On Healing the Self and Forgiveness

The work, as it’s so often called is difficult, it’s sometimes confusing, and not at all linear. Yet, it’s all necessary once you see a need to change.

These last few months have been a learning experience and a humbling teacher. I’ve purposely slowed down and focused more on myself.

Evaluating my feelings and trying to unravel those big feelings that come from diving deep within and examining the guts behind why I operate the way I do. I’ve learned that these actions don’t simply come from the void; there are origins, there are reasons why. The answers, the keys, to our behavior are not only found in books or in discussions with a therapist. They’re found anywhere if you’re paying attention (if you know what you’re looking for). More importantly, science tells us that mental development is affected where abuse and insecurity are present during the formative years of a child’s growth. With this understanding, it’s easier to contextualize the areas where I’ve fallen short. The purpose here is not to blame and cast out responsibility. In fact, it’s the opposite. The purpose is to identify so that I can own the thing, repair it, and begin to move on. I don’t think you can repair the pathways and neural details that have been established but you can repair your actions (and reactions) going forward.

In most of my romantic relationships, I’ve fumbled around and reacted to situations, or even reacted to my feelings when they happen, rashly, and in an unhealthy manner—as you might guess, the outcomes were rarely positive.

I’ve always placed a premium on being a secure and safe person to others, someone that others could confide in or come to when in need. That placement of value is, I believe, one of the reasons why I’ve been drawn to positions of leadership, from running my own business to being a community organizer and leader. I want to project this security to others. To my friends and colleagues, I present this security with ease. However, because I’m insecurely attached in my romantic partnerships, I do the opposite; I project insecurity. I do things that push us apart rather than effectively nurture my partner and our relationship.

I feel shame over my actions earlier this year towards my ex. While I feel shame about it I don’t feel the same about it today as I did a few months ago. Specifically, I do not feel the need to bash myself further, which is odd considering I never miss a moment to knock myself down a peg for my failings. The other day when I thought about the events, they made me sad. Not because of the consequences of what happened and what was lost but because of the conditions that made it possible for me to do those things, to be dishonest with my partner (and myself), and cause harm. Yes, it was me and I did what I did, I made my decisions, as regrettable as they were. I hurt someone I loved. I felt sadness over what happened in my life that lead me to that place.

We’re a collection of our experiences. Much of what we take into the world is informed by the early bonds we form with our parents, a negative bond, or a traumatic bond can distort our coping mechanisms later in life. I didn’t have a father growing up, he was not present. My mother, for better or worse, did her best. Still, I was subjected to a lot of things a child shouldn’t be and a result of her own upbringing. Trauma can and often spans generations. My romantic relationships, as a result, have been a mess and insecure ever since.

As I think back on my relationships, I can see where having an avoidant attachment affected my approach and existence within them. I can see better now how I would deactivate and self-sabotage. I can see, even in those relationships where I thought things were secure how they mostly weren’t that at all! All the women I would grow attached toward, who were unavailable, either because they were in relationships already, or lived far away, or emotionally unavailable I can see now what it was. I was addicted to short-term pleasure and chaos over long-term love and security. My understanding of love and intimacy and my ability to trust have all be off-center. Being able to process and internalize these things has been incredibly difficult leading to a lot of frustration, conflict, and avoidance on my part.

One of the key struggles I have, I believe, is that I struggle with the safety and intimacy provided to me by others. I’ve been fortunate to date good women who modeled safety and security to me (although, I didn’t understand it for the lesson it was). My inability to process those things and internalize them in a healthy way prevented me from being truly vulnerable and authentic in my relationships. In fact, the safety/security/intimacy provided by others often made me feel uncomfortable and made me want to run. I attributed that to my partners being needy and wanting to smother my independence. I would deactivate or fade out or worse: self-sabotage. This pattern has played out in nearly all of my relationships, save for a couple: one where I was cheated on and the other where my partner was also avoidant.

I also struggle with the safety that comes from acts of service and kindness from others. In the past, friends have taken me out for my birthday and I typically arrange to pay for the bill (without my friends knowing). My birthday was in September and I had two different sets of friends take me out for my birthday and, instead of secretly paying, I let them pay for me. There was a moment of discomfort over it all but then, when those feelings arose, I was able to take a mental step back and witness my feelings in that moment. I felt a mixture of shame, grief, and pain. I didn’t think that I deserved these acts of kindness. It was a small lightbulb moment. I realized that me paying for these types of things was a way to punish myself for my past mistakes.

My go-to coping mechanism is to deactivate and run from the difficult and uncomfortable things and also to punish myself. I do all of this instead of facing the problem and taking the time to do the work. I’ve done this with romantic relationships and with familial relationships, too, as is the case with my mother and my son. I deactivate around my mother, I suspect because I carry some of that past trauma or haven’t been able to let go of some of those feelings I have towards her—thus, it’s difficult to relate to her on any level. I’m working on how to address that one. With my son, I’m taking it slow and steady but also being consistent with him.

To Repair I Must Heal

There’s no shortcut to healing. To heal one must work on repairing those aspects of us which no longer serve our present and desired future states. That takes time. You have to sit with it for as long as that takes, I’ve come to find. The combination of weekly sessions with a therapist, reading (particularly this gem), discussion, and understanding have been a great help to me.

If I want to make others feel secure and safe, I have to be secure and safe within myself first. That work requires effort and a willingness to understand and to deconstruct one’s behavior. Part of the reason I write this is to express my understanding of those things I’ve learned. This part of the work is hard because it requires vulnerability not only within oneself but also with others. And, truth be told, while this is much easier for me to do with my women friends there are not too many men I know with whom I can have these conversations—I see that for the larger problem that it represents. Most of the men I know haven’t done this level of digging within themselves and their feelings, so it’s difficult to relate to the subject matter. This is something I need to come back to and examine further.

To be there for my son, I must understand what security looks like and how to model that for him and I do that by being consistent and being present so he knows I’m there when or if he wants/needs that from me. I’m taking my time and letting him operate within his comfort zone.

For the next relationship I have (and who knows when that will be), It’s difficult to say what that will be like. I believe future me will be able to bear witness to his feelings, understand them, and communicate them in a healthy manner with his partner. I feel like he’ll be better able to manage intimacy and see it as an essential component to a happy life and romantic partnership rather than something to avoid like the plague. I think a future version of myself, with some healing, will be a little braver when it comes to love and I think my future self will be a little more trusting of others when it comes to love and being vulnerable.

A mistake is something you do once, when you do it more than once that’s when it becomes a problem…

To Forgive

The redemption arc is a thing I’ve put so much time and energy into as opposed to working out my mental health stuff. What I’ve found is that it’s not redemption that I seek. Maybe it’s really just forgiveness of the self. The problem I have with this is that I’ve assumed my actions came from a place of being bad. That the state of being that I exist within is inherently bad or ill-tempered or broken. Because that’s how I think I believe conceptually that forgiveness of myself has been such an elusive milestone. Bad people don’t deserve forgiveness. I know that I should forgive myself and that I need to and even when I utter those words I don’t internalize them. The narrative that I’m a bad person the narrative that I was a bad kid just simply isn’t true. It’s not true because that oversimplification doesn’t take into account my lived experience. Does it? Simply put, this narrative I’ve held for myself is a blanket, a cover, from having to do the real work.

Oh, you’re just a bad person so you’re just going to keep being bad. That’s both silly and reductive to think that way. Repair and healing are choices one makes. A mistake is something you do once, when you do it more than once that’s when it becomes a problem… You can choose to not make the same mistakes again and to avoid doing that it requires work and when you do that work it’s important to forgive yourself in that process

These thoughts no longer serve me. It no longer serves me to think that I’m irreparable, that I’m unforgivable, or unworthy of love’s gifts.

The time to heal and to forgive is here.

Alex is the founder and managing editor at the Urban Dater. Alex also runs: DigiSavvy, for which he is the co-founder and Principal. Alex has a lot on his mind. Will he ever get it right? If he does, he’ll be sure to write.

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