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.

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.

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.

illusions we keep

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Today, I found myself meditating on the concept of illusions. What are the illusions, or facades, that others present to us? What are the facades we put up ourselves? We all lie to some degree, whether blatant (cheating on a spouse) or subtle (lying about feeling “good” when someone asks how we are doing).

It struck me how very few people are exempt from the illusions they see, and the illusions they keep. I recently started dating, and I saw how especially in this setting, the concept is apparent. I see all different types of men. There are the ones with a different excursion in each photo, giving off the image that they are adventurous and fulfilled. There are men who gloat about their high-power careers and positions. Then there are some who write nothing at all, appearing aloof and cool. The unspoken norm, whether in dating or any other social setting, seems to be about hiding parts of yourself, while projecting out only your perceived “best” parts.

To take it a step further, I also saw what happens when someone “threatens” our illusions. Cue Freud’s classic defense mechanisms–projection, displacement, regression, repression, rationalization, introjection, acting out, just to name a few. Like my recent ex, when the illusion is jeopardized–risking your true, vulnerable self to be revealed–many would do whatever it takes to maintain their self-fantasy… even if it means hurting others, or ultimately themselves.

But then I turned the focus onto me. What are the illusions I try to put out for others? Being brutally honest with myself, I saw that I try to give the image of being strong, confident, intelligent, logical, emotionally held together. Even with this blog, I package my personal experiences in a way that would benefit others, while not fully expressing what lies underneath. And the parts I try to hide? Well, the reality underneath is, I have moments of severe weakness, moments when I feel like I’m collapsing and breaking. Although parts of me are confident, there are other parts that feel low self-worth, who secretly believes she deserves to be treated badly, that she doesn’t deserve better. I must always endure pain. I do not deserve joy.

I almost never let anyone see those parts, for fear of judgment or the deer-in-headlight looks I may get, when others have no idea what to say–or worse, say the wrong thing, and awkwardly change the subject. People have often preferred and admired my strong parts, and shied away, or even lashed out, for my weak parts.

Perhaps that is why we all hide away parts of ourselves. And I know I am not the only one. Even those seemingly confident, “high-status” men are hiding parts, while presenting their version of their ideal self. It is interesting, because by looking at the illusions, you can see the flip side, of what people are trying to hide. For example, the man who attempts to appear aloof and cool, may very well be trying to hide his need for others and emotional connection–because to him, this is believed as being “weak.” Or for me, I attempt to appear strong and logical, because the need for emotional help and support seems subconsciously weak. It is funny yet sad how we seem to run from vulnerability like the plague, when in actuality, embracing vulnerability is the cure to our emotional ailments.

But it all starts with us–building awareness of the illusions we keep in our lives. If we stopped judging ourselves for our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, then we can learn how to stop judging others for theirs. And the thing about vulnerability is, we all have it. It is like judging someone for having ears. So instead of focusing all of our energy denying the existence of ears on our body, we could instead learn how to accept and love our entire selves, ears and all. Maybe putting on the illusion once in a while can help us in some situations, but to super glue it onto our being only hurts, rather than helps, us.

 

freeing ourselves from others

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I’m sure that there are those out there who feel pressured and overwhelmed by the thoughts and opinions of others. Everyone has their say, and there are some out there who feel a particular strong need to impress it upon others… even if it means ignoring someone’s free will and individuality. This has been getting to me as of late.

Lately, I’ve been getting headaches. And I knew it’s all been psychological; our feelings can manifest in our bodies in this way (i.e., somatic symptoms). When we get anxious, we feel tense. When we’re depressed, our bodies feel zapped of all energy. Our body, mind and spirit are all connected.

With all the craziness that has been happening in my life, I spent a good hour meditating last night and soon realized why I was having so many headaches. Everyone’s voices have been in my head, mucking up my thoughts and consequently my being. Anna, do this. Anna, do that. Anna, you’re squandering your potential. Anna, [insert opinion on my life here]… on and on it goes, all the things people are telling me to do, telling me how to see it and how to be. Until my brain finally exploded in pain, screaming, shut up! I’m so sick of hearing all of you!

I just want to hear me. I just want to hear what I need, and what my Inner Voice says is best for me. Only I know what’s best for me, no one else. Who makes you think that you know what my potential is? What makes you think you know what’s right for my life? No one knows that, except for my Maker. So don’t act as if you have some authority over my life.

I know I am not alone in feeling bogged down sometimes by the opinions and feedback of others who think they know what you should do with your life. I hope these words can help someone else, as they are the reminders I need constantly. Only you know what’s best for you. Only you know who you can and want to be. This life is not for others to live, but yours. You’re the one who’ll have to face all of the consequences of your choices. Not them. So they don’t get to have any say in how you live your life.

One technique I’ve been doing that has been helping is mindfulness meditation. You can find apps or scripts online, but it helps train your mind to be rooted in the present and to let all thoughts and people’s voices in your head go. And specifically in this case, it also helps to let go of all those opinions and should-bes. Mindfulness is a practice that orients your mind to accept yourself and the world as it is in the present moment. It’ll clear out all the junk in your mind, and give you the clarity you need.

We need to learn to let go of other people’s opinions of us, to stop letting their thoughts control us. It’s the only way we’ll be able to be who we are, our true selves. What they say does not have to go, and does not have to hold significance we do not want it to. It’s a self-care and self-love practice, by not forcing ourselves into a mold or into a kind of thinking that is not truly us. Some people may be too dogmatic, too judgmental, too needy, and try to force you to be someone you’re not, but they are who they are. It has nothing to do with us. Just let it all go. Let it all pass without judgment. It is what it is, and people will be who they are.

And the same also applies to us… allow yourself to be who you are. And let the rest of it go.

changing the love story

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Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, coming to a plethora of realizations about myself. One of them is how in most of my real love stories, I am a secondary character. Never the one, the main character, the center of the plot.

But this isn’t a “woe is me” post. Rather, I begun reflecting on the role I was playing in creating these stories, forcing myself to take responsibility for the stories I tended to slip into. As a therapist, I so often see my clients refuse to take responsibility for their actions and the roles they play in creating their misery. I get that, because it is tremendously easier to take the victim posture, than to own your shit. It’s exceedingly difficult, which is why most of us avoid it when we can. Because it means taking an honest look at yourself, including all of the “uncomfortable” or “ugly” bits you fight to ignore or deny.

But it’s only when you own your crap you can engage in the possibility of change, of re-shifting the story of your life. So what has been my role in my story? I have not come to a full answer as of yet, as I am still exploring and analyzing… but so far? Passivity, taking on the martyr complex, operating with the tired, faulty belief that I can change someone with my love, and letting past pain rule over my present. I used to throw myself whole-heartedly into the process of love, even though the other party was less than inclined… I believed that maybe they would eventually catch up. But unfortunately, what you often see in people, is really all that you’re going to get. Now I’ve veered to the other extreme of the spectrum, where I refrain from expressing or acting on my feelings, for fear of living out the same rejection yet again. Rejection sucks. And I’m sick of that story.

But that’s the thing about love. In order to hold it, grow it, you have to let yourself be seen by others. You have to take risks. Not doing so will only leave you alone, with a heavy longing eating away at your heart.

Recently, there has been someone that I’ve been having feelings for, and it’s through those feelings I’m coming to a better awareness of myself and how much my past pains have affected me… and how I am still holding onto them like a crutch. For protection? Certainly in agony and fear. But despite the long conversations we have (and how much I have grown to love them) and the strong attraction I feel toward this person, he told me of his past/somewhat current relationship troubles with his ex. In that conversation, I was struck with déjà vu, and it wasn’t until I was driving home that I realized it was because my past, or “one of my sob stories,” was happening again. The girl helping the boy who is still in love with another. The girl waiting to be seen while the boy mourned, and frankly, didn’t give much of a shit to the girl.

The secondary character role was sitting there for me to take.

And it’s there, right there, where we can change the story. Why I always stress to my clients and friends that awareness of your shit is so important. I saw that it’s in those decision points where we can re-shift. So what do I do next? Normally, Younger Anna would wish and hope that he’d acknowledge her and forget about his ex, because Anna has so much to offer too and he’ll eventually see it… and then soon she’d become disappointed, because life doesn’t function like a romantic comedy, and in reality, break-ups are tough. Plus he’s still in love.

As for Matured and Aware Anna, Present Version? She’s not feeling that story anymore. Because even though she does have so much to offer–she deserves to be with someone who will love her, appreciate her, be there for her, and see her for who she is. She doesn’t have to wait for someone to deal with their baggage for her to live her life, because this life isn’t for others to control or dictate. Maybe she’ll share her feelings in the future, or maybe she’ll let them fade as she looks elsewhere for a man who will want and is ready to engage in the process with her. Whichever way she chooses, it will be her choice, on her terms. And regardless she will ALWAYS choose to live life, to seek it out instead of waiting for it to happen.

Because this is my story, and I have the power to change it, to live a different one if I wish. Whatever happens, however the chips may fall, I want say I lived at the end of it all… all the while never losing faith that it will come when it comes along.