Sunday, December 4, 2016

Post Estrangement: coming to terms with feeling lonely.....and used

There is a saying that I recently saw:

“The person who tries to keep everyone happy and always cares for everyone is often the loneliest person. Strange but true”

What exactly is the nature of this loneliness and does it relate to a person who has been estranged is what I am seeking to explore.

Feeling lonely after being estranged I think is one of the natural emotions that we feel.  I know that at the heart of my sadness is the void, this feeling of being alone. Connecting with others simply isn't the same anymore.  Everything is coloured by the experience of being rejected or abandoned and tangled up with this is the feeling of "not being good enough.

The loss of trust in others, is another one of the things that contributes to this loneliness.

Naturally one of the feelings that we start to process throughout of all of this; is the thought of being used.  Has our usefulness come to an end and therefore we are discarded?

I know for myself this has been something that I have been grappling with, the feeling that I have been "used up" and that because  of how I was feeling and when for own my emotional health I had to say; "no, I can no longer allow myself to be used / treated this way", contributed to being estranged.  When I had no more to "give" I was of no more value, and because I had no more value it was easy to find reasons and excuses to discard me.

I have spoken to many estranged parents on this topic and they all at some point in time say something to the effect that they feel like refuse thrown to the curb for having outlived their usefulness.

Sooner or later we need to address the deeper aspects of this loneliness that comes from a feeling of being used and then discarded. Unless we do this work we won't be able to take back our love and joy of generosity toward others.

One of the issues we need to contend with is what most people recognize as the "doormat syndrome", others call this co-dependency, where self sacrifice in the name of other people's happiness and well-being becomes the way we learn to define ourselves.

I see two pathways that intermingle and twine together so that over time we don't recognize where one ends and the other one begins. The first is our personality, which comes from the messages we learned during childhood about the nature of our value and the second is the parent's natural instinct to give and do for their child so that their child can prosper.  And so we bring to parenting a set of values that we learned and integrated into our character and at the same time an overwhelming biological desire to care for and do right by our offspring.

As parents we well understand the nature of sacrifice and doing for our children. But depending on our intrinsic character as defined by the values we internalized we might not have learned where to draw the line between care taking and care giving.

For example; when as a parent you are taking care of everyone else, our children don't necessarily see that you too need some taking care of. Children can learn to take all that we do for granted.  They start to see us as this super person who can do it all.  The more you do, the more you are expected to do.

If we did not learn the "correct" values for balance then we are incapable to teaching this boundary to our children because we have no reference point.  This is one of those areas where what we "learn" or "don't learn" from our parents then shows up in our lives.  If we learned that our value is in what we "do" for our parents to earn love, then we in turn "do" for our children to earn love and they in turn learn that they "deserve" or are entitled to all we do for them.

The problem with continual giving, or the co-dependents need to put everyone else's happiness first is that the day comes when inside yourself, you feel all used up.  I first experienced that as loneliness which I expressed to myself as "no one understands me".

That was when I started to awaken to the fact that I was being taken for granted, that I was now expected to take care of everyone, that it is my role and my duty.  At this point in time it was no longer the things that I did for others as much as the emotional support I was expected to give regardless of how I felt about it.  I was expected to accept rudeness, curtness and dismissal in return for acceptance, validation and encouragement.

The more marginalized I was made to feel, the less validated my feelings were, the more resentment boiled up inside of me.  And of course when all those emotions are bottled up inside 
(for when you have been taught that anger is never expressed you suppress it) sooner or later there is a "break". 

Looking back now I see that it was inevitable that the day would come; when an incident happened that was so rude and so disrespectful that the dam broke, I acted out of character, said things I would never have said without extreme provocation.  And it is an interesting aside that I am expected to apologize for that outburst while those who treated me badly over a long period of time don't feel any need at all to apologize for how they treated me and how that eventually led to my break in character. 

That of course brings me back to the present.  The realization that I am alone in my healing journey. No one can do this for me.  The loneliness that I experience is a culmination of many factors, yes the estrangement which started it all; but also my growing awareness of the "wrong" input I received in my childhood leaving me with no sense of boundaries and growing knowledge that I had to learn a completely new vocabulary for communication based on an understanding of feelings and needs.

In that sense this loneliness became for me the springboard for change;  for redefining what is means to give and why.

We start with the acceptance of the premise that we do for others and care for others because we want to; it is a gift we share. It is part of our human nature.  To what extent is this truth shaped by how we perceive the purpose of the act of giving?

To what degree this is true in my experiences?
When I do for others it is because there is joy in the giving.

However, those of us who are by nature “givers”, often have a boundary awareness problem. I know for sure that I had no idea what a boundary was.

The “doormat” phenomenon is one that stems from faulty messages learned from our upbringing and / or the society we grew up in. Faulty messages lead to faulty core values.

For instance if we internalized faulty messages like:
  • we “earn” love by our giving actions
  • our value is in our service and sacrifice
  • It is our responsibility to be care takers.

Then we have a faulty set of core values which we need to address and rewrite into our own more accurate core values:
  • Giving actions are not about earning love but about expressing love.
  • We have value because we are not because of what we do. When we choose to give it should come from a sense of purpose and not from a sense of creating self-value.
  • When we take care of someone we rob them of the opportunity to care for themselves; we must give our caring in such a manner as to foster their ability to develop their own strengths, thus becoming a care giver not a care taker.

Other boundary awareness issues that “doormat” or co-dependent personalities were not taught or did not learn:
  • We need to take time for ourselves and that it is okay to take “me time”. To feel guilty about taking time for oneself is clearly a faulty core value.
  • That it is okay to ask for help. We instead learned that to ask for help is sign of weakness, and that one must hide weakness at all costs.
  • That it is okay to stop giving when we begin to be taken for granted. It is wrong to have learned that when the first giving was not good enough that we then should give more and more because the fault is with us for not giving enough or in a satisfactory enough manner.

So if we are to become “aware” givers what are some of the signs of being taken advantage of? How can we reset our boundaries to receive the “joy of giving” without becoming a target for manipulative people to gain our compliance?

Here are some obvious signs that you are being (have been) taken advantage of:
  • You are not given any kind of gratitude response from the recipient. No word of thanks, no smile, no recognition that a gift of caring has been received.
  • When you do ask for some help you are mocked or called names.
  • You are called selfish when you do take a break and spend some time taking care of yourself to replenish your energies.
  • You are sidelined or removed by a friend or family member as soon as the giving is reduced because your financial or emotional means no longer support the ability to give.

It is vitally important for those of us who have been trained into the role of doormat to clarifying our core values with appropriate boundary work which allows us to gain the awareness needed to be truly a giver for the joy of giving.

We must leave behind the old mindset, freeing ourselves from all sense of “obligation” where we are “expected to give” to earn our acceptance or to free the other person from their share of the emotional labour needed to preserve a healthy relationship.

As I change, I find it is important to remember, those who do not like these changes in my mindset and my actions are most likely the ones who benefited the most from my doormat behaviours in the past. Their interests are not my best interests but rather how my actions no longer benefit them. 

And conversely, those who love me for me not for what I do for them are the ones that rejoice with me.
Can you guess who will be the recipients of my generosity in the future?

To come full circle, the healing that I do now is something I do to honour myself.  I am not the person that was estranged, I am actually, while still a work in progress; a better more knowledgeable more balanced version of me. 

Moreover while I understand better the character and personality issues that triggered the chain of events that led to estrangement, it in no way excuses their behaviour. Yes I accept that if I had known and taught proper boundaries some of this situations maybe could have been avoided.

However that does not change the fact that all parties in a dispute have to take responsibility and accountability for their actions.  And as the silent years flow by, I begin to wonder if possibly I am the only one doing so?  Am I only one working on awareness, understanding, change and growth?  

Renate Dundys Marrello
2016 – 12 – 04 

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1 comment:

  1. Lovely thoughts. The best of luck to you as you continue on this journey. Me too ... from doormat to new doorways!
    I have spent this year reflecting on friendships, since I lost two close ones and have been mourning their loss. One accused me of being a doormat and when I said I ultimately did not let people take advantage of me, she said she would not be talking to me again. The other cut off all contact when I asked that she visit me occasionally (I drove to her house a dozen times and she refused to drive to mine.) Like you, I am learning gradually that my worth is inherent and not dependent on "doing" for others. I have become less trusting until my sense of discernment is stronger. Thank you again!