I’ve spent a big chunk of my life thinking about belonging and identity, and also about love of self and others…mostly because my own mother and father were never able to love me for myself and eventually cut me off from the family in every way. They tried to make sure that I felt responsible for all of the ills and problems of the family so that they didn’t have to deal with their own pain. It’s taken me forever to figure out why they were so hateful and self-absorbed and to also to stop feeling responsible for their problems and even for being so understanding of their pain and so dismissive of my own. I suppose that putting a name to the behaviors – narcissism, codependency – is helpful in that discovering that many others have shared my experiences.
So I’ve spent most of my life being a loner while also yearning to belong, to have meaningful relationships with depth, and to trust myself and others, and to find a sense of security within some kind of community. And I’ve even learned to enjoy my own company and to develop my talents, but there are still aspects of my life where self-sabotage and negative voices in my head terrify me into inaction.
For example, I would love to make a living from my art and writing, but for some reason, I have always found reasons to restrict myself to work that is well below my experience, education, and abilities. I write, I paint, but I can’t seem to convince others that my work (my self) is worthy and important. No matter how much I achieve, I still feel “less than”. I protect my heart, and I encourage myself…but I still wonder and I keep going.
Again and again, as well, I’ve gotten stuck working with people who do not respect me or my abilities. Learning to separate myself from other peoples’ projections and their desire to hurt other people with their own hurts is always a tricky process. Ultimately, these experiences are a good test, allowing me to see how much I’ve distanced myself from the hurtful words and beliefs with which I grew up. That’s about the only good thing I can say about bullies…they are or can be, if you so choose, teachers of sorts.
When you grow up in a family of people who don’t not love or appreciate you, you may feel guilty for many reasons. You may say to yourself, well (if this is the case) they gave me food, sent me to school, etc., justifying whatever neglect or verbal abuse, perhaps thinking that you are not good enough to deserve love and respect. You may feel that the abuse is not “real” because you were not beaten or sexually abused, or if you were, you might live in denial and cannot remember the abuse. And even if you know that you do deserve to be loved unconditionally, you don’t know what it feels like to receive loving care and attention.
I’ve got to confess that while I’ve gotten better at knowing and loving myself (more), it’s still hard for me to get close to other people. It’s hard for me to not be suspicious of groups (spiritual, social, etc.) because my own family, which was so cruel to me, is the primary group model in my mind and heart. Sometimes those fears are self-fulfilling, and when I am fearful, I try to test the waters. People can often be cruel, manipulative, and reluctant to accept people who seem different, and when given the opportunity, they just may reject you. When you have strong self-esteem, you brush off the rejection.
And I work at changing my preconceptions every day. However, I also realize that body language and unconscious behaviors inform other people about me in ways that are hard for me to interpret. At first, people seem really enthusiastic and want to be friends with me, and then they quickly disappear or drift away, even though I try very hard to be warm and inviting and to communicate with them. I don’t think it is always my fault, but I do question myself a lot, because I do very much want to have good friends.
When I lived in France, I was, of course, much younger, and much more willing to make compromises in order to have friends. I also didn’t work full-time, have a child, a dog, or own a home that needs a lot of attention too. Even after 11 years away from France, I still have maintained some friendships, and I find my friends in France to be quite loyal and steady. Americans are always avid for change and get bored easily, so I guess the stability of French relationships makes sense.
No matter how self-aware I have become, belonging and self-acceptance will always be at the heart of my life. I do also yearn to help others based on my own experiences as a “former” outcast and scapegoat. Bullying is so prevalent around the world, as are the problems of narcissism and codependency, and often these problems coexist in the same families or workplace groups. Dysfunctional families and cultural dysfunction, which includes poverty, discrimination, apologies for all kinds of abuse and violent behavior, as well as beauty norms that damage self-esteem, are just a few of the obstacles to self-love and responsible social conduct. Also, most people fear vulnerability in others and in themselves and often reject those who appear fragile or vulnerable for this reason.
Many of us grow up without much love at all, but we can still become our own person and learn to parent ourselves, as challenging as that is to do. We can realize what our talents are and share them with the world. It may take longer, and we may have more doubts than people born into more loving and more individuated families where each person is appreciated for his or her differences and unique abilities. But, ultimately, it feels great to know that it is not my fault that my parents didn’t love me, and that I have developed great strength from learning to love myself. I still have a ways to go towards belonging…
Art from a children’s book by Simona Ciraolo called “Hug Me”