Based on the chart I posted in my last blog post, I started thinking about some of these things, and figured I’d share it.
This is a tricky post to get right, because the tone makes all the difference. I want you to understand that I am only writing these things to HELP…not hurt, or judge. I want to say up front that I have done ALL of these things at one time or another, and I STILL catch myself doing some of them sometimes. It’s a process. I have not gotten it right, yet, nor will I. Nor will you. That is OKAY. This post is only for the purpose of stopping for a moment of reflection. Having said that, I talk to a lot of people (mostly online) and hear a lot of things; some things said overtly, some things implied, so this is a partial response to some of those.
**TW** Before we go on, I must mention that there is one paragraph quite far down where I do briefly mention some of my own personal Chr*stian beliefs. If this is offensive or triggering for you, please read with caution or skip the paragraph that begins with the word “Identity.”
Some things that will keep you from healing…
Being resistant to the truth.
My dear, dear, dear readers…this one thing is probably the most important decision you can make in your life. No, I’m serious. THE most important. Because if you decide to pursue the truth – about yourself, your life, your thoughts, your feelings, your past, your present, your future – and you desire this at all cost, you will find the truth, and it will set you free. No one can stop you from desiring to know the truth. No one can stop you from pursuing it. If you decide you want it, it is yours to be found. This CANNOT be understated. This deserves a pause, because it’s not a long paragraph, but it’s probably the most important one in this entire post.
Not taking responsibility for your healing /recovery.
I have seen this (and probably done this, truth be told) a lot, and the thing is, no one can do this for you. Your recovery is your own, and although (if you are lucky) there may be good and precious helpers accompanying you, they still cannot and should not work harder at your healing than you are. The tricky thing is, there’s this little thing called codependency that can crop up, and make it seem like someone else can and will do the work for you. It might even look or feel really good (at first). But in the end, codependency just ends up locking both parties into a painful dance from which they don’t know how to escape. The fastest way to recover is to realize that you have the power to decide how you will and won’t live your life. This is easier said than done, because as survivors we have a LOT of lies to sort through. But if I could give every single one of you only one gift, it would be this: a deep inner knowledge of how powerful you really are. You get to choose what you want. You have the power to choose how you want to live, who you allow in your life, what things to say “yes” to and what things to say “no” to. You choose whether to exercise this power, or whether to give it away or leave it unwielded.
Expecting others to change before you can (or will) change.
This goes along with understanding the individual and innate power you possess as a human being with a soul and a rational mind. American society has become increasingly, drastically narcissistic. Everything revolves around us, as individuals. We expect others to behave perfectly around us, rather than evaluating why a certain action or attitude pisses us off and then dealing with ourselves in that regard. Instead, we blame the other person for our own reaction. We expect others to understand us, but we don’t take it upon ourselves to communicate or clarify what we think or feel or see. This has just become normal in today’s culture, but this attitude is driving us further and further apart as a species. Expecting other people to change before you can become who you want to be is equivalent to handing your power to someone else. The truth is, we can barely change ourselves, and that comes only with great effort and determination. That much is hard enough. So how do we hope or think it is our job – or even possible – to change someone else? It isn’t. How then can we make the modification of someone else’s behavior or beliefs the prerequisite for our own revolution? We can’t. Dear, dear people, if you want to change your life – your behavior, your situation, your mind, your attitude – there is absolutely nothing that can stop you (except you). If you want to become more loving, more understanding, more confident, more joyful, no other person on earth can stop you. You don’t need the kids to stop fighting, your boyfriend to stop smoking, your parents to stop criticizing. You can be what you want. It may take some work; actually, it’s bound to take work, and probably a lot of it. But my point is, the only person you can and should be looking to control – and henceforth change – is yourself. Your kids may never stop fighting. Your boyfriend may never stop smoking. Your parents may never stop criticizing. But the thing is, it doesn’t matter. In light of what you want to achieve for and in yourself, none of those things matter. This is actually really, really good news! Can you imagine how hard it would be to try to control everyone else around you in order to sustain whatever your idea is of a perfect environment (which is entirely subjective and dependent on that particular person) so that you avoid anything that might cause you to react negatively? That, my friends, is not power. Letting everything and everyone else around you determine your mood, your attitude, your behavior, is NOT power. Real power is being able to be in any situation, and still choose the attitude you want to have, the way you want to respond to people around you, and whether or not you will allow yourself to remain there, no matter what buttons are being pushed. If you are interested in this topic, I would recommend an outstanding book called Keep Your Love On, by Danny Silk. *Be advised that this book is Christian in nature.
Looking to others to define you and your boundaries.
Everything else, now that I think about it, falls under the choice everyone has to make about whether to own or deny their own personal power and responsibility. It’s a common thing for those of us with attachment issues, especially, to look for others to define us. This makes sense, since we normally – in a perfect world – would have had parents to love us and teach us who we are as we were growing up. When that doesn’t happen, we are often left empty of a sense of ourselves. Thus we look to friends, relatives, fictional characters, Hollywood, pop culture, and a myriad of other places to try to form the identity we lack. Sweet, sweet readers, for whom I really do feel sincere affection…be careful who you look to, for help with this. Identity is a cumulative thing, and it’s not wrong in and of itself to seek input and insight from others. Especially when we are missing such an essential knowledge of what makes us who we are. But too often we ask the wrong people, or we look to an unhealthy source, and end up more empty than we felt to begin with. Or we end up being taken advantage of, or used, by people we should not have given such authority over our hearts. Boundaries end up in the same boat. If we are looking to other people to tell us who we are, by default we are allowing them to tell us how we should be treated. If you choose wisely, this can turn out well, although at some point you are going to have to internalize what messages you want to keep for yourself, and hold onto them no matter whether your situation agrees with them or not. In the absence of healthy, loving people, letting others define your boundaries is unpleasant at best, and possibly downright dangerous, at worst. The good news is – once again – you can choose. You can decide what you will and won’t allow, and act accordingly.
Identity is such a tricky thing. I want my blog to be readable by everyone, no matter what they believe, so I try to leave my personal beliefs out of it at least some of the time. And I can truly understand why those who have been mistreated within the constructs of a religion would be totally closed to the idea of God. That makes total sense to me. But at the same time, I can offer universal wisdom and truth only to a certain point, at which point I must either be quiet, or go more deeply into what I believe. This is one of those points, so feel free to skip the rest of this section or the rest of the post if this offends or triggers you. My own personal belief is that we are each created by God to be unique, gifted, and innately valuable as His own one-of-a-kind creation that no one else can replace. Nothing external that can happen to a person can change that. Not ever. But throughout the course of abuse and neglect and all the other awful things that can happen to a person at the hands of evil, we lose that understanding (or more to the point, never acquire it to begin with). For me, the only place I can really look to, to understand who I truly am on the inside, and what I am worth, is God. He is the one who created me. He knows the things he put inside me and the reasons I am unique and the depth of relationship I was meant to experience with him and other people. There’s nowhere else I can go, to find out those things. If I were to say that I believe you can find those things out somewhere else, I would be lying. You absolutely don’t have to believe the same way, or agree with me, but I can only speak what I believe to be true, and then let you sort out what you want to believe for yourself, from there. Once you know who you are, then you will know what you want to allow in your life and what you don’t, and boundaries become much simpler to define.
Taking everything personally.
I remember the day I realized that not everything was about me. (I mean that in a wry, snarky sort of way. LOL.) It was a pretty major epiphany. Which is ironic, since I grew up with two narcissistic parents and the last thing I wanted to do was emulate them. But this attitude is also permeating American culture, so it is an easy and common trap to fall into. The good news is, this is another one of those things that is incredibly freeing, if you can get ahold of it. I’ll say it again: Not everything is about you. As a matter of fact, I would daresay that MOST things are not about you at all. That guy who dropped the door on you (rather than holding it open for you) might have been preoccupied by an argument with his wife, rather than specifically attempting to be rude specifically to you. The person who posted the rant about annoying people on FB probably wasn’t indirectly referencing anything you did or said – and if they were, you don’t need to take responsibility for something no one has addressed you with, directly. You are not a mind reader. Your kid throwing a tantrum (or having an attitude, in the case of an older child) probably does not specifically hate you; they may just be tired, or having a bad day, or PMSing, or struggling with hormones or any one of about a hundred reasons that don’t have the first thing to do with you. When I realized all of this, I felt AWESOME. Because suddenly a huge weight of responsibility – false responsibility – was lifted off my shoulders. It can be both daunting but ALSO FREEING to realize that you do not have the power to influence the world around you as much as you think you do. I don’t mean this in the sense that we are unimportant and our lives are meaningless, so please don’t take it that way. I mean this in the sense that the small, everyday stuff that stresses us out so often, usually isn’t about us, at all. And I have found that assuming the best about others will often inspire them to be their best – and let them off the hook, if they don’t. And it also frees YOU up from the emotional reaction that occurs when you assume someone is upset with you, when they really aren’t. My life has been much more peaceful and pleasant since I have begun to realize that very few things that happen between me and other people are personal. It lets us all off the hook with trying to perfectly read everyone around us. It frees us all up to be real without assumptions.
Relying on others to “save” you, keep you safe, or take charge of things you feel you cannot handle.
It’s okay, and even healthy, to need help sometimes. Especially in recovering from trauma and things that are too big for anyone to handle. But there’s a line that is crossed pretty often, from needing help, to expecting others to jump in and rescue us without significant effort on our part. Please believe me when I say that this mindset will keep you stuck. I’m not saying don’t ever ask for or accept help from anyone, because every single person needs that from time to time. That’s why therapists and hospitals and ministers have jobs, and that’s what a genuine support community is about. But the idea that others can or should be responsible for saving us or keeping us safe is, once again, denying the power we have to direct our own lives and recovery journeys.
Expecting other people to understand you with minimal communication or clarification.
I actually see this quite a lot in my interactions with people. A lot of frustration is continually being expressed by people who have not adequately communicated their position to the other person. And I honestly don’t think it’s an intentional oversight on the frustrated person’s part. Sometimes trauma survivors have trouble communicating things they feel or think, and sometimes they struggle to express what goes on inside. This is okay, and certainly not something to be judged or condemned for. But, on the flip side, it is worth reminding survivors that others cannot innately understand what you’re thinking or feeling. It’s not just because you’re a trauma survivor; this is just the normal way of two people who don’t share a body or brain trying to understand each other. You’re different. They can’t read your mind. You have to tell them what’s going on inside you, to the best of your ability. And you may have to tell them more than once, and in more than one way, and you may have to keep trying throughout the course of the conversation and the relationship at large. You might have to ask if you’re making sense, and you might have to answer questions and clarify what you meant. My opinion is that you cannot over-communicate in any relationship. You can definitely under-communicate, and that can cause lots of problems. I don’t personally think you can communicate too much. There’s nothing wrong with the other person for not immediately understanding. And there’s nothing wrong with you for needing to try more than once or twice to make known what you need to express.
I hope some of these things have been helpful. It’s important to be reminded that we are all in a process, and it takes time. I still struggle with some of these things, but I am better now than I was last year, and WAY better than I was 8 years ago.
Speaking of which, I am undergoing some big, rapid changes at the moment – all good! Praise God! – and I hope to write about them soon. But my personality is very future-oriented (to a fault, in my opinon…hahaha), and for now I am trying to stay focused on just experiencing what’s happening now, rather than trying to formulate it into a writing to share on the blog. Ultimately I just want anything that I’ve experienced to be available in case it might be helpful to someone else. But I can’t share what I know, until I really, truly know it. And that takes time. Cheers. ~J8