Quotes & Affirmations: Empathy & Acceptance

Last post I shared a quote from Archangel’s Storm by Nalini Singh featuring the heroine. This post’s quote is from the hero, Jason.

Why?

I’m sharing this for many reasons, but mostly because it’s important for my male guests to feel included and acknowledged too. He says this to Mahiya after misjudging her actions early in their relationship.

“I apologize.  I do not know anything of the battles you’ve already fought or the choices you’ve had to make to survive”

Because Jason, like Mahiya, is an adult angel who has lived a long time (approx. 700 years according to the book).  He’s also a survivor of trauma.  In this world, angels do not become adults until about 200 years.  Under 100 years  angels are still considered children/pre-adolescent and look that way too.

Can you imagine a young child with wings too big for his or her body just learning to fly?  Can you imagine growing up on a remote island with only your parents?

Then one day both of your parents are dead.  You survived because your mother hid you, told you to stay quiet until she came for you.  But she didn’t come back.  And as a child, you had to survive alone until your body was physically able to fly all the way back to the angel stronghold where children are raised.

Does that make Jason bitter?  Does that close hi off from feelings?  Does it allow him to also feel empathy?  Does it along with natural talents make Jason a natural at his chosen profession – spymaster?

Here is the final quote from Jason.  Maybe it will answer the questions above.  Maybe not.  If you want to know more than the spoilers here, please read the book.

You’re not hard enough for such a task” – almost gentle words – “and I honor the strength it must’ve taken to fight the bitterness, to refuse to allow your heart to petrify to pitiless stone.”

Because Jason is afraid that exact thing has happened to him after so many centuries alone.

Like Jason and Mahiya, I sometimes fear that my anger and shame will take over and turn me into the perpetrators and predators who raised me.  I fear that my inability to connect with people face to face is a sign of permanent damage that marks me as something less than human.  Unworthy of healthy relationships, a job I love, and a life full of joy.

Then I remember that I survived.  That I have healthy, happy relationships with people who love, value, and accept me as I am.  That these people are my family and friends; people I love, value, and accept as they are.  That there is hope because recovery takes a long time.

And for every person that gives in to the bitterness, there is another who chooses love.  The feelings come so intensely, they feel like they’ll never go away.  But the feelings do go away eventually.  Acknowledgment and acceptance each time the feelings appear helps them feel less intense and go away faster.

So, I will be like Jason too.  He survived 700 years before meeting the one woman who helped him find joy again.  I can survive this cycle of intense feelings too.

Thanks for reading

 

 

 

Recovery: Does a traumatic past = unhappy or terrible past?

Halloween is tomorrow.  From an objective perspective, I enjoy people watching and seeing the families with young children trick-or-treating.  From a personal perspective, my triggers are still too raw for my to actually enjoy the holiday.

So here is Wednesday’s post a few days early.

Background

Saturday afternoon, I was doing errands and visiting friendly people in the neighborhood.  It was the first day all week that I felt somewhat energetic and able to go out.  Not sure about you, but sometimes, in spite of using every coping strategy possible and trying to stay healthy, the flashbacks, triggers, pain, and exhaustion win.  And it comes down to choices: stay in, rest and be able to work; or go out, enjoy the nice weather, do errands, and come home feeling tired/sick/unable to work then next day?

But Saturday, started off pretty good and continued that way until obligation reared its ugly head.  Not sure if you recall, but I wrote a few posts back in August/September about toxic relationships and communication with people in my life.  My choice was to share the posts as a way of discussing the issues with them and then let those individuals make the next move since verbal conversations turned into stressful arguments or worse.

Post 1, Post 2, Post 3, Post 4.

Well, one of those individuals reached out indirectly; not through email, Facebook, text or anything like that.  Maybe this person expected me to come back and visit or reach out in some way?  When that didn’t happen, a mutual acquaintance “casually” asked if I was stopping by a  particular store to visit there too.

The situation

Personally, I knew that I would talk to the individual eventually because I would want closure in the future.  But I wanted to do that on my terms.  That meant walking away from a triggering situation with a potentially toxic individual for a while.  Then using that time to reflect on conversations, interactions, and changes in perspective.  I honestly did not expect her to reach out in any way.

But I also knew that if this individual did, I would be walking into a trap of some kind.  And by trap, I mean a situation where the other individual controlled the setting, manipulated our interactions, and tried to incite a reaction (negative) that shook my confidence or made me feel less than her.

The goal: to put me in my place by making me realize I had no control in the relationship.  That I conformed or got excluded from the community.

The set up was pretty obvious from the time I walked in.  Two friends were in the store with the individual; people close in age with shared interests and perspectives on life.  All three went out of their way to show me with their body language and own personal stories how little my update mattered to them and how boring my apartment decorating was.  When that didn’t incite a defensive or shamed reaction, they moved on to discuss other topics.

I listened to them and observed the store owner; that’s why I was there you see.  I wanted to confirm that this individual was not someone I wanted in my life.  Listening to the store owner talk to someone else my age, some other older customers, and answer a question I had about store credit confirmed that we would not ever be able to be friends or have a relationship in the future.  Put downs disguised as teasing.  Emotional manipulation in the form of “helpful” advice or suggestions.  Passive aggressive comments about body shape from the friends all spoken in sugary, polite tones.

But what really got me was when one of the friends talked about her “terrible childhood” and then condescended to tell me that I “was probably too young to know” what they were referring to.  The condescending part didn’t bother me.  I look 10 years younger than my age and told them so.  Then mentioned some other shows from that time period.  Not the reaction they expected, so the conversation ended with: “You’re a baby” from a person 9 years older than me.

Inspiration for this post

The female friend’s description of a “terrible childhood” struck me.  You see, the store owner befriended me when I first moved to the new state and was vulnerable – alone and getting to know the neighborhood – thanks to my social experiment.  So she knew a fair amount about my past, but not all the details.  One thing she knew about was my traumatic past and toxic family situation.

What she didn’t realize until later was the following:

  • I may be soft spoken and quiet, but I am not a pushover
  • I may not act confident all the time, but I feel and am confident in myself as an individual
  • I cultivate and live by the following concepts: radical acceptance, unconditional love, respect for all living beings, unconditional compassion, and forgiveness
  • Doesn’t always show because my triggers get in the way, but I am secure enough in myself to fight back, speak up, and assert myself when people try to take advantage of me or manipulate me or bully me or be mean in any way
  • I hardly ever start fights/arguments/etc. but I always finish them
  • I am strong, am resilient, and fight to survive – that means I fight to win and/or escape every time – and am well versed in how to fight dirty with words or fists
  • Finally, I work hard to cultivate only supportive, positive relationships while minimizing and removing toxic or negative ones.

So when she and her friends texted each other and brought up so many potentially triggering topics (personal finance, repairing/decorating the apartment, family) to try and manipulate me, I realized that I don’t need or want people like that in my life.  Listening to their conversations without reacting frustrated them more than it did me.

Observing them in action and talking about their childhoods got me thinking about my past.  It also got me thinking about the definition of an unhappy or horrible childhood.  Because honestly, I’m not sure that having a traumatic childhood is the same as having an unhappy or horrible one.  Yes, trauma causes many unhappy, horrible, unsafe, and dangerous childhood experiences.  Yes, trauma has a long-lasting negative influence on child/adolescent/adult development.

But does the experience of a traumatic past really = an unhappy childhood?

My perspective

Feel free to disagree with me on this.  After all your experience is just as true and valid as mine, and this blog/website is about accepting and valuing all perspectives and experiences of trauma.

When I started this website, about 28-30 years of my past was a blur of fragments and sensations that didn’t make much sense.  I couldn’t trust my memory of past events because of all the holes from traumatic amnesia.  And I didn’t know that my dreams and nightmares were sometimes interpretations of my childhood memories intertwined with the traumatic events.

There were times I woke up one morning and couldn’t remember what happened for the last 6 months.  Or times I was at work in the middle of a report, dissociated and/or switched, and couldn’t remember what happened for 5, 15, 20, 60 minutes at a time.  I had to go back and redo all of my work because I couldn’t remember what I started or finished.

That memory problem lessened as I started working with a trauma informed counselor.  And as the tangled trauma memories sorted themselves out, other memories surfaced.  Memories of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood that brought smiles and laughter.  Memories of accomplishments and small successes that strengthened my resolve and helped me understand where my values come from.

Memories, that when separated from the trauma triggers and shame, that reminded me of how wonderful and happy the most important parts of my childhood were.  Experiences where adults modeled tolerance and acceptance and forgiveness and compassion in their daily interactions.  Experiences that showed me how to bounce back from mistakes, be an individual instead of part of the crowd, own my flaws and turn them into strengths, and always have a plan.

Most important: anything is possible as long as I believe in myself and not let fear stop me from trying, making mistakes, learning, and trying again until I succeed.

Sure, I am flawed.  My family is flawed.  Some of them are outright dangerous and toxic and unsafe.  But others are safe and trustworthy and loving and accepting of everything in their own ways.  And the safe relatives, those are the people who taught me the skills I needed to survive and then let me go when I needed to leave in order to find myself.  When I did come back, they welcomed me with open arms and unconditional love and acceptance and forgiveness for hurting them – unintentionally or not.

Conclusion

So while traumatic situations can cause unhappy and horrible experiences in any phase of life, I truly believe that individuals choose their own perspectives of childhood or any other part of their life.

I choose to acknowledge and value what my traumatic past taught me while living without regrets and focusing on the gifts that same past gave me so that I could become the woman I am now and who I will be in the future.

And I hope that sharing this story helps other guests find the little bits of positivity that comes from any experience to help them move forward in their recovery or healing journey – whatever they choose to call it.

Thanks for reading

PTSD: How can I love the people who hurt me?

The Questions:

Quite a few people have asked me how I can love the people who hurt me so badly throughout the years.  Why don’t I hate them instead?  Don’t I feel resentment or hurt?  Don’t I feel angry?    And if I love them, why did I walk away?  Cut them out of my life?

The Answers:

Love, true love, is unconditional.  It is universal, all-encompassing, non-judgmental, compassionate, accepting, supportive, and freely given.  Love is inclusive instead of exclusive.

This kind of love is NOT the same as conditional love, romantic love, approval, or obligation.

Yes, I do feel anger, resentment, hurt, intense dislike, sometimes hate, guilt, and shame too.  But these emotions are pointed at words, thoughts, actions, reactions, choices, behaviors, and experiences; not the individual human beings.

Yes, those people made the choice to be abusive.  And maybe some of them enjoy being mean and hateful, etc., but I’m not responsible for their feelings.  All I can do is try to understand their perspectives and make choices to protect myself.

I’m learning to let go of the anger and resentment, the shame and guilt, because holding on to that negativity only hurts me in the end.

I can’t/won’t change anyone else; can’t/won’t make their choices for them; can’t/won’t be responsible for them or the consequences of those choices.

I can only make my own choices, live up to my own values, and be responsible for myself.

By doing that, I can open my heart enough to feel compassion, love, and acceptance for the people who hurt me.  And I can give them another chance to see if we can have a positive relationship as the people we are now.

The Why’s:

Every person has a story.  Every person has been through experiences (nurture/nature) that shaped who he was and who he is now.  Some of those experiences were her choices; others were not her choice.  Each experience, and how the person coped, influenced the person he or she is now and how that individual interacts with others.

The people who hurt me chose to treat me and talk to me that way.  I hold them responsible for their choices even as I can understand why.  That DOES NOT mean I have to spend time around people who chose to act and be abusive and hurtful to themselves and others.

So, as much as I love my family and feel a universal love toward the others, I still hold them responsible for what they said and did.  I forgive them without forgetting.  And I set my boundaries to protect myself even as I pray that someday they will stop hurting themselves and others.

Religious?  Spiritual?  Or something else?

I don’t know.  The religion I learned as a child taught me to fear and hate God, men, women, and life equally.  This life was advance payment for a glorious afterlife (if I was a man) or a lifetime of servitude without abuse (if I was a woman).  And maybe that’s not really what being a Mormon is about, but those are the lessons I learned.

These days, I choose to believe in a universal force/spirit/energy that works with nature to provide what’s needed.  Nature or nurture.  Science or religion or magic.  In my mind, all of these are different sides of the same coin.

Is saying “I love you” to people not family foolish?

No.  I’ve said those words to many people who are not family or close friends and meant them.  Those people may have brushed off the words or responded with condescension, thinking I’m naive and sappy, but I’d rather live in a world with love, compassion, empathy, resilience, and courage than one without those traits.

Conclusion

So I will keep on saying “thank you”, “I appreciate…”, “I love you”, “I apologize…”, “I’m sorry…”, “how can I help”, “no”, “not right now”, “I don’t know”, “Please respect my…” to people.  I will keep on treating them the way I want to be treated.  I will bounce back from the pain.  I will give second chances, but not third ones.  I will continue living life on my terms and cultivate friendships with like-minded people while accepting those with different mind-sets.

Thanks for reading