my mom greets me like a small child. Her eyes light up and she is filled with such love for me.
This is what flowed beneath the layers of suffering that was my mom- that was our relationship.
I hated her a lot. And I believed she hated me the same.
We must be careful who we deem unworthy of love but worthy of hate and abandonment. We must not dismiss a family as dysfunctional or a person damaged and leave it there as if it/they held nothing else.
I really know this.
For there were many necessary years I felt anger and betrayal- sometimes rightly so- and the only way I could function in our dysfunction was to protect myself.
And yet, now…
I feel I am a good daughter for sticking with her- for staying in the process, the journey that is ours.
I understand I needed to love her but couldn’t and wouldn’t and instead exchanged vulnerability for codependency (unknowingly of course).
I continue to play this out within my marriage.
And yet, now
I see the possibility that what flows beneath the wounds of my suffering might redeem me
I want to be admired and I also fight against it. The fight against it has mostly won. And, has come at a price. I hide. I have been stingy with sharing and passive/aggressive about it. I have silently said to readers, followers and potential ones:
look at me dammit. Pay attention to me. Admire my face and my insights. So I show off.
And then on the flip side I’ve said:
forget you. I know you won’t notice me. See I knew it- no likes. Another post of such great words (I mean I have the best words) and no one cares. So I shut down.
This has been my dance with all of you (and my nearest and dearest ones). It’s dysfunctional and toxic and not how I want to show up in the world. Therefore, I have mostly remained hidden. This is also unhealthy because the truth of me, and all that I’ve come to realize about life and myself, wants and needs to be exposed.
The truth is I’ve reacted to all of you, which is really just my own battle with myself that I’ve drafted you all in, and it comes out of a conditioning that came from my upbringing.
Essentially, I was ignored. I longed to be deeply seen. I know now it wasn’t personal. It was the impact of being raised by those who did not see themselves.
Until we see ourselves we cannot and will not see another.
If the desire to be seen, and essentially deeply known and valued, is not identified and satisfied, this desire becomes increasingly toxic. At its worst it becomes the dance I have described- on one end a compulsion to be admired, which can be as extreme and defined by a narcissistic personality disorder. And on the other end, a complete erasure of self characterized by self-neglect.
The desire to be admired is a trap, part of the psychological mindset, which creates dysfunctional and protective patterns and behaviors. In the age of social media and a particularly exaggerated version of an admiration-seeking U.S. president, we are afforded the opportunity to really look at the deep inner wound of neglect and abandonment. In doing so, we can limit the toxic interplay it does create and instead tease out the toxins and understand, and most importantly feel the hurt of not being seen.
This post is part of my own teasing, a confession in a way to make the dysfunctional dynamics known and to state I want to now come to all of you, readers and followers, and to my family and friends, in a more authentic and whole way. To share only to be admired comes from the smallest of self and truly not worthy of any of us. This way of showing up is also not sustainable and will eventually come back to haunt us us in one form or another.
We may never be able to be truly seen by another or by our primary caregivers. But we always have the opportunity to heal the wound and to fully see ourselves. The more of us that do this, the more we will see each other. Only this will bring the kind of shift so many of us desire in the world.
I don’t feel comfortable being away from him. Like now, we are apart. I’m waiting for him to call so I know what I am doing. That’s sick. I’m sick. I’m fucking angry as hell at myself. I just want to say fuck it and learn to be happy with myself. But then again, I want to work this relationship out.Everything I am doing; I’m just hurting myself.It’s gonna take so much to get out of where I’m at.
Personal Journal Entry, June 1990, 18 y/0
This person I was in a relationship with punched me in the chest and knocked the wind out of me. I don’t recall what I did immediately after this, but I know I stayed with him for a while longer. I also remember telling my dad he hit me. I wanted my Italian father to pretend “he knew some people” and go after him. But instead, my dad asked me this: what is it in you that attracted you to him?
This is not what I wanted to hear. However, his question changed everything for me. It took the focus off the abuser and onto me, where at some level, felt I deserved it. Now, I know this isn’t popular and some may see it as blaming the victim. Further, I am not here to say that my situation is like all others. Mine is mine and my father’s question helped me to begin a journey that allowed me to explore what I bring to a relationship. When we take responsibility for our part in all of our experiences, we have the opportunity to understand and grow from what we learn about ourselves.
The words of my 18-year-old self were right on: It’s gonna take so much to get out of where I’m at. It has been almost 30 years since I wrote that sentence, and just this past year I finally feel like I am out. Although this one article cannot hold what I experienced and learned about myself these past 30 years, here are a few lessons I’d like to summarize:
The root of psychological suffering in relationships is unworthiness.
According to Melody Beattie, who wrote the book Codependent No More, said “..our low self-worth or self-hatred is tied into all aspects of our codependency.” I am not a huge fan of labels, but I would consider myself a codependent who is in recovery. Melody’s definition of a codependent is: “…one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.”
We often try and control who and what we fear and what we don’t understand. We can spend years, and sadly, our entire lives, doing this. I learned that my controlling behaviors were both a sign and a symptom of something deeper happening within me and served as a distraction from going deeper. The deeper issue I was avoiding was my feeling and belief about being unworthy. An experience of unworthiness is quite common and often originates from childhood neglect and trauma.
Relationships are a vehicle to help us grow.
I posed this question on social media recently: Is it true we must leave certain relationships in order to grow? Or is that we use this more than we should because our discomfort about facing ourselves and our own dysfunction in a relationship scares us?
My answer is: both are true. According to the Imago Relationship Therapy model, developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt, we attract partners who carry psychological and emotional patterns from our childhoods. As we move deeper into relationships, these patterns are exposed, and often erupt. The relationship dynamic itself is a vehicle in which we have the opportunity to uncover, and therefore understand and heal from our childhood traumas. Therefore, it is important to investigate the reasons for leaving a relationship that makes us uncomfortable or we may find the same kind of relationship, only with a different face. Also note, I am not at all saying, in the case of an abusive relationship, we stay in order to learn and grow. This article does not address the specifics and dynamics of domestic violence.
The fear is emptiness. The gift is self-love.
When they are away, it is the emptiness I feel. It is this emptiness that makes me do crazy things and act in crazy ways. It is this emptiness I must embrace, but I am afraid to be with it, to be with myself. I don’t want to use them to fill the emptiness that is within me. I need to fill that myself so I can be secure within myself.
Personal Journal Entry, July 1990
The emptiness many of us fear is an unknown experience for most of us, yet we fear it anyway. Why else do we fill ourselves up with information, activities, noise and addictions of all sorts. There are two experiences of emptiness I have found: one that we run from and resist and one where we finally settle into it and find everything we are looking for.
When I was younger and working through my codependency, I feared I was only my dysfunction and scarier, who would I be without it? Empty. Nothing. But this is far from true. The gift we receive from self-discovery and understanding is self-love. We begin little by little to be self-contained and self-reliant. We seek what fulfills us from a greater sense of self-value and clarity, and a foundation is built on worth, not unworthiness.
I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, struggles and experiences in relationships. If you’d like to expand and deepen understanding here are a list of resources:
There is a miracle inside—some powerful force. She makes healing and transformation possible. She assists us in our growth. She is a benevolent being. We don’t even have to rely on her for She is always there. However, it is to our benefit to know this Being—this jewel in the lotus of our heart—this Sacred Higher Self, which thrives and lives in the Highest Order of all that is.