Every Connection Counts (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

In a recent post, I shared about a really negative interaction I had a few days ago. Since then, I’ve been able to talk in person (at a safe social distance) as well as virtually with a few friends and acquaintances. I’m feeling a lot of gratitude for the social support I’ve received.

I’ve also given in to peer pressure and ordered a gaming device so that I will be able to play video games with my friends. I feel like even something as silly and lighthearted as inviting a friend to see my decorations in Animal Crossing might be what I need to make it through all of this. Is there someone in your life with whom you’d like to check in? How are you finding ways to connect despite the need for distance?

Inner Complexity (In the Cards)

I brainstormed questions to my parts for a card for my In an Open Hand deck today; I have several left to create for the spring season. Today’s focus was about showing all sides of who I am. In reflecting on this theme, I was struck by the contradictions and nuances I’m finding in the unexpected expansiveness of being able to work from home.

From last August till this March, my mental health condition (PTSD) had been getting significantly worse, and I was struggling to find hope as I faced a seemingly unending series of triggers. Being able to disengage from face-to-face contact with people entirely has been a godsend to me, an experiment I never would have contemplated life would have enabled me to undertake. I’m “supposed” to be feeling lonely and anxious, but I feel calmer and happier than I have since last summer. My daily thought isn’t “when can I get back to normal life” but rather “oh shit, what am I going to do when I have to get back to normal life?”

I keep reminding myself that I’ve had more phone calls and text conversations and Zoom sessions than ever, so the feelings of peaceful relaxation may not be due solely to the change in the frequency of in-person interaction I’m having. I don’t know what it would be like if my internet and phone went out and I was truly alone with my thoughts, but I’m not convinced it would cause me immense suffering. Having to interact with people, especially in tense situations, causes me immense suffering.

The image that comes to mind is a broad path to the top of a mountain. I’ve managed to wander off of it and now the bridge across the stream it crosses has washed out, so climbing it is out of the question. I’ve meandered into a beautiful meadow filled with butterflies and tall grasses and a healing sun, and the shouts and commotion of “other people’s presence” are growing more and more distant. I’m no longer remotely convinced climbing the mountain of success through relationships and money holds any proximal or distant joy for me. I still require a sense of community, a sense of being a part of humanity, but what if I live it in my own garden and share my bounty in ways that work for me, rather than in a rigidly-defined and prescribed form?

There is still immense grief for others and the potential for my own losses in all of this; I’m not rose-colored in my meadow. I feel that finding my own place and pace is allowing me access to expressions of community and solidarity, instead of isolating me from them. Perhaps the best way I can say it is, more days than not (there was a notable exception), in the past two weeks I think I’ve come closer than I ever have to experiencing what it would be like to live without PTSD triggers constantly at the ready, and I love it and I don’t want to leave it. I never thought I’d have an opportunity to experience this side of things. I hope who I am inside can bundle the memories of this in a way that informs choices I make for myself in the future. What are you learning? What inner needs are making themselves known to you?

Room for Growth

I am following up my recent post about how to know whether each person’s full humanity is being recognized in a relationship. Today, I’m focusing on my own weak spots in living up to what I wrote. The list from my previous post is below.

“If your full humanity is being recognized in a relationship, you will be:

  • considered as a whole person, not as a representative of one aspect of your identity
  • expected to own your mistakes and to make concrete steps to improve
  • welcomed as you are
  • able to set appropriate boundaries, saying yes and no according to your preferences
  • only responsible for managing your own emotions, thoughts and behaviors
  • able to make your own decisions
  • allowed to consider the compatibility of each person’s needs, desires and wishes
  • taken seriously when you share that something offended you
  • offered love, affection and trust without having to earn them
  • apologized to when someone’s actions harm you
  • allowed to express your needs, desires and wishes without being shamed or mocked
  • given space if you ask for it
  • present with each part of yourself
  • encouraged to adapt and grow at your own pace
  • built up, cheered for, and supported.”

Offerings of acceptance

“Welcomed as you are” is a struggle for me in my personal relationships. In professional relationships where I have authority over someone, I strive to my fullest capacity to be open-minded, non-judgmental and to find something good in everyone I meet. Outside of the structure of this context, I tend to focus on potential red flags, signs of abusive tendencies and to assess on a continual basis how likely my boundaries will be repeatedly tested in a relationship. In other words, I center my attention on self-protection and compatibility. I would like to better trust myself to be able to adjust how close I am to someone in the context of information I learn in the future, rather than to take every questionable situation and elevate it into “and we’re done” before I have a full assessment of how things might go.

Unearned trust

I am not certain as to my capacity at “offering love, affection and trust without having to earn them.” I am not overly transactional in my relationships (for example, I don’t give gifts or act with generosity with the expectation that it is returned in kind), but I do open up incrementally as I build trust with someone. I also think that I am prone to withdrawing if I feel hurt and could fairly be accused of “abandoning” people, although my perspective is that we each need to be responsible for handling our own emotions rather than expecting someone else to resolve difficult feelings for us. I suppose my evaluation of this capacity would be that I am alright with where I am at on it, but I think there have been others in my life who would report me as being limited in intimacy and closeness.

Change on your own time frame

I am not very good at making sure those in my life are “encouraged to adapt and grow at your own pace.” I want results and I want them now! My lovely brain is highly skilled at instantly peering, with accuracy, into another’s weaknesses and then developing, without intention, a multi-step plan for how they can better their life. I have advice overflowing and have had to do a lot of work to contain my desires to share it when it is not solicited. I’ve been reinforced many times as to the fact that the assessments I make are on-target and insightful, so I feel confident that my wisdom isn’t merely a projection of my own unconscious issues. I own my shit and I work on myself constantly; my desire to help others do the same is both a reflection of my dedication to inner work and of my intolerance for a lack of insight.

But, and the pause matters here, I am not in charge of anyone’s life besides my own. I do not get to decide how, when or where someone comes to a reckoning with who they are and the impact of their actions, especially when they do not have a direct effect on me. My insight may not be what the person needs at that moment in time, especially if they are upset. Often, offering empathy clears space for objectivity and analysis, but being “rational” doesn’t always allow for an emotional connection. I feel frustrated that people I care about have to help me learn this lesson on a repeated basis, but it also allows me to circle back to considering compatibility. I do best with those who appreciate my clear-sighted way of looking at the world, rather than with those who only want “emotional support” and who do not move from a place of coping emotionally to working on solving what can be solved in their life situation. There is a fine balance to be struck in this area and I hope, with time, to get better at finding it.

If you care to, please share which of the aspects of my list you find to be most challenging at embracing, and where you might go with it.

In the Fullness of Your Humanity

For today’s post, I decided to consider the qualities of a relationship that enable a sense of my full humanity as well as allow me to acknowledge the full humanity of the person or people to whom I am relating. I will be continuing this post in the next few days in order to answer the reflection questions I included. I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments!

If your full humanity is being recognized in a relationship, you will be:

  • considered as a whole person, not as a representative of one aspect of your identity
  • expected to own your mistakes and to make concrete steps to improve
  • welcomed as you are
  • able to set appropriate boundaries, saying yes and no according to your preferences
  • only responsible for managing your own emotions, thoughts and behaviors
  • able to make your own decisions
  • allowed to consider the compatibility of each person’s needs, desires and wishes
  • taken seriously when you share that something offended you
  • offered love, affection and trust without having to earn them
  • apologized to when someone’s actions harm you
  • allowed to express your needs, desires and wishes without being shamed or mocked
  • given space if you ask for it
  • present with each part of yourself
  • encouraged to adapt and grow at your own pace
  • built up, cheered for, and supported

Reflection

Which of these characteristics speaks most to you? Are there any that feel uncomfortable, or for which you know you have caveats? Are there any that you value but find challenging to offer to another? What might you add to the list?

Invalidation or Acknowledgment? (In the Cards)

Today’s card invited me to consider vulnerability and sharing in confidence with others. What it led me to consider is how I can discern, both inwardly and outwardly, whether my pain and needs are being taken seriously or not. I know how to spot invalidation, experiencing and acting from a place of validation is more of a challenge.

Signs of A Validating Relationship

RESPECT

Respect includes boundaries. No one can solve all of our problems or bear all of our burdens. When someone respects me, they care enough to ask how they can be there for me, and to be realistic if there is something I need that they are unable to provide. The message “I agree you need this. I can’t provide it right now, but let’s talk about how you might get what you need” is my clearest approach to respectfully declining something I can’t take on personally.

Respect also includes holding what people share in confidence. This has been a struggle for me for reasons I’ve never fully understood. I think holding someone’s secret feels like lying to me and I have been known to gossip at times. Perhaps being forced to prove my “loyalty” by hiding the fact that I was being sexually abuse as a child has made me averse to knowing someone’s business but having to pretend to others that I don’t. I’m not a hypocrite in that I don’t expect others to hold most things I share with them in total confidence. If I have an area of providing a validating environment on which I most need to work on myself, this would likely be it.

Responsiveness

People express empathy in different ways, but there has to be some degree of caring shown in order to feel validated. People who ignore me by not responding at all when I’m venting show me that my concerns are unimportant to them. Likewise, those who listen to my needs and then immediately focus defensively on discounting my concerns and/or on asserting their own conflicting demands demonstrate to me that they only want to take, rather than to engage in a mutually-beneficial relationship. Responsiveness includes acknowledging my perception of the experience, apologizing if harm has been done and discussing ways to improve the situation with a non-defensive, open mind.

Recollection

In terms of feeling cared for, having someone remember a sensitivity or remind me that they care about a particular burden I’m carrying feels extremely validating. On the other hand, having to remind someone again and again that something upsets me leads me to believe they don’t actually care deep down. Sometimes, through dialogue, I’ve learned that they simply struggle with memory in general. Other times, repeated failures in this area have proven true as an indicator of their lack of concern for my general well-being.

Which relationship behaviors are necessary for you to feel heard and seen? What red flags show you someone might not be a trustworthy person who cares about you? What do you do in relationship to validate others?

Safety First (In the Cards)

Today’s card draw from my In an Open Hand deck invited a reflection on the safeguards needed in order to foster deep connection. I’ve become intimately familiar with what feels unsafe in relationships, so I’m hoping I can extrapolate from that into what would allow for a sense of security (as well as consider moments where it’s gone right). I believe the same principles apply inwardly in my inner work as well as outwardly as I relate to other people.

Respect for vulnerability and boundaries

The interaction that has destroyed most of my close relationships is my perception that the other person does not care about the vulnerable parts of who I am, that they are pressing past my boundaries I’ve clearly established to get to my strength, my trauma be damned. I also struggle when someone reacts to me as though I’ve crossed their boundaries, even though they either never communicated them to me or have changed them without telling me. I grow especially weary when people take and take in terms of emotional support, but then push me away when someone else (usually the person they were in conflict with that I’ve been helping them process) gets closer to them and they don’t need me anymore. Basically, I can tell when I’m being used and I refuse to tolerate it.

I want relationships where vulnerability is treated with the care and honor it deserves and where the emotional care-taking is evenly balanced over the course of the relationship. I want to be comfortable setting boundaries and having them be set with me. Most of all, I want to feel that there are more than enough resources between the other person and I so that we can both benefit from our interactions, rather than holding a sense of scarcity that makes every kindness I give feel like a kindness withheld from me (and vice versa).

capacity to own flaws and limitations

I’ve received very few heart-felt apologies about the “big” stuff in my life. I can think of several that I’ve doled out, as I know I am capable of self-examination and can take responsibility for my part in interactions. In order to be able to do this, a person must first know themselves well and accept themselves, otherwise, any feedback from others that they’ve been acting in a harmful way will only trigger their defenses.

The capacity for self-reflection is only part of the equation, as a recent relationship proved to me, as a person also has to be conscientious and able to feel guilt. I feel remorse when I know I’ve hurt someone, intentionally or accidentally, so I apologize. People who cannot feel guilt don’t and those of us on the other side of it may feel tempted to internalize their guilt. It’s as if there is a free-floating amount of remorse generated when one party harms another, and someone has to absorb it. As a result, I feel so guilty when I end relationships with people who have harmed me and have failed to apologize or change after doing so.

When someone knows themself and holds themself to a set of moral standards, they can then view mistakes and flaws as opportunities for growth. There might even be a place of gratitude for the chance to learn more fully how to be kind and caring. This is an impersonal example, but I read this article and, because I support death with dignity so strongly and because the patriarchy is so insidious, I completely missed the misogynistic murder aspect to the story until I read Twitter discourse on it. I felt immensely appreciative to be able to re-examine my thoughts and reactions before I caused direct harm to anyone by sharing my flawed viewpoint. I would be lying if I said I handled in-person confrontations as well, but I want to be a person and to know people capable of this non-defensive response to situations where we miss the mark.

support and honesty

I’ve met people who seem intent on criticizing my every flaw to make themselves feel better. I’ve also met people who flatter me as a way to get what they want from me. Neither approach is sustainable over time in terms of building trust. What I want from others and from myself is the ability to find and uplift the good, while judiciously sharing concerns when asked.

My issues with anxiety are so severe that I can lean into “well, but have you considered…doom and gloom prediction…” an approach which inevitably feels unsupportive even when my intention is to help the person avoid harm. I try now to at least ask permission before launching into such an analysis. I want the people with whom I’m close to be honest with me in their assessment of issues I discuss with them, but to couch that honesty within the context of their own biases.

In conclusion, I think I’ve managed to create a narrative to which I can return from time to time in order to assess the health of my relationships. The attributes I’ve described are not only qualities I want to find in others, they are also capacities I want to more fully develop in myself. It feels rather odd to crave guilty people, but, when I think through the relational landmines of the prior decade, pretty much all of them, whether the other person invaded my space or abandoned me when I needed support, was held in the frame of “I don’t own/accept responsibility for/feel guilty on any level” for pain I experienced as a result of interactions with the person. In some cases, I wasn’t brave enough to fully articulate what I believed the person should accept as their mess to clean up, but this was usually because their general approach to the world told me there was zero chance of them responding non-defensively. I can’t expect others to treat me in a way I cannot act, so it is my responsibility to continue to grow into the person I want in my life.

What are the behaviors and characteristics that create safety in relationships for you? What role, if any, does the capacity for guilt play? Who would you like to become relationally?

Time Enough (In the Cards)

Today’s card invited reflection of how the pace of my life is going. I decided to focus on how I hold my sense of presence and time in situations where others are present. I believe that my experiences here will guide me in finding places where I connect with a felt sense of safety.

I went out to a restaurant with a group of friends last night and noticed a moment pass where I would normally feel like time was “up,” where I’d become impatient and want to leave. After my reflection on having PTSD, I believe this surge of anxiety occurs when, as a result of either internal or external stimuli, I come to view the experience as containing threats from which I want to flee. At dinner, in the moment this would have happened, my internal system instead read “you are safe” and I was enveloped with a wonderful sensation of calm and a near-hallucination of a clock shutting off. What time it was and how much time there was left in the encounter weren’t my most pressing concerns.

In almost every other social setting, I feel as though I am in a race where the goal is to survive until time runs out. Maybe I’m trapped on a level of the simulation or my programming is broken! In all seriousness, the intensity of needing to rush through and have whatever is happening end is overwhelming. I look forward to events much more than I enjoy attending or remembering them.

I do not believe I am able to engage in mindfulness or present-moment awareness in the presence of others for any length of time. As soon as at least one other person is in the same room as me, I lose my connection to my body and my sense of time becomes at least slightly distorted. Every day when I leave my job, I find myself waiting for myself as I leave the building, crawling back into my skin and inhabiting my breath and my rhythm for the first time in hours. Who I am around others is often only a shadow-shell of my true self.

My experience of time is less affected in outdoor spaces, where the elements help me reconnect with my body and remind me of shifts outside of my own reactions to stimuli. If waiting rooms were parks and grocery stores outdoor venues, I would perhaps respond with less rage. Small, confined rooms such as medical offices are especially taxing. I recall a few moments where I felt highly connected to friends; most of them occurred in green spaces with people far and few between.

This reflection has enabled me to note a direct connection between where I am and how intact my perception of time remains. People are not the only variable; fresh air and a luxurious amount of room in which to rest or walk about also play major roles. What factors affect how you perceive time? To what extent is your connection to your body impacted by the presence of other people? In which spaces do you feel safest, where a sense of more than enough time and place are pervasive?

Questions Asked and Answered (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

For the Daily Remembrance prompt today, I drew a card that prompted reflection how spirituality has assisted me in healing. Where I went with this query was to focus on a big question I feel is unanswered in my life. I also decided to consider how my sense of spirituality impacts my response.

The largest unresolved question I have is whether the trauma I suffered as a child has permanently altered my capacity to have long-lasting and deep connections with others. If it has, I feel that I can give myself permission to decentralize relationships from my priority list. If it hasn’t, I feel that I need to keep striving for new and better relationships. “Can I heal my attachment issues” is really at the heart of it. I’m sure the answer isn’t yes or no, but probably somewhere in between. Actually, if I sit with it longer, “will I regret failing at relationships when I’m older” is what drives me into attempts to right my issues.

As I hold space for myself, what I come to understand is that I have a deeply-held belief about myself that I (mostly) do the best I can at any given point in time and that, in my crash and burn relationships, it was the other person who tended, more than me, to fail to take responsibility for their own healing and relationship skills. That’s what I believe on a cognitive level to be true, but emotionally I feel that I ruined everything because I have attachment problems.

My attachment problems certainly do not help relationships go well, but what actually goes on (especially the more I work on myself) is that others do not listen to or absorb my honesty about my limitations, and instead treat me as though I should not have them. They are incapable of setting healthy boundaries, apologizing for their behaviors or owing their role in a situation after triggering me, no matter how deliberate I am in explaining what went on inside me as a result of their actions.

I suppose the answer to what I’ll think when I get older about my relationship failures might be that I wish things had been better, but that I worked as hard as I could to stay true to myself and that it is all I could do. In looking backwards now, there are a few people I regret losing and ways of responding I’ve used that I see as immature, but I feel sorrow for myself in those moments, not anger. I’ve learned mightily from my personal failures about what not to do; I have not had enough successes, if I’m being truthful, to say that I’ve learned what to do.

My spirituality interfaces with these dilemmas in that it gives me access to my inner world, to the parts of me that are stuck in trauma, to the parts of me that want to fight everyone I meet and to the hopeful parts of me that believe kind people must exist somewhere. My embodiment and connection to nature ground me and give me the holding space people are, by and large, unable to provide for me. My appreciation for cycles, such as the sun and moon rhythms, allow me a framework for acknowledging the adaptations and changes that are inherent to life.

Collectively, my spiritual practices show me that I am not alone and that there is more to life than other people. In response to my question about whether my attachment issues can be healed, the sacred space I make for myself continues to provide the same answer: this isn’t the only question that matters. It is okay to ask other questions and to explore other types of connections. Maybe people won’t ruin or save me in the end; maybe life isn’t the type of experience to be won or lost based on how much love we’ve accumulated by the end or how many “try yet again” restarts we’ve attempted. Perhaps I’ll never fully resolve my trauma and my attachment issues and my failure to do so won’t be the final truth of which I’ll be cognizant. Maybe the smell of a puppy’s breath or the softness of dandelion fluff or the sound of birch leaves in a fall breeze are what I’ll cling to as life slips away and I’ll find the answer to questions I haven’t yet contemplated.

I would be so appreciate to hear your big questions, the types of things you circle back to again and again and feel like your life is dedicated to attempting to resolve. Do you ever question the question? It is would be mind-blowing to know if there is anyone who has a rich sense of an inner world but who doesn’t relate to life as a puzzle to be filled in. Finally, I would love to know how your sense of spirituality affects your responses.

Tend to Your Own House First (In the Cards)

Today’s card draw focuses on closeness and intimacy. This topic is highly charged for me right now, but I want to give it attention. One of the queries associated with the card is to consider what needs to be healed in relation to connection.

As I sit with it, what comes to mind is a desire, both inwardly and in relationship, to be taken seriously not only for my strengths as a person, but also for my limitations, scars and disabilities. I have had so many people in the last decade clamor to me because I am organized, dedicated and empathetic. They have no qualms about seeking my advice or assistance when they are struggling. However, when it comes to my weaknesses showing through, they act like spoiled children who didn’t get the extra toy they wanted, failing to give me the space and grace I need to work through my reactions on my own timetable when I feel betrayed and misused, and instead pressuring me to take care of their feelings at the cost of my own integrity.

I want to start by offering myself as much time and energy as it takes to come back whole after I’ve been treated in a faithless and harmful way, without having to justify to myself why I deserve to be treated with more care and consideration. I want people in my life who are mature enough to hold space for me–to send me the message I’m here when you are ready to talk–instead of treating me like they have an unassailable right to my friendship and loyalty. These hypothetical people look after their own internal world rather than thrusting the disemboweled contents of their inner wreckage on me the minute they are told they’ve violated my trust.

One of the most powerful stands I ever took was to tell someone who wouldn’t respect my boundaries “I know you need a friend to help you through this, I’m just not that friend.” The message I want to send in these situations is: Don’t harm me and then expect me to help you through my reaction of distancing myself from you due to your harm. Take responsibility to get yourself right just like I’m doing.

I can work with people who see me for what I am, someone who has experienced a tremendous amount of childhood trauma, who has few social resources on which they can rely, and who is doing their best with the limitations they have. I am uncompromising in my loyalty to myself; I made the choice when I was about 25 that, come hell or high water, I would never again make myself subservient to anyone, no matter the cost. I won’t ever forget the terrifying feeling of freedom that rushed through me after that decision–the self-ownership I suddenly possessed has been worth the price.

There is nothing I can do to prevent myself from feeling mistreated and betrayed; it is baked into my brain as what happens in close relationships. All I can hope for it is to continue to prove myself trustworthy to myself in treating myself with kindness when it happens, to being honest with others about my limitations, and to holding out the slightest of hopes that some people will enter my life in this new decade who are more mature and capable of meeting me where I am. What do you feel you need for healing? What is most important to you in developing closeness? Where does connection happen?

All My Own (In the Cards)

Today I drew the Own card from my In an Open Hand deck. This card references an in-gathering of all parts of self and allowing other people’s castoffs to remain their’s. In other words, it’s about boundaries that encircle as well as protect.

In a certain realm of existence, there is no true distinction between self and other. We are all particles interacting in the same space-time as other particles. However, on a psychological level, I do think a coherent sense of self, one which can partner with others as well as choose times of solidarity, is a valuable metaphor even if it is ultimately an illusion. I’ve known in the pit of my being what it is to have someone perceive me as an indispensable yet subordinate part of who they were, and I do not wish to repeat that experience.

Which parts of self do I struggle to acknowledge as my own? Which might I be tempted to have others care-take for me in unconscious ways? I think my arms reject more than embrace the small, terrorized parts of myself as well as the loving, warm aspects of who I am. I do not see myself as kind or vulnerable, yet I contain those capacities. There is a wistful, longing part of myself that draws the most shame; I don’t want others to know when I want to fit in or be welcomed.

I can sometimes verbalize these lose selves, but I rarely embody them. I would much rather someone see me as cold and calculating than weak, needy and ingratiating. Yet, I am all of this. I have more work to do to sit with myself and love all of who I am. Where do you struggle with internal connection? What love might you show others that you hold back from showing yourself?