It’s a blessing that I am no longer in an abusive relationship with a narcissist. It’s a blessing that I found a new job, even if it means building a new normal. It’s possibly a blessing that my clients will be getting a new therapist–that new person may give them something I may not have been able to give. It’s a blessing that I’m losing the friends I’m losing, because I need friends who can reciprocate support, love, and care–and not expect me to do all the work. It’s my responsibility to give myself what I need, and to trim out what’s not working.

Letting go has never been easy for me. It could be because I lost my father when I was fifteen, or the fact that I grew up never given emotional support from my family. Maybe both. I’ve been fearful of the grief and being consumed by it. But learning to let go is an essential skill of life… I’m only now just learning. Because there are fates worse than grief–like being stuck in a life of perpetual gray and unhappiness, or settling for abuse and emotional starvation. Grief and loss are tough, I know all too well. But all feelings pass. No exceptions.

And perhaps you’ll find that once you’ve let go of some of the unnecessary sacks you’ve been carrying, you’re free to pick up something new. Something better. I put my hopes in that.

 

finding your inner worth

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I bought this poster two years ago from my favorite LA-based street artist, Morley. The words resonated with me at a deep level at the time, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how deep.

For those of you who felt invisible in any capacity will understand the feeling. Maybe it’s being passed on a job position you wanted, getting turned down by a pretty lady you wanted to take on a date, or being left out of a friend’s gathering. If your worth rides on the success of these things, it feels like a big blow on your esteem.

I know this feeling all too well. Before, what would come to my mind would be the times kids at school made fun of me, when crushes would never like me back, when I struggled and struggled to make friends because I never felt like I fit in. I was too weird, too different. But recently, I created a project (dubbed my “revolution project”) to address my inner issues/demons, increase self-love and self-compassion, and accelerate my self-growth. What became clear to me was that I did not only feel invisible at school… but at home. My family always criticized me, pointed out my flaws to me, expected me to adjust to them or else label me as “selfish,” and tell me that they “never understood why I was the way I was.” Some people are blessed to have families or parents who see them for their strengths and weaknesses, for what they are worth and what they could potentially offer to the world. Not me. Not even to this day. My family still does not know who I am. And sometimes I still feel like I’m in the fruitless battle of getting them to see me.

This has been the theme of my life: getting people to see what I am worth. Getting validation for who I am. It’s one of the most severe lacks I’ve had, and one that I’ve tried to recreate.

But as a therapist, I can tell you that what we seek to recreate never bodes well for us. Why? Because of this: you become attracted to the people who are a match to the people you have unresolved issues with (mom, dad, brother, etc) in order to change the “ending.” In my case, I’ll finally be seen for who I am. I’ll finally feel emotionally supported. But these people we seek have the same incapabilities as the people in our past. So it’s like going to hardware store after hardware store needing and asking for a cup of sugar–and getting disappointed when they don’t yield what you need.

But the question to ask yourself is, am I seeking the right people? Am I going to the right shop? That’s what happened to me. All my past relationships, including my last one, and even many of my past friends, fell into the same category. People with narcissistic traits, people more concerned with meeting their own needs than acknowledging mine. The problem was, I was seeking the wrong people. I was going to hardware stores for sugar, only to get beaten down by their hammers. All these people were a match to my family. All these people never saw me for who I was or my worth, and as a result, actively devalued me. I always went back to square 1.

I am at square 1.

But for all of you who are in the same predicament as me, this is my advice to you: first and foremost, learn to see your worth. Start to wipe the fog away from the mirror and see your true reflection–your flaws, yes, but also all your strengths and beauty. Just like any other human being, you have them… it’s just a matter of seeing them. Maybe like me, you’ve never had the luxury of having your strengths pointed out to you growing up.

The other piece advice I have is this: allow only the people who see you for who you truly are into your life. The reality is, not everyone will see you. Not everyone will want to be with you. But that says nothing about your worth as a person. Going back to the poster, those who matter, those who see us, are going to be the ones that cut through the crowd. Do you want to be with someone who does not see your worth or all the amazing qualities you have to offer, or someone who does? Those who do see us are our truest loves–whether they are romantic partners, friends, employers, etc.

I know both pieces of advice sound like tall orders–I could probably expand into multiple blog entries on how to embark on both (and possibly will). But as someone who is taking this advice to heart and fighting to revolutionize her life, I can say with confidence that it is possible. But it’s a choice you have to make. It’s a journey, a process. And it all starts with you–loving yourself and recognizing you are worthy, regardless of how people treat you.

People with narcissistic tendencies still come to my door, but now I am choosing not to answer. Because I only want the people in my life who can see all of my strengths and flaws, and love me anyway… the people I don’t have to fight to get them to see me, but the people who already see, appreciate, and choose to be with me–those are my true loves.

And I don’t know about you, but I only want true love in my life. I’m done with the shallow and fake.

overcoming what other people think

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Oftentimes people will say ad nauseum that you shouldn’t care what other people think. My response to that used to be, “Easier said than done.” I think this is a sentiment that echoes with many people.

But during my self-revolution quest in the past five months, I began to ask myself, why is it hard to not care what others think and not take things personally? And that is a very loaded question… everyone’s answer to that would be different. But if I were to attempt to boil down the reasons in an overview, it would be this:

Family of origin. Any issue or problem in our relationships can be traced back to our family of origin. Why? Because that is where every human being learns how to relate to another human being–be it functional, or dysfunctional. Maybe you were abused, and in your search to feel like a “good boy” or “good girl,” you try to please others. Or maybe you were shamed by your parents or family when you attempted voice your thoughts or assert your individuality. Or maybe your parents pressured you to be someone who they wanted you to be, regardless of what you wanted or how you felt–so you learned other people matter above you. I could write a book on all the possible ways family can affect us. But bottom line, it is helpful to look at how your family may have taught you–explictly or implicitly–to care what people say or think.

Lack of personal boundaries. Although this can be traced to your family of origin, boundaries are important to mention because they affect us in our present relationships. When you have too rigid of boundaries, you don’t allow people in and you suffer a dearth of intimacy and social connection. On the flip side, when you have too open of boundaries, whatever anyone says goes, and you give up all power over yourself and your choices. Both extremes are dangerous spaces to be in. Someone with open boundaries will be the one who overly cares what others think, because they have not yet learned that not what everyone says is right or true (in actuality, a lot of what others aggressively claim can be flat out wrong or illogical). But people with open boundaries don’t consider that possibility, and operate with the belief that everyone else is right and true, and they are wrong. Boundaries are necessary in this light, because it is essential to know where you stop and the other person begins.

Lack of identity. This too can go back to your family of origin. But for whatever reason, a person has not developed a strong sense of self, so they depend on others for acceptance and approval–it is like the cocaine hit to your sense of self. But then it disappears, and the person looks for the next hit, the next person to give them approval. They conform to what “sounds good,” sometimes borrowing others’ identities to gain a semblance of stability. On the flip side, someone with a strong sense of identity may face criticism or rejection, but is able to consider each individual instance with rationality, judging what is true or untrue to them. They can support a viewpoint they agree with without hesitation, or they can reject another’s opinion without growing angry or reactive.

I write this in hopes that this may inspire others. I, like many others, cared what people thought–I would seek to please others and make them happy at the expense of myself, while growing reactive when people said hurtful things. My last relationship was a perfect example. But it is by enduring that dysfunctional relationship I realized how much my thoughts and behaviors were hurting me.

If I were to simplify the many lessons I learned from that experience, and provide some tips to others who may be going through the same journey as me:

1. Boundaries are essential to a healthy relationship, not just for the other person, but for you. You do not have to put up with hurtful or abusive behavior from others if it affects you negatively. Everyone has different tolerance levels, so find what yours is. Our well-being matters and it is up to us to take care of ourselves.

2. How people act or react to you is a reflection of who they are, NOT OF YOU. I would bold this one ten times more if I could. If you’re like me and have a tendency to blame yourself for everything, this is important to know. Even if by chance you are being hurtful to someone else, there are healthy ways of asserting yourself in those circumstances without disrespecting them. And it works conversely. How you treat others is a reflection of who you are.

3. Your thoughts and feelings matter. ALWAYS. What matters most though, is that you understand that within yourself. If someone disagrees and invalidates you, as long as you validate yourself, it won’t matter much what others say. Even if the person doggedly tries to convince you that you should feel something different, or that your needs are not important, remind yourself that that is untrue, because everyone’s needs, including yours, are always important.

4. It is okay to reject another person’s worldview. People have opinions, it doesn’t mean they are always right or true. If you’ve considered someone’s worldview and it does not resonate, then you are allowed to reject it. All of us are trying to find our truths, and not every shoe will fit.

There is hope for change, if you are willing to do the work. I personally am still a work in progress, but I feel like I’m arriving to a place in my life now where people’s thoughts and reactions don’t matter as much to me anymore. The reason for that is because I’ve taken time to know who I am, and in that knowledge, I feel assured in trusting myself and my judgments. Sometimes people are right, sometimes they’re wrong, but it really comes down to discovering yourself and what you stand for–then the answer you seek will come easier and clearer.

 

thoughts on bad relationships

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“If someone treats your feelings as unimportant or lets you down in large or small ways frequently, drop them fast. You are not dreaming, and they will always be that way. Three strikes is enough.” -Jeb Kinnison

There are times in life when you have to learn lessons through your own experience. Someone can tell you many times to not play too closely to the fire, but you won’t learn until you get burned.

In my case, I got burned many times before I learned better. There are many of us in our life development who are naive to relationships and love. Disney movies, TV shows, romantic comedies, media, and even our fellow naive friends tell us that love will conquer all. If you love, the relationship will last and you can put up with anything, even if it is emotional abuse or severe lack of attention or affection. My understanding nature worked against me in this way. I would explain away my ex’s behavior, It’s because of his childhood that he’s like that. He said he’s trying. Maybe he’s right, I’m not appreciating his efforts enough. Yet that is the crux of abuse–the abuser manipulates you to buy into their broken and selfish way of thinking, and you unwittingly begin to operate under his control. His actions speak louder than words. And my thinking is what led me to collude in the emotional abuse I experienced.

But regardless of someone’s background or situation, hurtful or abusive behavior is never, ever okay.

I had it right the first time, when I asked for both of our needs to be attended to during our relationship. But in his subconscious mind, his needs were the only ones that mattered, and if I argued otherwise, I was “making it hard on him”… and he would go into a rage for good measure. The sick part of the relationship was whatever issues I brought up, he would twist it and put it back on me, making the same “complaints” about me. And I almost bought into it. Almost. Now, I am happily disillusioned. His behaviors were prime examples of his primitive defense mechanisms… projection being the most frequent one (i.e., his being mad at me for not valuing him and attending to his feelings, when he was the one who struggled with both in the span of our relationship).

Yet for abusers, or narcissists, blaming things on you, or splitting their “bad parts” and projecting them onto you, are their methods of protecting and defending themselves. The reason why: they have a deep-seeded belief and fear that they are worthless or inadequate. So they will do anything–whether it is manipulating, guilt-peddling, raging, physically abusing, throwing out every defense in the book–to avoid facing the person they fear they are. It is easy for them, for that reason, to make you into the bad person, so they can be guilt- and responsibility-free… but at your expense.

In the abuser’s mind, your feelings don’t matter, and may never will. Empathy is oftentimes lost on them. So it doesn’t matter how much you love that person, to him or her, it will never be enough. They are focused on taking and taking, and you must give and give–a one-sided arrangement that will never benefit you in the long run.

But here’s the thing. A good, healthy relationship consists of mutual respect and equal balance of power. You deserve to have someone hearing your feelings and needs, just as you do the same for your partner. You have the right to take responsibility for your things only, and not your partner’s issues or hurtful behavior. You also have a right to your feelings and reactions, as well as the right to be human and make mistakes. You deserve to have emotional support, and to ask for help or for changes. These are basic needs in any relationship. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

And if anyone does violate your rights, well, I of all people know how hard it is to leave. But perhaps it is easier to start with first seeing that you deserve love and respect and to have your rights acknowledged. Every moment is a chance to change your life for the better. Sometimes it’s a process, and it takes a series of moments to get you to the next step. I know for me, my path was a windy one. But as of this moment, I can say with confidence that I will never allow anyone to abuse or treat me with disrespect again… and I will do whatever it takes to make healthier choices in my life.