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.

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the curse of exes

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I was on a date last night and in the middle in the date, I found myself, in the back of my mind, comparing the person to my last ex. Mentally, I took a step back–woah, what the heck are you doing?

I felt guilty, because I am a firm believer of recognizing each person by their individuality, their own uniqueness. Even when people have similar issues or patterns, there are still things about them that set them uniquely apart from others. So I try not to typecast people. I try not to project my own past experiences onto others.

But as I sat with this new guy, I thought in my head, my ex was different than this. He was more flirty and affectionate. But this guy is still just as hesitant and withdrawn in some ways. And I started missing my ex. I missed the physical connection we had, the affection he gave, the good parts of him.

Just like with any kind of grief and loss experience, I guess there will still be moments where you will miss what you lost, even when you feel you’ve moved on. With that said, I am still acutely aware of my ex’s flaws and all the negativity and toxicity he held. Things are still better the way that it is–in no circumstances do I want him back.

But I found myself struggling. I know this new guy is his own person, and I need to allow him to speak for himself and show me who he truly is. But my past and all the feelings attached murk up the water and make it harder for me to see clearly.

As nice as this new guy is, he does not seem as affectionate as I would like and appears to want to take things extra slow. I took an Uber home, and I ended up talking to the driver about my date–she told me in our conversation, “Don’t wait around for a guy. I made that mistake, I thought eventually he would change, but I ended up waiting for 6 years. You’re single. Date around. Don’t wait too long, you’re worth more than that.” I felt like the Universe was speaking to me then. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

I think this is what I would call the “curse of exes.” Even if you know better, you’ll sometimes find yourself comparing the person in front of you to who you were with in the past, or to your past. Maybe it’s out of protection or fear, or out of grief and loss, or perhaps even as a signal that what you’re getting now is not enough for your needs. I’m still trying to figure it out myself, but what I can say at this juncture, is that it’s okay to feel what you feel. And maybe there is merit in holding space for both opposing forces–like recognizing your ex had good, as well as egregiously bad, qualities. That you can recognize that the person in front of you is most certainly different, but they may trigger something in you, speak to your own unique experiences.

As I always say, it is what it is. And people are the way they are.

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.

 

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.

behind the facade

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It’s been mentioned, time and again, how social media can warp our perceptions of reality, in addition to increasing our anxiety and depression. But it is only a manifestation to a greater phenomenon: we often define ourselves by others’ actions and choices, based on where the herd walks.

Social comparison theory, formed by Leon Festinger, states that humans have an internal drive to evaluate their abilities and opinions, mainly through their comparison to others. Hence why it is not very surprising that social media becomes a means of ultimately evaluating ourselves and our lives, whether we realize it or not. We all want to know we are good in some way… whether it is a good person, a talented pianist, an attractive performer, an excellent engineer, a great writer.

For me, what is also wrapped up in appearing as if I have a good life, is the social expectation to be happy and positive all the time. I post pictures on Instagram of my delicious Italian dinner, or a selfie during a fun day out with friends. Yet again, my mind goes to the same bigger picture. I should be happy and positive and always good. Everyone around me comments on my wise words and my positive mindset, and gives me multiple likes for posts that show my rolling every setback off my back. Thus, the pressure builds and mounts, and soon I am burdened with the need to be a person I am not. Deep inside, I begin to cry out, why can’t I just be honest? Why must I pretend that I am okay when I know that in reality, I’m struggling to stay afloat?

And this is my reality: I’m not always okay. Perhaps I am strong, but I have my breakdowns when I feel quite the opposite. I have garnered many scars in my life, and they have made it difficult for me to overcome as I would like to. And honestly speaking, the setbacks are getting to me. Submitting my novel to multiple agents and receiving rejections one by one twist my insides with pain. I am discouraged and fearful, and losing touch with the passion others have frequently admired. The worst is when they say I should stay positive, not giving heed to the emotions and pain I express. The silent message is not lost on me: just get over it. The pain does not matter, just be happy and positive.

But it’s never that easy. If there is one thing I have learned in my work as a mental health therapist, it is that healing from pain is never as easy as “getting over it.” It’s okay to feel angry, sad, discouraged, fearful, anxious, nervous, etc. Those emotions matter too, just as much as the happy ones. Contrary to what we think, ignoring those emotions only make matters much, much worse. I have seen it too many times in others in order for me to say this with full certainty. It is the pressure, the facade that are now choking my passion, creativity and ability to overcome.

The herd has a tendency to lead people into a shallow, confined existence, one we never come to see until the nihilistic thoughts and empty feelings gnaw us from the inside out. Social expectations can silence us and severely restrict us from actualizing our true individuality and potential. But the antidote is this: we need to give ourselves permission to feel, to experience the full spectrum of emotions in this life. We need to allow ourselves to simply be who we are. We cannot live a whole-hearted life if we do not acknowledge our full humanity. We are wired to feel, and things won’t always be easy or good… so we don’t have to lie and pretend that it always is.

Sometimes putting down the facade, in whichever form we have, is what we need.

reaching your potential

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Are you squandering your potential?

This question reverberated through my mind as I was driving home on my last day of class. Sometimes we forget to see our potential when we get locked onto the past or even the present.

An epiphany had hit me. Memories fell out of my subconscious and onto my lap, forcing me to see the truth. I’ve been squandering my potential.

Like when I turned down a scholarship program. Or when I downgraded myself to certain part-time jobs because they were easier to get, rather than reaching for the ones that fit my experience, yet much harder to obtain. Or when I settled for dating men I didn’t feel much connection with, because they gave me attention. Or all of those times during my adolescence I never told someone how I felt and kicked myself long after with regret. Even with my attending a Master’s program, I always felt like a big fish in a small pond. My professor swore that I would’ve attended a Ph.D program.

As I sat with these choices, I began to see the common denominators: I did not believe in myself, or in my potential. I only saw the worst of me, and took that as truth. I was scared of change. The unknown. My fears had been ruling over me, taking control in more ways than I could imagine.

The truth was initially hard for me to swallow. But I told myself that this was a disillusioning antidote I had to take. I’ve been taking the easy route. Settling for small successes had been easier to me than choking down the possibility of huge failures.

Lately, I have been feeling dissatisfied with myself and my life… and I finally realized why. Contrary to what I believed I was doing, I was not living up to my potential.

I wholeheartedly believe that each of us are gifted in an infinite amount of ways, holding our own seed of potential. One person is not better than the other, just different… just as we see a myriad of flowers in the large garden, each holding their own kind of beauty. For most of my life, I saw myself as a tiny, negligent bud that no one gave much heed to. But now I see that I didn’t give myself a chance to grow, to bloom. Sure, I may have grew up in desert with minimal nutrients in my life, but I’m still here, alive, with a frantic need filling my chest, pushing to burst and bloom with all and everything in me. I want to live me.

I’m sure I’m not the only one. I bet there are others out there too who have felt just like me, telling themselves that they don’t have much to offer and they don’t have any potential. But those are all lies. You do have potential, and beauty. You just need to give yourself a chance. Maybe all of this time, you haven’t, and believed the lies some people told you. But you need to ask yourself if you are living the life you’ve dreamed of, that aligns all the way down to your inner soul… or if you’ve only chosen the easy route. Perhaps out of fear, or not realizing that you could do much more than what’s been in your comfort zone. But by taking the easy route, your potential never comes alive.

I now have my Master’s degree, but I have to keep going until I feel my vivid petals bloom fully and every inch of me touches sunlight. Even if it means having to face large failures. I don’t want to be dissatisfied with myself anymore, or keep feeling like I’ve settled. I have a lot of “ambitious” goals on my plate right now, but I’m sick of squandering my potential.

Jonathan Safran Foer wrote: Sometimes I can feel my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living. All those could bes are heavy. Don’t let the weight break your spirit and soul. Believe in yourself. Become all that you have the potential to be. Don’t let anyone hold you back, not even yourself. Live the life you’ve dreamed of.

the fight

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For one moment, I will be unabashedly blunt.

It’s fucked up when a six-year-old kid anticipates being rejected. Ignored. Bullied. Treated like shit. When people see me, they want to treat me like shit. There’s something wrong with me. And then she grows up, believing she is ugly, unnattractive, worth shit, not good enough, unlovable. She still expects maltreatment; hell, she welcomes it. Because that’s normal. And being treated like a human, with respect, is weird, not right. Words cannot adequately describe how many levels of fucked up that contains.

As she grows up, she begins suffering with depression. She hates herself, but won’t subconsciously admit it because society likes optimistic and perky, not sad and pessimistic. People can’t handle sad. They can only handle happy. So she hides, stuffs her feelings away, smashes them down every time they fight to come out. When the tears stings her eyes, she quickly wipes them away and lies to herself that it’s all alright. She numbs that part of herself, to the point that it becomes unconscious habit. And then she wonders, why do I not feel anymore? Why do I feel so empty? All the while, never realizing how she has internalized the treatment the world gave her. People said her feelings are worth shit, so she doesn’t attend to them. People said she isn’t worth shit, so she looks in the mirror and hates her reflection.

Yet slowly but surely, she starts waking up. She starts seeing a therapist, she takes up the value of being honest with herself, even if it’s ugly, even if it hurts, even if it means looking at those pieces of her soul she has fought to ignore. And she begins to realize how much the environment she grew up fucked her up so much that she cannot even see her true reflection. Her inner beauty. She has no idea what it looks like but deep down, she yearns so very intensely for it to be true. That she really is beautiful. That she is worthy. Loveable.

But in her journey to self-discovery and self-growth, she realizes that all this time she has been desperately seeking others’ approval. That her worth is still contingent on others: My worth only exists when someone acknowledges it. But that is not how it should be. Her worth is not contingent on others. Change does not come from “finally gaining the recognition of her beauty that she has longed for,” but from recognizing that beauty in herself.  Because otherwise, she will be stuck in the same vicious cycle of seeking validation, and being more than devastated when she does not receive it. The truth is, she is worthy, regardless of whether someone sees it or not. She is worth more than those labels and horrible, horrible names people gave her. No one defines her; she defines her. And that is a significant realization indeed.

It’s an ongoing battle, between the truth and all the lies she was told growing up. But it’s one worth fighting. Because she is worth so much more than the lies she was told.