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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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.

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.

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.