Lies, Revised

Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if the negative things you believed about yourself were erased, proved false, or fixed? What different choices would you make?

For the longest time, I lived in a version of the same story. I acted out familiar patterns as I became the lost girl waiting for someone to teach/fix me. I was unconsciously looking for someone to show me how to be. Having had parents who were limited in their ability to guide me, I came to others with a perpetually open heart, hoping to be loved and mentored. This left me so vulnerable.

This method seemed to work in my relationship with my mom when I was a child. I stayed confused and open to her input and control as she told me what to do. She did not encourage autonomy or independent thought, and so I feared expressing those things. This greatly affected my ability to cultivate my own inner strength. As I gained autonomy & a sense of agency, my relationship with my mom has suffered. However, my sense of self has improved and I’m able to see how the toxicity of the environments I grew up in and then later chose for myself have shaped me.

The other night, I had an encounter with two men who essentially broke my spirit a decade ago. I think they knew what they were doing at the time. But on this particular night, my old boss spoke to me and said things that had I believed back then would have changed the course of my life. The interaction shook me: what i had believed about myself was not necessarily how others saw me. Or maybe I’ve just changed and he could tell. Either way, the interaction was profound and left me wondering.

What if we are believing lies?! What if a person is awful to you because you are a reminder of someone from their past, or of themself? What if their narcissism leads them to vacillate between love/hate regularly? What if it actually has little to do with you? What if everyone else is not superior? What if it was all a game?

I think it’s time we rethink the negative things people have said to us, as well as the negative shame spiral it sends us down. Let’s dismantle our feelings of unworthiness and find a way to climb out of the pit and reclaim our power. We are not solely our bodies, our reputations, our successes or our past mistakes. We are not the sum of what others think of us.

In the future, I won’t let another person break my spirit. I know what i’ve been through and I know how far I’ve come. I don’t need to beg someone else to fix me or mentor me or approve of me so that I can finally be okay. Some people never will approve. Or they will, ten years later.

From the Outside In

Maybe it’s the result of a typical midlife crisis, but I suddenly became tired of the way things have been. A friend pointed out to me that you can’t make a life from the outside in; it must be from the inside out. For so many years I didn’t realize that I was building my life from the outside in, trying to get the outer parts lined up before my soul was really ready.

I looked for acceptance from others without learning to accept myself. I got engaged after six weeks, without giving myself space to consider if we needed to move so quickly or just enjoy dating. When I abruptly ended my career, I went straight onto another path without processing the loss. I wanted to have all my ducks in a row without really learning or processing the lessons as they presented themselves, without really feeling them. I wanted to create a life from the outside in, thinking that if i could succeed in one or multiple ways I’d be content, or at least finished with the struggle. I just wanted to get there already. This impatience makes sense to me now, but in hindsight I wish I had taken some time to let the moments be for a while.

Growing up, my life was unsteady. Major outer situations shifted with my mom’s moods. Her moods erupted unpredictably. For some reason, I convinced myself that other people were nothing like my mother — that everywhere else, things made perfect sense and everyone was rational. This wasn’t true, of course, but it’s what I wanted to believe for a while.

And so… I sought out appearances and rational clarity and sometimes missed the truth of what was underneath — the things your intuition will tell you even if the logic doesn’t compute. I believed a lot of facades, including my own at times. If I thought I “should” feel a certain way or do a certain thing, then I would want to. This is a way I hid from myself.

Now, I am tired of living my life from the outside in. I want the truth of what is inside me to flow out. When difficult truths present themselves, I want to be honest about them. I want to feel comfortable in my skin AND comfortable with my thoughts and emotions. I want to pause the construction of things when something inside me is questioning or uncomfortable. Safety hasn’t come in the times when I frantically construct the path. It comes when I listen to what is inside and trust the truth to direct my path, however slowly or jaggedly it leads me. I want to embrace the roadblocks and see what they can teach me.

As I reflect on how I used to approach my life, I wonder how exactly to work with the pieces I’ve acquired. I can’t go back to the past and slow down, and it is more complicated to transform a life than to construct one from the beginning. Changing dynamics that have existed for a while is challenging. What if I am a very different version of myself? What if those I love don’t like it? The truth is that I would rather be honest.

Living bravely and honestly seems to be the only way I CAN live these days. Since partially disconnecting with my mom (which has taken all of my bravery) I have no energy for fronting anymore. If I am willing to make a stand with her, even though it breaks my heart, why would I hold onto other dynamics that aren’t working for me? I find that as I get stronger, all of my relationships are changing a little. I’m okay with that. I welcome the changes and find them exciting.

Can you relate to trying to create a life from the outside in? Have you made choices before getting in touch with your true reasons, or have you rushed things because you were looking for something you thought others — but not you — possessed?

I can now see that I craved the stability I saw in others. It was something I didn’t know how to create on my own. Now I know that another’s stability cannot become mine. I can observe it, learn from it, and benefit from it, but I cannot absorb it. I have to find my own. Part of that stability comes from looking within and knowing who I really am, apart from what others think of me.

A trusted friend advised me recently to slow down, even now. Slow down: don’t respond so quickly. Slow down: listen to what people are really saying. Slow down: give people space when they aren’t ready to show up in a healthy way. Slow down, and give myself space to process. Slow down, and let things be. This feels like the antidote to frantically trying to line things up, and I welcome the shift.

Hiraeth and Holiday Blues

hiraeth: a longing for a home to which you can not return, which maybe never was

My mom had a way of making moments both memorable and unrepeatable. She loved traditions, or at least the idea of them, but her instability and volatility made traditions difficult to keep. I have strange memories of holidays growing up. The good moments were so fun, exciting, and happy but many of them were filled with strife.

My mom’s energy was always the type that filled up the entire room. When she celebrated life, it was generally a little over the top (histrionic). This was often fun. She’d blast the music from a musical and sing all of the parts. I remember singing Godspell (I know all of the parts, too) and having a lot of fun with my mom. On a good day, my mom would happily sing Frank Sinatra and dance around, and at Christmastime she’d get excited about decorating. I distinctly remember finding this strange as a child. I always had trouble mirroring her excitement levels. Looking back, I can see that I was walking on eggshells as a little girl. It didn’t feel safe to get excited about happy things, knowing that a fight could erupt at any moment. These days, I barely ever see my mom at the holidays because our unresolvable fights usually occur before a plan can even be made. Instead, I worry because she is likely alone and I wonder how she is coping. Is she suicidal? What can/should I do? Would anything work?

I find myself longing for the home I almost had, the one that is there if I string all of the positive memories of my mom together and erase the parts that wouldn’t let those moments last.

I find myself somewhat relieved that I am not exposing my children to the confusing drama that almost always exists when my mom is around, and yet I wonder why she can’t choose to be different. On the first Christmas I spent with my husband (pre-kids), my mom complained about the song his younger sister was playing on the piano, saying it would make anyone “want to jump off a bridge.” She later cursed at my husband — in front of his mother — after being offended during a game of Scrabble. I feel bad for my mom because I’m sure she was struggling in these moments. Who would act that way otherwise? I am pretty sure she was upset that his sister was getting the attention (since my mom also loves to sing and play piano) and she was also uncomfortable with the traditional family and their holiday celebration. I think that when she feels insecure, she must make a scene to feel alive — and in power — again. I wish she could choose to pick out some fun music to play instead of starting a needless fight.

When I hear certain holiday songs that remind me of my mom, it is hard not to cry — even though the person who once sang those songs in joyful moments has been gone from me for a while. Her anger has become so much stronger than the love and joy she shares.

I know my mom has felt lost much of her life. I’m sure if she were to be honest, she would feel a longing for the home life (and mother) she needed but couldn’t really have because of circumstances and depression. Sometimes it seems that many of us are really just trying to find the home we couldn’t ever hold onto — the soft, safe place to land where we know we are loved and where we learn how to know and love ourselves, too. As I try to create this place for my children, I feel my own longing for the home I cannot grasp … the sense of home that comes from feeling deeply loved by your parents.

My mom loved to tell me that I could always come home, but it wasn’t quite true. There was a big catch — I could have no boundaries or autonomy. This does not feel like a safe home to me.

I am trying now to focus on creating my own safe place, my own new home, and on letting go of nostalgia. If I’m honest, this can sometime lead to feeling resentment towards others’ happy traditions. (No- I don’t want to see your mother’s tree or bake cookies with your grandma…) I realize this is immature and I think it is largely coming from a place of guilt. But, I didn’t cry in front of the kids while decorating the tree this year or sneak away to cry in the bathroom. So that is progress. I’m counting it as a win, and holding out hope that things will one day be better. The holidays are a good time to remember and believe in miracles, even as sadness lingers in the shadows.

How about you? Do you struggle with holidays because of your relationship with an estranged parent? What does home feel like to you? Please comment or message – i’d love to hear your story!

Loved or Hated?

Sometimes I wonder if the question most of us are asking much of the time is whether or not we are loved or hated. As I reflect on my past, sometimes it’s hard to know. If a person cannot love in a true, honest way, is it love at all? Maybe it’s more important to ask the question of whether or not I love or have loved.

When I was in high school, I performed in a theatre production in which our director gave all of us a specific desire to act out. My part was “I want someone to fall madly in love with me.” At the time, I was shocked she didn’t give me the “I want to be a ballerina” role — that was what I’d expected, as I was a “bunhead” and clearly obsessed with ballet. She was right, though, back then. I loved ballet but on a deeper level I just wanted to be loved. I craved safety and belonging, passion and love.

Growing up, there were times I felt pretty important to my mom. But, because of her tendency to “split” (view people as all good or all bad) my status with her was shaky. I can remember some of the times I did feel loved so vividly: the times she would squeeze my hand while bringing me to work with her, the times we’d laugh as we cleaned out our closet and got rid of things we couldn’t believe we’d ever bought/kept. But then there were other times, times when she would fly into a rage because I didn’t clean the coffee pot (when I was too young to know there was a coffee pot that needed to be cleaned). There were times she resented me for things other people had done to me — times I was seen as a threat instead of a daughter. I believed my mom loved me, but her words and actions did not often reflect deep care and concern for me and my well-being.

I think it’s because of this incongruence that I had difficulty knowing how to distinguish whether others in my life were “for” me or “against” me. It is hard to learn how to accurately view people and assess relationships when you grow up with an unstable single parent — even harder when that parent struggles with borderline and narcissistic personality disorders. It’s our parents who are our first teachers and we learn how to be treated through our interactions with them. Consequently, my own pattern of feeling loved and then hated followed through into my adult life, and led me to be overly trusting at times and then overly withdrawn at others. It’s only recently that I’ve learned some discernment — that people must earn your trust. In my younger years I would just try and try and try, even when people proved to me that they did not like me and that my trying was in vain or when I found that they were never trustworthy to begin with.

Still, there are certain persons with whom I’ve had relationships where it truly was hard to tell if I was loved or hated … maybe they, too, had a tendency to “split” or be extremely fickle in their opinions. I was an easy target for these types of people, who could sense my desire to please and be loved. When I look back, I can see the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of these people who hurt me (I’m an empath). They wanted to be loved and adored, too. I’ve read that narcissists believe they cannot be loved, so instead they choose to be feared. This seems true in my experience. I was a target of mean bosses and manipulative co-workers, but even now I’m not sure if they truly hated me or just needed to feel powerful. The few times I’ve confronted these people, the underlying issue was that they felt slighted. My mom has often felt slighted, too, and her sense of entitlement prevents her from seeing that I must think of others and not only her. This sense of entitlement — to rule my decisions, my schedule, my opinions — coupled with not getting exactly what she thinks she deserves almost always leads to rage. It can be over the most minor detail. I’m not sure my mom truly hates me or if she’s just too angry to show love.

We all want to feel loved, and yet none of us love perfectly. The way we express or don’t express love is often flawed. Because of this, there is no perfectly safe person. In our quests to find love and admiration, we often forget to love ourselves and others. But, we can choose to love throughout this messy journey (even if we don’t know where it might lead). We can love ourselves and others through the messiness. I am working on loving myself and others better.

When I look back at what felt like my most difficult, messiest, ugliest life moments, they were often the times when there was a choice — a fork in the road that could lead to beautiful things. I didn’t always choose those things. Fear often held me back.

When my first boyfriend told me of a health concern right after we broke up…
When I was humiliated and hid from the world…
When I changed my mind about a lover…
When I left my first love (of dance)…
When my mom threw a tantrum and I decided to decide to try and reason with her, over and over again…

The loving things I could have chosen were compassion, honesty, grace, reflection, slowing down, saying nothing, asking for help, letting go of the fight.

When I can honestly assess what is happening, instead of trying to revise it to be what I want it to be as quickly as possible, things can reveal themselves more clearly. The truth isn’t always pretty, and it can be so hard to accept, but I believe that facing it can lead to better things. It is painful when someone you love cannot accept the truth (of their own disorder, of their poor behavior, of reality). I still struggle with this aspect.

Have you experienced difficulty discerning whether someone loves/hates you? Have you been on a quest for love that has left you exhausted, maybe because you are seeking love from one who is just too broken to give it? Please share your experience.

The Overshare: Learning to Protect my Heart

It happens so regularly, like the tendency to eat a little too much and then cut back, that at first it was hard to recognize this in myself: I overshare. I say just a little too much, cover just a few too many topics, get vulnerable — oftentimes more vulnerable than the person I am with. Afterwards, I feel embarrassed, exposed, and needy.

I’m not sure exactly why I do this, but I think it comes from a place of loss. When I feel the possibility of a safe person, I test the waters. Tell me now: Can I trust you? What about now? What if I tell you the worst mistake I made while parenting this week? What about the problems I’m having with my husband? What if I talk too much? Will you be vulnerable, too?

My method of testing is not the same as a borderline’s or a narcissist’s. I don’t get angry and push people away. I tend to dive in and then withdraw a little, returning (most of the time) with better boundaries and self-regulation than before. I wish that I didn’t have to go through this process though. I’d like to be a person who protects my heart rather than one who wears my heart on my sleeve. I wish I could start with self-regulation and healthy boundaries and slowly dive deeper as the relationship deepens. This would obviously be a safer way and more comfortable for all involved.

I think I learned this pattern of relating with my borderline narcissistic mother. My mom would tell me so many things (she did not have much of a filter, if any). She would often elicit deep sharing from me but then prove herself to be untrustworthy. So, it is comfortable for me to get vulnerable and then feel shame. Maybe I have trouble separating this familiar feeling from what is actually happening in real time. I’m not sure.

What I do know is that I feel more comfortable when I guard myself a little. It’s a form of self-care I’m always afraid to take and not very good at implementing. I think it would feel amazing to feel safe in my own skin, instead of feeling like I might throw myself under the bus at any time, so to speak. I truly believe in healthy vulnerability, but it needs to be with the right person and preferably at the right time. Brené Brown writes, “If we share our shame story with the wrong person, they can easily become one more piece of flying debris in an already dangerous storm.”

I think that part of my tendency to overshare comes from me wanting my mom… a mom who can actually listen to the whole of me — the good, the bad, the ugly — and be there for me, for as long as I need her to be. My mom cannot do this because she is not healthy. It’s not even about me… not really. She can’t be there for me because she cannot maintain relationships. There is no room for me to lean on her because she is too angry with me about a trivial detail from last year (or a decade ago). And so, I’m learning that I need to be my own “mom” in this way. I can’t wait for her any longer, and I cannot be her mom when I still need to learn how to be my own.

Moving forward, I am going to try to listen a little more and speak a little less. Baring all of my thoughts and feelings can be cathartic, but it can also be anxiety-producing, especially when I’m uncertain of the thoughts and feelings to begin with. (I find this to be especially true in a public format such as social media.) Silence can be uncomfortable, too, but that is okay. I’m going to wait for comfortable moments instead of trying to squeeze in all the depth I can out of one conversation or interaction. There will be more time… everyone is not leaving, even if it feels like important people are gone forever.

What are your thoughts on oversharing?  Do you struggle with this from time to time?  Do you crave intense (particularly female) relationships when estranged from your mother? How did your parents teach (or neglect to teach) you how to protect your heart?  

Trusting My Gut: Learning to Listen after Years of Being Controlled

Decisions: the thorn in my side.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with decisions. When I was about ten years old I went to stay with my favorite aunt for a week and she asked me what kind of eggs I wanted for breakfast. I had no idea. I stood there, paralyzed, and told her, “whatever you want!” She did not like my response. Having grown up as my mom’s little sister, she understood my inability to choose. I was not used to being asked what I wanted. During my childhood, there were few options, few chances for me to pick A versus B and for that to be okay. Oftentimes, I was chastised for doing something wrong when I didn’t know the rule to begin with. I did not feel comfortable without rules and clear direction. I asked my mom’s approval about every.little.thing. This trickled into my larger social network as I made one, and so I was easily influenced.

At one point in my childhood, there was a specific trauma that led me to block things out. My mother did not believe me when the truth originally came out, so I retracted it. I did not trust myself, or even my reality, at that time. I fell deep into a depressed, numb state for a while but eventually I came back to life.

Then, to simplify things a little and allow myself to function, I often operated in the ideal. What is the ideal this or that? I’ll aim for it. No need to think of whether or not it suits me or if it is authentic or if I’ve really thought it through. It was a simplistic and naive philosophy but it was my survival mentality. I needed things to be right, to be okay. I needed it yesterday.

But then things didn’t quite work out as planned… I learned that operating in the ideal is often an illusion. Sometimes my decisions for “the best” backfired. I became distraught and depressed when things did not work out well. I felt like maybe I should have asked my mom; after all, she claimed she was always right. If only I’d talked with her about everything I wouldn’t have made mistakes! But that wasn’t true, either. My mom made plenty of mistakes in regard to me that she never owned, which affected me greatly. Nobody gets it right all of the time.

So what now? I need to make decisions, all of the time, and there is no formula. There is no person who can tell me exactly what to do and get it right all of the time. Even if there was, I need to make decisions for myself so that I learn how. It’s been a slow process but I feel that I’ve made a lot of headway.

I started listening to a podcast called “The Next Right Thing” by Emily P. Freeman which was much more helpful than I expected it to be. One thing she mentioned was the idea of picking something you like, and seeing how it grows. It’s such a simple idea. What if I just tried that? I think I like this thing…for some reason it “fits”… okay then. Let’s go with that and see what happens. Worst case? I’ll learn. I’ll be able to live with it even if it’s not ideal. Maybe it’ll make me laugh, or cry, or learn a great lesson. I do not have to be absolutely certain about everything.

There was a time when the advice “trust your gut” just drove me nuts. Instincts? Did I even have them? I did not have a clear gut feeling about most things. I think that because of my trauma and history of blocking, my instincts and my ability to trust them were dulled. My mother’s desire for control over me did not help, either. I did not know which sandwich I liked. I did not know if that person was safe. I did not really know how to answer your question honestly.

Now I am learning that I do have instincts, and even though I cannot always tap into them, little by little it is getting easier. I’ve learned to start small and give myself as many opportunities to make small decisions as possible, to boost my confidence. I’ve also learned to give myself time when I need it. Many decisions are not as urgent as they seem to be. Oftentimes, it really can wait. Someone else (maybe an expert) might be able to help. A few days and a little self-care can do wonders. EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique or “tapping”) has sometimes helped me to clear the anxiety around making a tough choice. I’m learning to slow down and have compassion on myself and my process. Just the other day I heard of the term “unclear felt sense,” which describes an intuitive feeling that is unclear but worthy of being explored…
I believe these senses are windows into our souls — there is value in looking in.

Have you struggled with making your own decisions? Did trauma and/or manipulation play into this struggle?

Staging a Life: It’s Okay to Shine

I’ve never been very good at staging things.  I forget to give myself an advantage, or really “own” an opportunity.  Tonight I was trying to get a cute photo of my son and daughter holding their baby dolls (a rare occurrence).  My daughter didn’t like some of the toys in the area or how they looked in the photo, so she took her arms and pushed all of them off the area in one swoop.  I wish I had those ideas sometimes, to go “big” and just move the crap that’s getting me down out of the way.  She did that and then posed her heart out.  

Sometimes part of me feels it a little contrived, unfair, or dishonest to crop out the “bad” part of life.  But I think a deeper part of me is just waiting for permission — permission to shine, permission to live fully, permission to feel happy or proud.  When I take photos, I often wish someone would tell me how to pose, because I feel embarrassed to pose with confidence.  

Marianne Williamson has a popular quote: 

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

This quote has always resonated with me.  I think I have always been afraid of my mother’s disapproval, or her jealousy, and so a part of me has been too afraid to shine and give it my all.  I’ve had moments where I’ve gotten past the fear, but more often than not I give in to it.  I shrink among others, unless I know that someone wants me to succeed.  

I secretly tell myself that I can have good things once I crawl on broken glass to get there.  (Once, I literally crawled on glass after breaking a candle and feeling so ashamed that I fell to the floor to clean it up.)  I do this in many metaphorical ways though, too: I share the most negative details about myself as soon as possible, making interactions awkward; I don’t take shortcuts and often do things in the hardest way possible, with the fewest resources, because I “should”; I ask for advice from people I know will criticize instead of those who will support or help, etc.  

The contrast of how I approach life compared to others has been revealed to me recently by some of my new acquaintances.  Many of them are wealthy, beautiful, and confident.  They don’t air their dirty laundry or admit many of their flaws.  In some ways, their lives felt too “staged” to me, but I also respect their ability to shine in a shameless way.  The other day, I felt like I needed to shrink around them.  But why?  I’m glad I’m finally able to ask myself that question.  There is room for all of us to shine and build one another up.  This applies to how I relate to my mom, too.  My potential happiness does not block hers.  I’m not doing her any good by shrinking or drowning in self-hatred or by making my life harder than it needs to be. Even if she wants me to, it’s not doing either of us any good.

I’ve read that narcissistic mothers can view their daughters as a competition (i.e. Daughter 2.0).  I believe this has been true for me, and wanting my mother’s love has made me ashamed of my successes and afraid of joy.  I don’t want to take joy from her, or have it if she doesn’t.  I want her to want good things for me.  As I mature, I realize it’s actually my duty to take my life and run with it… I don’t need her permission.  I can stage the environment to look good when appropriate.  I can make the best of a situation.  I can shine.  It’s okay to create a life I love.  

This in itself is frightening when you aren’t used to it… but what growth comes from staying comfortable?

How about you? Have you felt yourself shrinking in order to gain another’s approval? How has this worked out?

Halcyon days

[Halcyon: the idyllic time of the past]

I remember walking briskly in the afternoon air… I had places to go. There are certain feelings from the days of my youth that I’ll never forget, when the air itself felt like it carried a hope that lingered around me for a while. I had big dreams and I held them close. I was humble and hopeful and light. I liked this version of me. Somehow, over time, I allowed myself to get smaller and smaller. As I’ve begun to awaken, I feel like I’m getting more in touch with who I used to be. I’m finally shedding the layers that never fit in the first place. It’s almost as if I can see clearly now… my halcyon memories show me the beauty I may have missed in the moment as well as what could have been.

Smaller and smaller…

For the longest time, I tried to fit into the mold that others set for me. I had my own mold in mind, but I hadn’t thoroughly defined it for myself enough to stick with it. Some of this was a result of my mom… she never seemed comfortable with my choices, particularly my artistic ones but even the mundane type. Not wanting to disappoint or start an argument, I would often cave and choose things that reflected who my mom was rather than the the person I was. My mom had a specific box that she wanted me to stay in, eternally. I defected from her ideas at times, when my own were strong enough, but in general I often deferred to her. I got used to trying to decipher the boxes of others in my life as well. At times, I got pretty good at fitting into the boxes I thought others wanted. However, the boxes didn’t often mesh together well and I’m not sure I ever squeezed myself into them as well as I’d imagined. When the squeezing didn’t work anymore and the competing desires clashed, I often minimized myself and let go of parts of me. Over time, the “me” I knew got smaller and smaller.

In a literal sense, I remember standing in my bathroom in my new apartment trying on clothes (leotards, to be specific). I was evaluating myself to see if I was thin enough by looking at myself in various styles. I believed I needed to look good in all of them: if I didn’t, I needed to shrink myself a little and become less. Metaphorically, I did this in all aspects of my life. I became less. Less daring: what if I wasn’t good enough? Less ambitious: some people are better than me/don’t like me, so I’ll hold back. Less confident: you’re right, I’m wrong… you decide for me. Less forgiving: I made a mistake, so count me out for the long haul. I became smaller and smaller. I forgot that desire and intention matter. I didn’t know that I didn’t need to check every box (or fit well in every style) to be worthy. I didn’t know I could choose what fit for me.

Before I knew it, my goals were so tiny and yet they still seemed unsurmountable. My fears grew instead of my confidence. It seems like the smaller I made myself, the harder things became. I couldn’t finish a project I started. I had too many boxes and too many of them led to disappointment. I had the “good daughter” box that I could never fit into properly as well as many others that were similarly unattainable (e.g. perfect homemaker/housekeeper; eternally peaceful, patient, artsy, validating mom; keeper/organizer of memories; devoted, constantly-in-love wife; faithful, unshakeable believer; artist) as well as other boxes I felt I “should” try to fit into (teacher? coach? yogi?). In attempting to fit into all of these boxes, I lost myself. I spread the pieces of me too quickly — I wanted to be what everyone wanted from me; I thought that then I would be good enough. I would even be able to prove it with documents and pictures. I ended up crying over a photo album project, confused over how I would organize the pictures or choose the album cover. My life was completely lost in the details, as I was trying to get free.

Shortly after this scenario, I became more interested in how others lived. Social media helped a little. I saw other people who just didn’t buy into it all (or so it seemed). They focused on what really mattered to them — what only they could do or wanted to do, the things that made them unique. They didn’t get thwarted by haters or consumed by fears. They trudged on in the direction of their dreams.

In my halcyon memories, I tend to only remember one box at a time, forgetting many of the painful parts. I sort of love that memories are like this. Viewing my past with joy & longing, I’m more ready to move forward. Perhaps I can regain the hopefulness I had in my halcyon days and mix it with the wisdom I have now.

What about you? Do you have halcyon memories of idyllic moments from the past? Have you ever felt you’ve lost the parts of yourself you had at that time?

Faulkner writes, “The past is never gone. In fact, it isn’t even past.” I like this line and, in a sense, I agree with it. I am still the same person I was in my past… just a little roughed up and a little wiser. The past will always be a part of me. I’m encouraged by the fact that I often have memories of days that seem idyllic in retrospect. I wonder sometimes if I will look back on my life in this moment and consider it another stretch of halcyon days.

Blinded: Learning to self-validate

A few months ago I was rear-ended on the freeway. For a few seconds, I was completely blinded by the sun as I headed west at sunset, so I was driving extra carefully and began to slow down. It was that moment when my husband loudly screamed my name over and over. Thinking I was about to hit the hidden car in front of me, I broke. The car who had been riding very close behind me, causing my husband to scream, slammed into me.

It was jarring, unavoidable, and not really my fault.

A memory arose for me as I was driving that day. I remember saying to my mom at the age of 15, while she was teaching me how to drive her stick shift, that I thought the most difficult thing about driving was when the sun was in my eyes and I couldn’t see. I said, “don’t you think, Mom?” to which she replied a flat, “No, I don’t.” She wasn’t able to be validating or understanding. But for me, the sun was the hardest thing.

There were a few moments growing up that ended with me really doubting myself and my own warning signals, my own intuition, my own reality, and my own sense of self. I often traded my gut instincts for others’ instincts and also forgot to put myself into a pocket for safe-keeping. I was lost but unaware.

In many ways, it’s all coming back to me now. I’ve been told that we continue to encounter the same lessons until we learn them. Nowadays, I don’t ask people questions to hear that they agree with me. I know it’s okay to have a different experience. I can validate my own experience. This ability gives me the freedom to validate more easily the experiences of others. I know that your experience doesn’t need to mirror mine. I have compassion on those who have personality disorders, especially when they need others to mirror them completely in order to feel alive and whole.

My mom needed and expected me to mirror her – anything less seemingly felt like an affront. I tried my best for a long time. I remember once choreographing a dance to a well-known, popular song that I loved at the time. I loved the dance I had made, too, and I was so proud of it! My mom was not impressed. She disliked the song, and suggested I use another one that she liked from her era. I did. I loudly and also ashamedly blasted her song as I practiced “my” dance in my school’s dance studio. At the time, I felt like I had to do this. I wish someone had questioned me about my process or turned me around a little. (“Why are you choreographing to this outdated song of your mother’s?” seems like a fair question.) This experience was pivotal for me and marked a time when I began to quickly exchange myself for another version. This pattern repeated for so long. But… I’m learning that I am still the first girl, the girl who knew and picked the song. I am the girl who often gave myself up but now I realize I can pick up the pieces and reclaim myself again.

Sometimes I am conflicted about the need to thoroughly define myself: does it even matter if I defer to another person? Is it a real problem? Does it even matter that I know what I like? I believe it does. Without a clear sense of self, even my mistakes are inauthentic.

In this new “woke” state, I have recognized many times that I have been inauthentic — times that I have taken another’s words as my own thoughts when they weren’t, making decisions I would have done much more slowly on my own, acting harshly or abruptly when really I wanted to take some space or get more information.

I know that I cannot prevent myself from being blinded at times — forces more powerful than I am, like the sun, will sometimes get in the way. Sometimes people blindside me with their intensity, expectations, or criticism. At times I’ve felt unable to find my way. I believe that God wants us to be authentic and that He helps us to uncover our true selves over time.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Cor 13:12

Learning how to self-validate, often by examining the fallout of what happened when I didn’t, has been invaluable in my journey towards wholeness & authenticity. Please share if you can relate to times when you felt unable to be authentic and how this shaped your consequent decisions and sense of self.

Ugly Girl: A Child’s Response to “I Hate You; Don’t Leave Me”

It was my first boyfriend who told me he figured out what I had – body dysmorphic disorder – after taking his abnormal psych class.  He had loved me unwaveringly and I knew he told me because he cared.  He had noticed early on, the little quirks I had, and knew of my insecurities and preoccupations.  But what does this have to do with a borderline/narcissistic mother?  

Borderline mothers live in the relational dynamic described in the phrase, “I hate you; don’t leave me.”  A child’s response to this is often to hate themself.  The simplest thing to hate is often something tangible in one’s physical appearance.

I remember looking at my reflection once as a young girl – the reflection I saw in a spoon – and not hating it, but just noticing how my face would change shape in the round surface.  Sometimes I wish I could begin again there, when I had an inquisitive, untainted heart, and restart my life with the lessons I’ve now learned about body image.   

My mother herself did not have a healthy body image.  I was told that she was blacklisted from hair salons numerous times after throwing a fit when she didn’t like her hair.  I was too young to remember these particular episodes, but I know my mom was hard on herself and her appearance.  I remember once running into her when she was wet after a shower and her telling me to leave because she looked so ugly.  As the mother of a little girl, I’m conscious not to say these things to my daughter, but the thoughts are ingrained in me as well.      

I don’t remember exactly when I began to feel utterly self-conscious about my physical appearance.  I think it was about 4th grade.  That year, I transferred to a Catholic school in a wealthy district of the city although we were poor.  I rode a bus with a lot of kids from various schools, and I was bullied.  I was an easy target… I was anxious & awkward because my mom was often yelling.  She didn’t have time to teach me how to feel comfortable in new situations or anything like that — she didn’t know.  I was naturally small, the youngest in my grade (just making the cut off), and my dad had just left our family.  Her new boyfriend would be at our house when I got home from school, and he was funny and nice to me except when his temper rose out of nowhere.  My home was not a safe haven.  I did not talk about the bullying much although I know that my mom knew.

Despite being anxious, I made friends easily…maybe too easily.  I made friends and then quickly felt that I might not measure up to them.  One of the friends I admired had a beautiful bedroom, new braces, and an aunt who was into cosmetology.  She took ballet classes.  She told me all about “what is beautiful” and which parts I had and didn’t have, and which parts I could change somehow (though the “somehow” was slightly unclear).  My mom found me once, as I was trying to “make myself beautiful” through what I would now label self-harm.  She screamed at me — told me I was going to ruin my body— but I don’t remember her trying to comfort me.  

I remember expecting my mom to be proud that day: proud of my self-loathing, my disgust, my ingenuity… and especially of my intensity.  It felt like something my mom might do.  I later told my dad what had happened over my weekend stay with him, but he generally dismissed the subject matter.  I remember feeling alone & afraid.

The years grew on and my self-hatred grew stronger.  I saw other people and they didn’t have the particular flaws I had. I wanted to turn back time.  At one point, someone referred to me as the pretty girl down the street.  I was so shocked.  I didn’t believe it… there was no way that person couldn’t really see me.  They didn’t know the real me.  

I spent years feeling so ugly, trying to hide the icky parts of me.  I got into ballet.  Fairly quickly, I learned to hate new parts of me- my muscular legs, my height, my knees that I’d prefer were just a little more tapered and hyperextended.  At this time I met another new “friend,” or so I thought.  He taught me how to eat less and other tricks to becoming eating-disordered.  I was so desirous of being acceptable that I bought into the eating disorder game and his manipulations.

Even during that difficult time, I experienced moments of self-acceptance.  In high school, I was part of an arts school where my teacher always picked me to be in her plays.  She seemed to know me better than I knew myself at the time.  She would assert, “you’re like me; sometimes you feel beautiful and other times you feel really ugly.”  I think her saying that allowed the parallel feelings to occur even though i tended towards black-and-white thinking.

But, myself as an ugly girl was the prominent figure in my mind.  At one point, a friend’s sister listened to my complaints and comforted me, telling me that my perceived flaws were fixable and that there was nothing to worry much about.  This was another pivotal moment in my life –  a second game-changer.  I could fix the damage done!  All wasn’t ruined.  My mother’s words, stating that I might have ruined myself, never left my heart but I was seeing a future “out.”  I tabled that idea but held it closely.  

There are so many life moments where I can distinctly remember feeling worried about my hated flaws when much more significant life moments were happening (weddings, performances, parties).  I would check the mirror, seeing how visible they were in a particular light.  In reality, most people could not notice the flaws unless I pointed them out and they looked very closely.

Whenever I was treated poorly, rejected, or in pain, I thought about my future plans and how I would fix my (physical) brokenness.  I wrongly believed that someday, once I got my broken parts corrected, I would be lovable.  Maybe I could even love myself then.

I fell in love and got married (somewhat impulsively) to a man who loved me and who I loved.  However, did not think I was good enough for him.  A week after our wedding, I went through with a cosmetic procedure I had scheduled prior to our wedding. I would finally repair the damage I’d done as a child and be acceptable. I often look back on this particular decision and sigh with so much regret.  Honestly, I think I knew better but I had not learned to trust my gut yet.  Part of me was dying for someone to stop me.  I was acting impulsively at a time when I felt in love and semi-invincible.  Couldn’t I have waited?  Couldn’t I have danced in just a little bit of freedom and have allowed myself to be loved as I was?  No, I could not.  I did not trust it.  I did not trust love, and I still struggle with this. I wish I had been able to confide in my mom about my plans, but I couldn’t.  She had made a huge scene at my wedding and I did not trust her to be there for me.  I wish my husband had pushed pause on my ideas, but he was more naive than I was at the time and had no idea what the fallout would be.  I still remember calling to make the appointment for the procedure.  I’d had an awful day at rehearsal and I saw myself in a very unflattering fluorescent light in the bathroom.  I thought anything would be an improvement, even though the doctor wasn’t sure he could make it any better.  Shame can really alter one’s judgement capabilities.  

About a month after the procedure, what would have been my worst nightmare had I actually considered the pros/cons of my decision came true: I was bullied, intensely, for what I had done by a man who I’d previously rejected.  I was mortified.  I tried to stay strong.  I denied (per my mom’s advice).  In the end I couldn’t take the self-loathing I felt.  I left my career and inwardly started my next “how I’ll be okay” plan.  

My shame spiral has continued for longer than I expected.  Most people would never know there was a problem.  But I know.  I would have chosen so much differently had I known better. (I could have done something much less invasive had I done more research — my injuries & flaws were fairly minor to begin with although they screamed out to me).  

I have tried many things to change how I think about the situation: therapy, subliminal reprogramming, affirmations, EFT, ACT, prayer.  In the end, I still live with regret and I’m not sure I’ll ever be happy with my appearance.  It’s disappointing, but I’m starting to think that I can live in that space.  In some ways it is the physical representation of how I feel about the relationship with my mom.

I am still hoping for a miracle in regard to my relationship with my mom and also in regard to my appearance. I believe both miracles are possible. God has the power to heal my mom if she is open to it, and there are always new remedies for physical conditions. I’m trying to believe that there is always hope.

I felt drawn to write this post because it’s anonymous and I can share without feeling so embarrassed afterwards.  I also feel drawn to write because the more I have become honest about this struggle, the freer I have become from the shame.  

There were times I felt suicidal, an embarrassment to my husband or kids (or even friends), because of my flaws.  And yet, I know they love me.  I know they’d miss me if I were gone, and that they need me.  I believe we’re all needed somewhere, if we let ourselves be available.  

I try to talk to myself the way I would talk to my child if he/she had a similar flaw in appearance.  Would I think he/she was disgusting, unlovable, or ruined?  No, I wouldn’t.  Not at all.  Self-love is just so much harder.

A child’s response to “I hate you; don’t leave me” is to hate themself or at least parts of themself.  It is a hard cycle to break. The other day my son, who needed stitches once, told me as I was checking out his scar: ““It’s fine, mommy. A little boo-boo doesn’t mean i’m not cute!” There was something about his innocence and self-acceptance that made me smile… parenting while learning how to re-parent myself has been both challenging and rewarding.

Please comment/message me with your stories if you can relate.