I read something a few weeks ago that really, really challenged me. There was a list (oh, how my quantitative soul LOVES a list!) of dysfunctional behaviours and thoughts. Most of my life since becoming a mother has involved admitting how flawed I am in how I relate with myself and others and trying to gain skills and tools to heal and learn new patterns. These sorts of lists have served me well over time, since I came to adulthood pretty much completely unaware of what healthy relationships with others and myself actually look like. A huge part of moving toward wholeness for me has involved understanding what wholeness is not. I have gotten my ass kicked pretty routinely by truths I have encountered, but this time I feel like I was given a body blow. It reached a very deep place , where I believe the last vestiges of shrugging off personal responsibility lie. I am still processing through it all.
What did it say? This list? Well, essentially that a feeling of “If X, Y, or Z would just love me as he/she ought, things would be better,” is inherently dysfunctional.
Except this is exactly how I have felt for most of my married life. And even as I write this to release it and move on, I am crying. I really, really just want to be scooped up and loved and have my love accepted in return. (And here I will remind you once again--if you don’t think any of this is appropriate to hash out in a public sphere, no one is forcing you to read this. Click that little x in the right hand corner of your screen.)
In the beginning, this feeling was a position to hide behind, offering protection when I didn’t feel like enacting change in myself. It was a fortress where I could relinquish blame for the way things were. The suck was obviously NOT my fault. You, whoever you were, just weren’t loving me “right”.
I grew up always feeling like the black sheep, always feeling misunderstood. At one point as a teenager we went to family counseling to help me with “my” problems, where the counselor tried to implicate our entire family and well, let’s just say that we never went back to that quack who couldn’t see that my struggles and rebellion weren’t just my own damn fault. And so there is a very real sense in which the core of me really needed the people in my life to just love me as they ought. And when the didn’t, my response was quite simply. “Fuck them!”
But I carried this wounded part with me into adulthood. I carry it still, though it has morphed and manifested itself in other ways which I keep confronting and try to work through. I have long since accepted the messiness of raising children, and know that my parents did and gave the best they knew to do out of the best of intentions. While that acceptance has brought peace and forgiveness, I think I haven’t totally and honestly just looked that wounded little girl in the face, given her a hug and said “Good bye!”.
As I thought about this whole dynamic when confronted by this list, I think my difficulty lies in the fact that no longer is the feeling of believing “ if I was just loved as I ought to be “something which I hide behind. It is no longer a deflection of blame. I think it has transformed into an assertion that dammit , I am WORTH loving. And I am a phenomenal person to be loved by in return. But it is also a truth that being loved by me is not for the faint of heart. I have an immense capacity for loving people as they are, where they are at, but it is equally true that I want that love to change those who encounter it and experience it. Not by any pre-set criteria that I have, but that my love, my presence is fuel for them to seek out and find that change which they need to enact in order to be the best them they can be. Once again through big tears, I can definitely say that in our 14 years together my spouse has remained essentially unchanged in response to this heart, this love, this soul. And I am struggling to make sense of that, to make peace with it, to look it in it's brutal eyes , breathe it in and accept it. Without blame. For me or for him.
Which brings me back to make sense of the whole idea of “if I was just loved as I ought to be”. I think now, in the present it would better be expressed “if I was just allowed to love as I desire to love”, my life would be better. I want a healthy, mutually interdependent love where love feeds on itself and manifests into greatness. And I don’t believe that to just be the love of fairy tales and chick flicks. I know love is messy and scary and sometimes looks like and smells like shit. I do want to experience love as it “ought” to be, but this is no longer born out of dysfunction but from a place of certainty that not only am I enough, but that I really kind of rule. And so does the rest of humanity. We have a capacity for greatness if we can just get over being so afraid.
Writing this all out, I see a sort of triumph here. I see myself moving past lists and other outside determinants for what health and wholeness is. I find a woman who is able to wrestle through and determine what truth is. I find someone who is willing to accept that all that she’s come to conclude here, might in fact be wrong, and willing to amend it all if there is more or greater insight through her experience or interactions with others. I see a parting embrace to that wounded young girl who felt so let down by her world, and a wide warm welcome for the strong and amazing woman who has grown up in her place. I am here and I know that I must love myself with radical acceptance, and the humility to understand that before any external change can take place, I must first have the courage to be willing to change myself.
And if you have read this far, let me just leave you with this: Be open to the love in your life. Allowing other people to love you is not only a gift to yourself, but a gift to them. If you have a spouse or significant other in your life who is willing to be vulnerable before you, thank them for honoring you with that gift. And if you have work you need to do within yourself, know, without a doubt that I am here with you, to at least walk next to you so you are not alone as you do it.