I. Seeing Ourselves in Others
Each of us has been walking through life carrying some open wounds, more often than not we are not aware of it. Usually we are even more perceptive of each other’s bleeding than our own. This is how mirroring helps us to be more aware of ourselves. This is why relationships are key to our healing and maturity.
I’ve had a low self-esteem for the most part of my early twenties until recently (I’m 30 at the moment). I’ve always brought this belief with me that my opinions and actions didn’t matter at all to the people around me.
I believed I was as insignificant as a speck of dust or a strand of eyelash that has fallen without anybody’s notice. I thought my actions didn’t affect anyone, ’cause after all, I was invisible to them.
Lately, though, for the first time ever I’ve decided to take a real look at my relationships and evaluated how they were doing. Mind you, I still had this belief that I didn’t play an active role AT ALL in my relationships. I was just curious, and I had all the time in the world for introspection.
It didn’t take long before an answer floated to the surface. In an instant, I was confronted by the reality that my relationships were starving for something…something that I thought was insignificant…something that I thought was invisible.
The closest people in my life (except for my SO) were starving for my affection, for genuine connection with me.
Initially, this was all news to me, and I found myself nothing but speechless. Then all my questions bubbled up, “How could that be possible when I didn’t matter? How could that be possible when nobody needed me? My opinions and feelings didn’t matter. I’ve been living my entire life unseen.”
Or so I thought.
Seriously, the depth of my self-esteem issues was at the level that I couldn’t fathom how could they possibly long for my…love. How could anyone (aside from my SO and my dogs) ever need my presence? That’s a legit question for me. It’s a real puzzle.
Then eventually, another discovery arrived at my feet as I was walking back and forth trying to figure out the answer to my dilemma. It went something like this –
The thing you are withholding from others is the very thing that you need.
I have disowned my need for affection for so long that I’ve forgotten it ever existed, that there was even such a thing going on around the world.
II. The Root Cause
Like most adult issues, the root cause of this could also be found in my childhood. I was forced in a way by my parents to parent them, instead of them parenting me, in an emotional sense. This has pushed me to learn, before I was even ready, to be self-sufficient emotionally, whatever that meant for me at that vulnerable age.
As a result, I have adopted many unhealthy coping mechanisms all through my adult life and disowning my need for affection was one of those. If one doesn’t see a need for something, one can never fill that need up. So obviously I couldn’t even provide myself with what I needed.
III. The Unraveling
This aching, forgotten need has reared its head in many ways. I’ve been in a series of codependent (non) relationships with emotionally unavailable guys all through my late teens to mid-twenties (I am so lucky to have even come out alive!). I struggled with chronic depression and was suicidal for years. I felt ostracized for so long that I have adopted it as my identity. I wanted to keep rocking the boat and be the troublemaker. I was self-destructive in both obvious and subtle ways.
I was so disconnected from myself that I was practically running all over the place with my head cut off and my heart ripped out of my chest.
On the other hand, when the apparent chaos has subsided, I went too deep inwards. I’ve built walls around myself. I cocooned in my distrust of others around me except for my SO (and in my worst days, I even distrusted him). On the surface it looked like I was finally having my shit together. I have changed, healed, grown up.
But to me what only happened was that I grew older. I couldn’t keep up with what I have been doing during my twenties. No one could. Eventually, unless genuine healing has taken place, one has to transition – to just another kind of crazy. To just another kind of hurting.
IV. A Door Opens
The sad truth was, all those trouble and self-flagellation I’ve went through were not enough to wake me up. I was so used to self-loathing and soul-crushing emptiness that I chased for more of them. There’s nothing new to people treating me like trash and myself treating me like trash. That’s the story of my life.
What’s news to me, was my recent nagging distrust and resentment of those around me. When I stopped being busy killing myself, I started unconsciously projecting all my anger externally, not even just to those closest to me, but to practically every human being around me (again, except for my SO).
Suddenly, I was confronted with all this anger that I didn’t understand.
That opened a door for me. I had to walk through it to make sense of all this anger. As I went further along the unraveling path, I’ve been introduced to my deep-seated issues one-by-one like a tourist in a foreign land. That’s when I’ve discovered that I’ve been acting up out of pain all this time not knowing that I was hurting in the first place.
I got so busy moving through life that I didn’t even see my own wounds. I didn’t even acknowledge that I was hurting. I didn’t even validate my own emotions and disposition. Whenever my pain reared its head, I would immediately squash it or push it back in its place, or leave it altogether. I didn’t take a closer look. I didn’t want to pay attention…or maybe I didn’t know how.
I was having all this hatred because I was hurting. My pain had to be seen, validated and cared for.
I’ve withheld affection from the people around me, initially, as a way of protecting myself. I’ve figured out that if I didn’t open up that much and they couldn’t get too close, they couldn’t hurt me or project their aching needs on me, like my parents did back then.
Consequently, in doing so, I’ve annihilated all the goodness that can come out of it, too – those that would have been beneficial to me.
By withholding love from them, I’ve deprived myself of love as well – the thing that I needed the most.
VI. Coming Full Circle and the Journey Ahead
It may have taken a long while before I have reached this place of understanding. In hindsight it all makes sense to me that it had to happen that way. After all, that’s how a cycle gets completed, isn’t it? One has to be in all possible positions to reach integration.
I had to be both the victim and the perpetrator to know the full nature of the issue, why it happens and how to end it.
Now that I’ve reached this point, I have also understood that there is no easy solution to this issue. Understanding is a vehicle by which I can traverse the path ahead, but the path remains open-ended. I can’t figure out its resolution in a cerebral way, nor carry out half-baked decisions and actions in response.
But I’m committed to this journey, nonetheless, and I believe it’s all that matters for now. This time, going forward though, instead of only carrying my bleeding wounds with me, I’ll be carrying this piece of light, too, which hopefully leads me to healing and peace.