Despair, self-doubt, and desire cripple human beings. ~Kilroy J. Oldster, Dead Toad Scrolls
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. Frank Herbert, Dune (Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear)
There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life. ~John Lennon
Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world. Mortal or immortal, few really ask. On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds — justifications, confirmations, forms of consolation without which they can’t go on. To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind. The answer may annihilate the question and the questioner. ~Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat
Learning how to actually ask for what we want, what we need, is not an easy task. We all have our ways of being “passive-aggressive” or “manipulative.” Of “hinting” at what we want instead of stating it clearly. We’ve all had times of being angry and hurt that someone didn’t pick up on our “hints” or read our minds. Attempting to relate with others is in these ways is much less vulnerable than actually asking for what we want, less risky, but ultimately more harmful to our relationships.
Another pattern in avoiding asking for what we want is what I call “playing detective: : We ask all the questions around the thing to try to deduce what the response will be so we can ascertain if asking is worth the risk. An example : Say you want to spend time with someone. Instead of asking if they are free to hang out or would like to spend time together, we instead ask if they have other plans, feel out if they are available, try to gather information to determine what their response will be and decide if we “should” ask or not.
I understand why those of us living with unprocessed complex trauma do this: We do this because of our fear of rejection, our fear of abandonment, our fear of not being wanted is so great, and is therefore influencing our decisions around how to relate with others.
A thing is, when we do this, when we either try to manipulate or are passive aggressive or go into detective mode instead of “simply” asking for what we need or want, two things happen :
1. We are letting fear be in charge and staying in well known and ultimately harmful patterns and cycles of relating; and
2. We are not giving the other person the opportunity to say yes to us, of their own free will, without guilt or feeling of obligation.
When we operate from a place of fear, from a place of letting our wounding be in charge, we actually prevent ourselves from getting our needs and wants met. When we make demands instead of asking another if they can fulfill our wants we cause harm to our relationship. When we have unrealistic expectations (think “If they loved me they’d know“), we prevent true intimacy with those we want so desperately to have a deep connection with.
There are reasons we do this. Our neural pathways that were grown during our early childhood, when we experienced abuse and or neglect, when we learned how to survive by doing whatever we had to do to get our needs met, direct us and our ways of being in the world. When we are stuck in survival mode, in our trauma responses, it can be almost impossible to move out of that place of fear,
We can do it however.
It’s not easy. It is challenging. It will feel counter-intuitive. It will feel weird and wrong.
And it will have moments of feeling scary as hell. Downright terrifying even.
I don’t have a simple five step program for you to shift your ways of being, of relating with others. I don’t have a recipe for how to “simply” ask for what you want. And I will never, ever tell you that it’s simply a matter of mind over matter, to just do it, that if you really wanted to change you would already.
Because it’s not simple. It actually requires us to rewire our brains. Literally.
This entails us finding a sense of safeness within our own body. Within the present moment. To feel all the uncomfortable emotions and their physiological sensations, to learn to tolerate them, to sit with them, to not run away from them. To expand, and then expand some more, that pause between stimulus and response. To stay connected to our frontal lobe while allowing ourselves to feel our feeling but not let them overwhelm us.
This is not fun work. I don’t think any of us do it because we enjoy it. I know I do it to have better relationships with my children, with my friends, with my lovers and partners and with myself. I do it because I know the patterns and cycles that were passed down to me caused and continue to cause so much harm and that harm ripples out beyond my direct relationships.
And if the harm ripples out, then I also know the healing will ripple out too. Every pattern we break, every cycle we disrupt, every new neural path we nurture and grow and every old one we let atrophy, that healing reaches past us, past our direct relationships with our children, family, friends, lovers, and partners, that healing reaches out into the world, into the collective.
Every time we let fear stay in charge, we reinforce and bolster those old neural pathways that tell us we are not deserving of love, we are not worthy of connection, that no one wants us. We reinforce and remain complicit in our oppressive culture, in the status quo of harm, abuse, and disconnection.
Every time we do the hard, sometimes excruciating, work of being in the fear and asking for what we want anyway, we nurture and bolster new neural pathways; ones that remind us we are deserving, we are worthy, we are wanted, we are lovable.
This work, when we do it, the benefits of it, they don’t stop with us. As we do this inner work and change the ways we are in the world, the ways we relate to ourselves and others, we have impacts. We create space for others to shift too, to do their own inner work. This ripples out and out and out.
Acting from a place of love, a place of seeking intimacy, a place of connection – with ourselves and others, is what will change this world. We do this one relationship at a time. We do this by coming back into our bodies. We do this by acknowledging and feeling the fear, knowing where it stems from, and reminding ourselves we are safe in this moment and can do differently than what we, and the generations before us, have done in the past.
The work of the individual impacts the collective, in small ways that lead to big the ways the more of us who do this work.
Let’s continue our work. Let’s move out of acting from a place of fear and wounding and into acting from a place of love, compassion, and inter-dependency.
Because we need each other. There is no shame in this. It is a fact of being human. We. Need. Each. Other. Period. Full stop.
So, remember, act from love. Always. All ways.
This essay was originally written for my weekly newsletter on June 28, 2020. It has been edited for publication here. To receive my most recent essays and learn about my current offerings you can subscribe here.
We’ll be exploring the ways trauma impacts our relationships and learning new ways of relating, regulating and co-regulating our nervous systems, connecting to our boundaries and coming into our bodies in my new six month Trauma Informed Embodiment (TIE)™ for Relationship. You can learn more here.