“Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert
I am a paragon of intellectual and emotional derailment. The poster child of what can happen when you love others more than you love yourself. The outcome of abandoning your own needs to heal someone else.
I wasn’t always this way, I promise.
I have failed at many romantic relationships over the years. These failures have left me raw and exposed – open to negative influences. I remained the common denominator in all of my failures, but what was I doing (or not doing) that left me so hurt and ravaged?
I thought I had unraveled this mystery years ago when I burrowed deep into my subconscious; trying to ‘find myself’. And while I uncovered some unpleasant truths and moved myself into a place of peace and happiness, I perhaps shied away from some of the more damaging skeletons in the closet.
Inevitably, I returned to their childhood, as will any adult struggling with conditioning or behavior that they just can’t seem to let go. Those carefree moments before I had bills, children, careers, reputations, and other adult-oriented stresses to which I pander. More specifically, I returned to my relationship with my mother.
To say our relationship was fractured would be a kindness. The middle child of three, the oldest son – much of my later life was shaped in those first seventeen years of my existence. I struggled as a child and as a teenager (yes, and even as an adult) to understand my mom’s apparent disinterest in me – my older sister and younger brother were more privy to her time. For years I stayed in that place of un-healing and loneliness. I felt unloved, unworthy, and incapable. A child shouldn’t feel that way – neither should that child grow into adulthood feeling that way.
My parent’s quasi-dysfunctional marriage didn’t seed in me a real concept of what a healthy and nurturing relationship looks like. My understanding of intrinsic worth and deserving was constructed from social relationships and time spent sequestered in my room with books of all sorts. Lacking the environment at home, I sought understanding in the metaphysical and sometimes spiritual realms.
Over time, I was able to develop a framework and paradigm understanding of my intrinsic worth, but it was a fragile thing. Too easily toppled. Too easily stymied by harsh words and careless actions. But the toolkit given to me by my parents, my mom in particular, included large amounts of emotional unavailability and abandonment in my closest relationships. When I felt myself healing, I pushed people away. I turned acceptance of me into rejection of me. In a cruel twist of irony, I turned rejection into acceptance. Imagine that.
For others, I was a rock. I could lift them up in their time of needs, brighten their darkest days, and filter their pain away. For myself, I could do almost none of those things. The feeling of self helplessness is a bitter medicine to consume for long. I should know, I’ve dosed myself liberally for decades.
This emotional abandonment left me wanting. I ached for healing and sought this in my partners – but it never came in the quantity or consistency that I required. If it did, I shut down and pushed them away (acceptance = rejection, remember?). Perhaps healing hurts more than the pain, or at least it was unfamiliar enough to be uncomfortable and I needed to avoid being uncomfortable.
But I can never have what I need if I keep looking outside myself. However, if I had it within me, I wouldn’t want to look outside myself – it is a vicious cycle that has to end.
Logically, I know my troubles stem from my unhealed relationship with my mom. I’ve attempted to heal myself through my adult relationships, and have failed miserably. Why? Because the women who hurt me the most are emotional replicas of my mom.
In these relationships, I flailed. I didn’t have the ability to validate my own worth and spent most of the relationship feeling not good enough, not lovable enough, and not worthy enough. Meanwhile, I put all of my energy into trying to make it work, trying to heal their brokenness, recognizing and trying to show them their worth.
I talked myself out of many opportunities or shied away from experiences because of my inner demons. I sold myself really short.
I wish I could say that I have grown more confident in speaking my truth from a place of authenticity and establishing clear emotional boundaries – but I can’t, not really. I can see objectively, what needs to be different to end the cycle. However, seeing and doing is proving to be problematic – evidenced in my current relationship.
All of my old fears are here, especially the fear of being emotionally abandoned. When I speak, I am not really heard or understood. I used to say that it didn’t matter if I was understood, as long as I took responsibility for my own outcome. I also used to matter more to myself. Some things change. Some things don’t.
I haven’t grown enough to regret my path or my experiences. Whether I’m lacking the knowledge or the courage to regret, I can’t say. But I do love myself even if I am not in love with myself. The battle is submitting to the idea that I have intrinsic worth and my healing is a responsibility that cannot be outsourced to my partner.
My picture of me has been shattered too often and the cuts sustained in piecing me back together have become something of a comfort instead of a determent. I remain human, and I sometimes do things that defy explanation. This need not continue to be one.