Respect Yourself

Last week I wrote about fixing up your house a bit and making it stronger in case of a storm. By that, I meant that you are the house.

Someone mentioned in a comment that they could probably exercise more and eat less sugar. Well, yes, but why? If it is because you want to put more nutritious food into your body or prevent future illnesses and ensure continued health by doing so….okay. If you are doing it because you care about yourself. But if you are saying you should have healthier habits because that is what others expect of you or because you feel other people will judge how you look, or that you are not good enough as you are….then are you really making your house stronger…or are you just trying to put a pretty wreath on the door to make other people happy?

I think that life itself is strange in that we are born into a world where we feel the need to fit in. We do what we are told. We stifle our feelings. We work. We compare what we have and what we have accomplished with other people we know. All of our life is spent with a catcher’s mitt on our hands. All we end up knowing about ourselves is how well we were able to catch the balls that were thrown our way and how good we appear to look on the outside.

Our individuality is praised a bit more when we are children. We are asked what we want to be when we grow up. We play that we are heroes or villains or dancers or movie stars. Our work may get stars put on it and be put on the fridge for display.

But it seems that the older we get, the more we are encouraged to put away our dreams as they are deemed to be childish thoughts. And our choices become more limited and we tend to be squeezed into what is expected of us.

And in some ways, it may feel comforting to be told what to do. It can be overwhelming to have our live be open-ended and have to make big decisions. Or to feel alone in a big world unsure of which way to turn. It can feel comforting to do what we know. What we have seen our parents and friends do.

I just finished watching the series “Mad Men”, and what struck me….besides all of the drinking and smoking they did….was how limited the lives of the women were back in the 1960’s. Remember, it wasn’t until 50 years ago that women were getting credit on their own and if a woman got divorced, she could end up with nothing… home, no money….even no children.

I remember enjoying art and writing and psychology when I was younger. But I chose to take secretarial classes because nothing else seemed solid or like a real thing for me to do. And then in high school, the guidance counselor suggested I become a nun, which was the farthest thing from my mind at the time, and in college (for medical secretarial classes) I took a test which suggested that I should be a funeral director.

We may learn about who we are from what other people tell us. But not all of it is helpful. For instance when I was told I should be a nun or a funeral director, nobody really pulled it together for me at the time and suggested that there may be other professions that needed someone who was kind to others or who scored high in empathy on a test.

And it goes the other way as well. It doesn’t feel good at all when someone puts us down or they don’t like us. And unless we truly know who we are and like who we are, we may believe that other people know us better than we do ourselves. So the bad words stick and we end up believing them.

As we go along in life, if we pay attention, we can begin to learn about who we really are. What kinds of things interest us? What kind of personality traits bother us? Do we prefer the beach or the mountains? Do we feel the need to be in control of things all of the time? Are we able to relax? What kinds of things fascinate us? What would we like to learn? Where would we like to go? What makes us sad? What colors do we like? What food do we enjoy?

This is what I am talking about when I say to make your house stronger. I’m not saying do something to “improve” yourself. That would imply that you aren’t already perfect as you are. The thing is, you are perfect, you just don’t know it. And you are not going to know it by listening to what other people say about you. Because what other people say about you changes from day to day…..minute by minute. While you are working on the strength of the walls inside your house (your boundaries), consider also making your rooms to your liking. Use the colors you love. Listen to the music that brings you joy. Cultivate an aura of love within your own walls.

Add an addition to your house. I have started to paint, so I would need a studio. Something with lots of light and perhaps some classical music. I will say that when I compare myself to other, more talented people, I can’t really paint well. But the hell with saying that. Saying that you can’t do something only guarantees that you never will do that. I love to paint. It takes me away from myself. I paint differently than others, not better, not worse than. I have my own style.

I have a friend….a fellow survivor….who reminded me that we all have our strengths. She loves to talk to people and to network and to learn. I love to write and to organize things for people and to learn about behavior.

My friend sends me lots of articles about Narcissists and co-dependency. And I think I am learning. I listen to my son talk about his relationship and I hear him talk about the other person. It reminds me of what I used to do. What I still tend to do if I don’t think it out. The question always being….are we reacting to what others are doing? Are we trying to control what someone else is doing because it makes us uncomfortable? Are we owning our own feelings and actions?

One article I read said that when we are recovering…and that means healing from abuse….we should not jump into dating or seeking another relationship. I can understand that if you consider the red flags we are supposed to watch out for.

Instant love and attraction. Wanting to know everything about you. Wanting commitment right off the bat. Jealousy. We’ve heard these things before but when you are looking for a love connection, these things can feel like love.

Another thing….and this was important because I had never seen anyone talk about this before….was building a story in your head. And this is common. Think obsession. That is the extreme, but having someone smile and be kind and compliment you….and seem like they are interested in you and that they want more with you….but then they don’t seem to follow up….can be just what it seems to everyone else in the world….nothing. But in the meantime, you are already fantasizing about what your children will look like and your feelings for this person are growing.

When you have co-dependent issues, you need to actively work on your recovery. Or you can face a lifetime of self-inflicted pain. It takes work. Boundary work is important in recovery.

We discussed this a bit tonight at our meeting. Boundaries can be a foreign concept to some of us. One insight was that we need to learn that we aren’t responsible for someone else’s problems. That doesn’t mean we don’t care or can’t offer help. But it does mean that we aren’t responsible for fixing things for someone else. And that can be very difficult to learn. Especially when we have been taught we are responsible or we have been made to feel responsible since we were kids.

Another thing….it seems that we may have things we subconsciously revert to when stressed. We may find ourselves shopping more without being aware that it is related to not being able to control something going on in our family, for instance. We may find ourselves feeling worse when we thought we were doing better and not understand why. All I can say is that when I find this happening to me, I ask myself what it is I’m not looking at. What am I trying to repress?

We are perfect spiritual beings living in imperfect physical bodies and living in an imperfect world. Healing from trauma or co-dependency or anything for that matter is a slow life-long process of becoming aware of our thoughts and feelings.

Please don’t tell yourself that you can’t do something you may want to try. Please don’t tell yourself that you aren’t as good as someone else. An apple cannot be an orange. Listen to the tapes that play in your head. The ones you have played over and over and now believe are the truth about yourself. Pick them apart. Put new words in that are more positive. Begin to play more positive words in your head. It’s not easy, I know. Like I said, lifelong work ahead.

And remember that if you missed out on an opportunity to do something in your life, you still have time. Maybe you won’t be able to do exactly the same thing, but instead of thinking about what could have been, try thinking about what could be….

Sending socially distant hugs to all. Have a nice week. Be good to yourself. Trivia….top five countries reading this blog in November were: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and Portugal. Blog most read was Guest blog #3.

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