opposing forces

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Am I mixed, or just mixed up? I used to think the answer was the latter, but now I’m not so sure.

Have you ever felt conflicted about the role of people in your life? On one hand, you want to have friends, a romantic partner, and the kinds of close connections you see romanticized in TVs and movies–because we all need people. We need connection. It’s wired into your being. But then, on the other hand, you can’t fight the gnawing feeling that people are selfish and gross, and you want to push everyone away, because people often hurt you, and many times, don’t give a shit about it. Why do I even care? you think. Why bother? People suck. Being alone is better.

Throughout my lifetime, and more acutely in the past two years, I have been shuttling between the two extremes. With all the spiritual and self-work I’ve been doing in those two years, I now find myself firmly in a place where I am experiencing both states frequently and with an awareness I never had before. One moment I am struggling against the hunger and need for people in my life, and in the next moment, I want to shove everyone away because people hurt, they flake, they’re self-focused, they spit on me without care. So again, I think, why should I care?

Yet my current state is made all too clear in context of the past. Enduring emotional abuse. Being bullied at school. Having no safe place, no one to turn to for support at a young age. Struggling with depression as a result. Almost attempting to kill myself by age 11. Living in gray throughout my adolescence, because my family prioritized their own needs and emotional states over mine… the needs of a child. What we grew up with is what we come to believe about ourselves, others, and the way the world works. So my experiences have created within me a stark divide: one side, embedded in my human nature and human wirings, with its need of human connection and a story that has a happy end. And the other side, embedded in the environment I was born into, with people proving themselves time and again as self-focused, unsafe, hurtful, damaging, and unkind. Hence the pull, and the push away.

In my head, I know that there are good people. Kind and selfless people. Others often comment that I am one of those people. But there are days like these when I struggle to fully believe it. People consider themselves above all else. So why bother to be kind? People take it as an invitation to take advantage of you anyway. People still insist on treating you like shit anyway–tossing any concept of reciprocity out the window.

But I also know the answer to my own question. I choose to be kind, because of what I believe, of what I choose to stand for. Because of the kind of person I want to be–regardless of what another says, or does, or how they treat me.

So, no, I don’t think I’m mixed up. I am understandably mixed, two sides that are indeed in apparent opposition… yet still both attached to the same Whole that is Me. I am human. But I am also deeply affected by the environment around me. I am a sensitive soul.

Carl Jung spoke of the individuation process that entails integrating all aspects of our personality in order to become whole. I’m inclined to think that if we are open to it, the universe will give us many opportunities, in the forms of good luck and of conflicts, to become our true, whole selves through our integration. It’s not easy. But believing is what gives me the strength to carry on.

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.

coping through life’s ripples

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I woke up today an emotional mess, bombarded with static thoughts–but the one thought that stuck to wall was, look how much he fucked me up.

At that point, my mind boarded on that thought train. Before I used to be so open and willing to show my emotions and love. But after my ex scarred me the way he did, I’m so scared to. I’m so on edge that every guy that comes along will do what he did–take advantage of me, blame me for everything, shame me for who I am, emotionally abuse me, disregard me. Now at the get-go, I’m distant and hesitant. He totally fucked me up.

But then, my wise mind challenged me. Is the blame all his though? Certainly he is still at full fault for his actions… but look how far you’re internalizing how he treated you. It’s bled into your whole worldview. But is the whole entire world like your ex?

The answer to that is pretty clear.

Today’s emotional roller whirlwind has shown me how much pride I take in keeping myself contained and together. How much I play the counselor role, the old soul everyone goes to for insight or advice. I am uncomfortable with my own emotional gunk. I provide everyone with love and acceptance for their gunk–but I cannot say that I do the same for myself. That’s perhaps why I had put up with my ex for as long as I did.

At this very moment, I feel pushed up against my own humanity–against the part of me that is scarred and in deep pain from the depths of my past, from my recent ex to my childhood. The part of me that is a bundle of anxiety and a dense well of depression. The part of me that wants to know right away and figure everything out now, rather than submit to the unknown. The part of me that needs human connection so bad, it hurts. The part of me that fears that need, of getting hurt, or losing what and whom I love.

Although I understand that people are not perfect, that those we love can and very well will hurt us, that we will all experience grief and loss at some point, it does not dull away the pain. It does not take the pang of its influence away. It does not still the ripples as it rolls across the surface of our hearts. One of the books I read said that grief is the most complex and difficult human experience. I completely understand why. I am always looking for resolutions to things, but this is one arena where resolution struggles to come to light. I’m beginning to see that maybe the goal in grief is not necessarily to find resolution.

I miss the good aspects of my ex, yet feel so much anger and hurt for the destruction he left inside of me. I thought I was done months ago, but here I stand, still picking up the pieces, still scrubbing his toxicity away. The whole world is not like him. All guys are not him. That I can absorb. But still, I watch the drops fall and the ripples fan across the water–feeling them shiver through my being.

Oftentimes, I try to leave my blog posts on an uplifting message or pearl of wisdom, but today, I find myself more inclined to end on authenticity. There are still too many pieces that don’t make sense. Too many parts that still need healing. I don’t have everything figured out. But I am, at the very least, willing to learn to be okay with that.

healing from narcissist wounds

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For months I have been toiling over a breakup I did not ask for, and healing from all the pain I had no idea I endured until I was released from my ex’s narcissistic clutches. Breakups operate much like losing someone to death in the emotions your grapple with–waves of grief, loss, anxiety, depression. It is like being thrown into the arena, forced to stare directly at your demons and fight for yourself. You feel your way around the dark, hoping and praying that light will find its way to you someway, sometime.

So understandably, I’ve been tired. Exhausted. But it’s a bone-deep tiredness, one I’ve had for years and years. It took this event in my life to help me realize how subconscious it was. I’m tired of helping and caring for people. I’m tired of giving and giving, while receiving very little in return. I’m tired of being made selfish when I ask. I’m tired of people expecting me to be perfect, to never express any “negative” emotion to save their feelings or ego. I’m tired of being shamed for my feelings. I’m tired of being so understanding, and people asking me to be so, when they have no empathy to give to me. I’m tired of not being valued. I’m tired of being made at fault for not feeling valued. I’m tired of being lacerated for having weaknesses. I’m tired of the emotional abuse. I’m tired of being the victim.

As a therapist, I knew where all this was coming from. I imagine this is how a doctor feels, when he feels a sickness coming on. Monitoring his symptoms and diagnosing himself, treating himself once he checks himself in the hospital. Just like the doctor, I’m in my own hospital, treating and healing my emotional wounds. So what is the cause of my illness? Family of origin. And the diagnosis? Dearth of self-love.

Even before all of the shit hit the fan, I knew this fact: it all starts in you. But it took shit hitting the fan for me to realize what that meant for me specifically in my life. I did not love and value myself. I saw myself as a piece of crap, so therefore, I accepted it when people treated me like crap. I saw my value predicated on how much I gave others, and if they weren’t happy, I was not deserving of love–which made me a perfect match to my narcissistic ex. But I did not even realize he was a narcissist until my own, post-breakup therapist diagnosed him… because I was so stuck in my low self-worth. I did not value my wants and needs, so I accepted it when he shamed me for expressing them to him. I sustained his verbal lashings and took on all the blame, because I did not love myself enough to trust my thoughts and gut feelings.

He is the kind who cannot see how his actions affect others–cannot even see past his own nose. He even told me on the day we broke up, “I don’t like how actions have consequences,” and “I don’t like you having reactions to things.” Aka, he lacks empathy. He projects his fears onto others and lashes out on them, because it is safer to lash out on someone else’s weaknesses than to look at your own. He refuses to take responsibility for his actions… he rationalizes and rationalizes so that he can be made the victim and others (me) are the bad one. He shamed me for my weaknesses and expected me to never express anything bad or negative. He guilt-tripped me, even if I was the one hurt. He has no awareness of how he hurt others, and if he does, engages in mind jujitsu to avoid taking responsibility. This is what we call a narcissist.

But you must always look at yourself, to see what allowed you to keep such a person in your life in the first place… asking yourself, what made me a complete match to this kind of person? Who does this person remind me of in my life? I was neglected and emotionally abused as a child. So I recreated an exact match to my family and past experiences. I sought what was familiar to me. Someone with higher self-worth would’ve seen his actions and said, “Okay, it looks like you have a lot of issues. Thanks for the memories, but you need serious help. I’m out.” I started at a low point as a child and thereon, and presently, it has been my goal to work myself up to that high point.

So what is the antidote? Self-love. And it’s more than just appreciating you strengths and talents. But it is also about loving yourself and giving yourself a right to have wants and needs, and to express them. It means giving yourself permission to not take all the blame for everything… and to blame others, rightly, for their own actions or wrongdoings. It means expecting to be respected by others and valued by those you love… and not keeping those who cannot do either. It means not internalizing every negative comment or blame people shove at you, and giving yourself permission to say, “I understand you feel that way, but that’s complete horseshit.”  It means accepting yourself fully, even the weaknesses, and being unconditionally present with every emotion you hold. It means not denying yourself the right to speak up for yourself… and maintaining ground even when someone pushes against you or worse, shames you. Because you know who you are and you have every right to be exactly that.

In all of this, I also want to add: while you take responsibility for your issues and actions, in the same vein, others are responsible for theirs. So if you’re anything like me, the constant giver or empath, resist the urge to pick up others’ baggage or responsibility, even if they guilt-trip or shame you for it. Because it is not yours to pick up. It is theirs. So leave it there for them… it is their choice to own themselves or not.

practicing self-love

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I never make New Years’ resolutions, because I believe that you can take on the battle of change toward life and growth at any moment of your life, regardless of human constructs of time.

But this year I did make a resolution, as my new commitment fell along with the coming of the new year. My commitment: practice self-love and self-acceptance at every moment and turn. Even when I make mistakes, fail, or fall short… I will love and accept myself as I am. Always.

As I begun to take on this heavy endeavor, I soon started to realize the severity of how critically I viewed myself, cut myself up, for anything and everything. For not doing something right, not speaking as eloquently as someone else, not being stick-skinny, hating my reflection in the mirror, my eyes, my lips, the fact I suck at math, my own tendency to be so critical, even with myself. This list could go on, but of course it could, because when you want to hate something or someone, you will always find something to hate. Yet the same goes with love. If you view through the lens of “I will love this person,” you’ll then start to see the beauty they hold. It boils down to what lens you wish to put on when you look.

So I’ve been trying to re-orient my mind, my perspective, which is a constant effort, as I’ve become quite adapt at being critical with myself. But in doing this, a feeling of liberation has been easing its way into my being, little by little. Maybe I’m made this way for a reason, for a purpose. God is using every bit of me for His good, to be an encouragement to others. I used to hate myself for being “too sensitive” or being “so emotional” with people or situations, because that was what I was often criticized for. But yesterday, I came to a huge discovery: what if being sensitive, or having a deeply caring heart is my nature? What if my purpose is to feel deeply? And thus all of this time, I’ve been letting others get to me and subsequently letting myself deny my true nature?

Loving yourself for who you are is a huge act to take on, one that I cannot break down in a simple post. Perhaps I may in future blog posts. But one of the lessons I am learning so far is that loving yourself fully means allowing you to be you. Even if you’re not where you want to be now, allow yourself to be in this moment and this space, and accept yourself for who and where you are. Because being you as you are could very well be your nature, and in that, you can effect such wonderful good and light in this world. I believe we should always strive toward change and growth, but in the same hand, allow ourselves to be in the present, whichever stage we are at. Because there are great things to be done, wherever we may stand in our path to self-actualization.

resolution

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Unresolved feelings. Loose ends. Throbbing scars. Heavy silences. Suffocating gloom.

There are the things that come to mind when I think of my hometown.

Last week, I went back to my hometown partly to visit an old friend, but also to seek resolution, to breathe new life into a tattered story left hanging, to re-acquiant myself with an older version of me, one that I have been trying to deny for years after I left. If I were being honest with myself, I have been trying to prove to myself, and to those people of my past, that contrary to what I was made to believe by everyone around me, that I am worth something, that there was more to me than what they believed.

But I see now that that was a fool’s errand. As I sat at a coffee shop, staring pensively out of the window at the glum clouds and barren desert, I arrived at the conclusion that has been staring at me in the face for a long while: what I am looking for is not in the place where I grew up.

Resolution resides within myself.

Case in point. I continue to live out my past in the things I do, the decisions I make, the way I perceive the world, myself and the people I encounter. The fears, detachment, anger, voicelessness, inner suffering, despair… these things live inside of me, and nowhere else. The only logical conclusion then is that the healing I seek therefore must be instigated from within.

Since I was young and up until I was 21, I lived a numb existence and hated myself, mechanically tearing wounds into my heart and soul in the way others have done to me. Despite all that has passed, my resolution became clear to me. I must love myself and believe in my worth in its entirety. I can only become whole if I accept all parts of me, including those parts of my past that I hate and attempt to forget or reject. I must put each piece of me back together, and say, “You did the best you could with what you had. You hung in there. I love you and accept you, exactly as you are.

We cannot self-actualize, reach our potential, be who we are meant to be, until we accept and love our whole selves. Before I thought moving on and focusing on the present and future were all that mattered. Yet to embody true self-love, you must accept everything about you, including your past mistakes, failures, and all of those “ugly” bits, and tell yourself, it is all beautiful. I am beautiful. And I accept all of these imperfections as perfectly me. I can still do so much with my imperfect self.

Telling ourselves this is difficult if we do not readily believe it. But it is part of the healing process. We fake it till we make it.

For the rest of my visit in my small, desert hometown, I held onto young Anna’s hand with gentle care, and kept reminding her that no one else defines us now. Not our past, all those people we knew, or even this town. We are in control, and we are beautiful. We’ve got this.