Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness. ~Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic
You are not always right. It’s not always about being right. The best thing you can offer others is understanding. Being an active listener is about more than just listening, it is about reciprocating and being receptive to somebody else. Everybody has woes. Nobody is safe from pain. However, we all suffer in different ways. So learn to adapt to each person, know your audience and reserve yourself for people who have earned the depths of you. ~Mohadesa Najumi
Many of us who live with complex trauma from childhood have a deep need and want to be heard. To be seen. To be acknowledged. To be noticed. To be understood. Many of us as children weren’t seen or heard or acknowledged. Or worse, we were gaslit: being told our experiences weren’t “that” bad, or even worse than that, they never happened at all, that we were making it all up.
Our need for belonging, for being seen, for being heard, was not met when we were young. Most of us learned to become silent. But that silence was only on the surface, only the mask we wore on the outside. Our internal experience was loud, it was screaming and howling, whether we consciously acknowledged it or not (and likely, we did not because of dissociation and our need to survive).
We were never taught how to express our emotions in a non-harmful way. We were never taught how to have disagreements that don’t turn into screaming matches. We didn’t learn how to listen to others, only to shut down or to argue. Most likely as children we shut down. So, as adults, we argue. Loudly. Harshly. Cruelly.
Our need to be seen and heard and acknowledged and accepted comes out all sideways as we grow older. We need to be right. We need to be understood. But our desperate need to be seen and be right overshadows the other people we are in relationship with. It overshadows their own needs to be seen and heard and it tramples over our empathy for this. It actually keeps us out of relationship and getting those needs met for ourselves.
Not our fault. We were never taught different.
We have a responsibility to stop causing harm to others, and in turn to stop causing harm to ourselves. To do the work of breaking life-long patterns and disrupting generations-old cycles. To process the trauma within us. To shift. To do different.
This is not an easy feat. We typically have generations of trauma and training ingrained in our bodies and being. We have our own lived experience and those wounds and hurts. We don’t know other ways of being, and even if we can get a glimmer of how to do something different, we have limited resources to make the internal and external shifts to make that happen.
This is where our work is. With our therapists, with our coaches, with ourselves. It is the slowing down. Learning to regulate our nervous systems, to understand boundaries, to be able to find our own center and ground. It is coming home to our bodies and becoming more and more self aware. It is in processing the many traumas that live within us.
It is a messy and hard road. We will make mistakes. We will need to be accountable for those mistakes, apologize, repair, and learn how to not make the same mistakes again. It will be incredibly uncomfortable as we step into the unknown, as we shed the layers of our own and our ancestors traumas and woundings. It will be terrifying as we unravel and dislodge those parts of us that aren’t really us, those parts of us that we carry around that were our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents. It will be discombobulating as we seek out who we are and who we want to be and untangle that from all the hurt and pain.
It will not be a straight journey. It will go in all directions.
It is important to acknowledge the unfairness of needing to go on this journey at all. Of needing to unravel the generations of trauma and wounding. Of needing to process and heal our own traumas and woundings. It is not fair. It is not our fault. We didn’t ask for it.
If we want to live our lives in a place of thriving instead of surviving, in a place of connection instead of isolation and dissociation, a place of joy, contentment, and or peace instead of constant pain, hurt, and suffering, we need to make the decision to enter into this work, to do this work, to create the change within ourselves so that we can begin to see the change and shifts in our outer world and in our relationships.
And we need to keep making that choice every day. To break the patterns. To disrupt the cycles. To come home to ourselves. To feel good in our own skin. To have nourishing, loving, and authentic relationships with our Self and with those around us.
This essay was originally written for my weekly(ish) newsletter on May 20, 2018. It has been revised and edited for publication here. To receive my most recent essays, you can subscribe here.