IX. As tiny humans, we will give up almost any part of ourselves for love and belonging.
We learn are about physical and emotional safety. Some of us learn that we have little or none of these things.
We make ways of coping with the degree of safety that we have.
Sometimes these coping mechanisms are subtle, some are not. But even so, if they remain unseen by us, they can get in our way. These include: watching the person we are in relationship with all the time to judge their mood; being careful of our behaviour so as not to rouse another person’s ire; expressing our feelings as anger because it feels safer than revealing the more vulnerable ones, since anger can be a diversionary tactic, directing the attention away from what’s going on underneath.
Many of us try to walk away from our childhoods, and especially so if there was difficulty or abuse. But it reaches around to bite us. In order to walk away from it, we will stuff the undesirable bits of ourselves into the shadow (the Jungian concept): the parts of us that people have told us were “too much” - we were too loud, too “needy”, too picky, too whiny - because really, what they were saying is, “I can’t love you unless you are not like that.”
I’m here to say that there is a balance to be found here, somewhere. Yes, it matters how you were raised, but you are not irrevocably and unchangeably trapped by that. It’s good to look at where you come from so that it is known but you won’t have to live the rest of your life through the story of “my dad sexually abused me”, for example, even though that will be true for the rest of your life.
Said differently, you can have a life with you at the centre of it. But it will only become so if you make effort to cultivate some degree of awareness of the stories and scars that you are carrying and process these over time.
This human imperative to shape ourselves to be “loveable” to those who are closest to us often makes us believe that we have to do something special in order to deserve love. It gives us a huge list of the things that we can’t do and still be loved. This gets in the way of it being easy to love ourselves. My god, the rules that some of us have around what it would take for us to love ourselves? Huge. “Love yourself” is a really easy thing to bandy about as advice, but mostly it is really goddamned hard to do. (I speak more about this in Chapter 2, section III.)
There is heartbreak here, since humans are made to be with other humans. Love and connection and sharing and community are also our birthright. If we were meant to be self-sufficient individuals, each one of us our own little island, we would not be born as needful as we are. We would not seek to make connection with our eyes and our sounds even before we can speak. We would not respond to touch in the ways that we do. We would not shrivel up inside when we are denied affection.