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?

Self-Reflection on Injustice (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

Today’s Daily Remembrance card asked me to ponder what I’ve learned from experiences of injustice. I think that there is a primary lesson that I have absorbed, which is mostly in terms of how I want to treat others. I also believe this is a topic for which there is much left for me to learn.

The main injustices I’ve experienced in my life are profound experiences of betrayal. I was sexually abused by my father when I was a child (as well as a few other male relatives of his). My mother witnessed his abuse and did nothing to stop it. She abused me herself on one occasion. My faith community was not aware of my experience, but shaped my worldview to cause me to believe that I am the defective person because of the anger and bitterness I continue to harbor towards my family. Finally, many of my personal relationships have ended because I perceive the person to invalidate the fallout from the trauma I experienced and/or to dismiss the truth of who I am in various aspects of my identity.

As a result of these experiences, I’ve deepened my commitment to the following principles: (1) believing survivors, (2) educating myself about the needs of people who are oppressed and advocating for their rights and (3) working to have those to whom I have an obligation in terms of social roles (in terms of my job) and/or those who I deem to be safe people feel validated and treated with integrity. I also attempt to own my part in conflicts so that, even if I cannot continue in relationship with someone because they’ve betrayed my trust, they know that I do not hold them responsible for my own issues.

I suppose that part of the lesson I continue to need to learn in relation to injustice is to acknowledge that I feel extremely stuck when someone does not own their part in a situation and refuses to apologize to me. I don’t ask people for apologies as I think they are likely to be insincere, but maybe I need to try. I cling to anger far longer than the real-life situation dictates as a way to protect myself from feelings of grief and pain at being harmed. I am unsure of how to let go in situations where forgiveness cannot be offered because no responsibility was taken. The ownership I need to take here is: “I don’t know how to move past this because you haven’t seemed to recognize that your actions harmed me nor have you apologized for your part in this situation.”

The other aspect of experiencing injustice with which I continue to struggle is calling it out in the moment it happens. I recently had a friend act in a way I perceived as lacking gender inclusivity. I was able to share a response that stated my point of view in a palatable way, and immediately felt calmer when my friend responded in kind. I suspect that getting out my thoughts and feelings in the moment might allow the other person to correct course before more severe relationship damage has occurred. I tend to dissociate when these incidents happen which then often prevents me from doing so. That’s another place of ownership: “I responded from a traumatized place and wasn’t able to give you an opportunity in the moment to realize the effect your actions had on me.”

It feels so good to write out the sentences of taking ownership over my responses to instances of being hurt by another person where my betrayal-injustice buttons are getting pushed. I can imagine myself being better equipped to respond effectively to someone who said them to me if I had harmed them and had not come to terms with the harm I’d caused them. At the same time, I am immensely capable of feeling guilt and apologizing to people, so I don’t know that I need to hear these phrases as much as I need to utter them to others. How has injustice affected you in your life? What have you learned from it? What statements might help you address experiences of it in your life?