We were never supposed to journey alone…

by | May 9, 2020 | Blog | 3 comments

One of the most painful cries of the heart I hear is, “Shouldn’t I be able to handle this on my own?”

It is painful for the speaker because it speaks of so much shame, so much self-judgement – the double-whammy of pain, if you will. One whammy, that of the pain of whatever challenge/experience is being faced, is enough. But here piles on a second – that however painful this is, I shouldn’t be finding it so hard. I should be able to handle it, and handle it alone.

Alone.

Maybe you have felt alone for a long time. Maybe you feel alone because you really don’t have people you feel you can call on. Or perhaps you feel alone ‘in a crowd’ – you have people but feel out-of-step with them and their perspectives or experiences.

When we’ve had early or prolonged experience of alone-ness, we can get really good at handling things on our own. We change our own lightbulbs, manage our own decisions, sit with our own emotions.

And yet.

While we may have adapted for self-sufficiency, we are not designed for emotional island-living. In particular, their are some areas of psychological and emotional processing that we cannot be expected to work through alone.

Knowing ourselves to be acceptable and worthy

We learn this from other people. We learn this as children, very young children. Our parents first model this belief for us – that we are inherently marvellous. Even in our strops, anger, grumps and failures. If there are glitches there, we revisit this pain later on in our life. We try and look to other relationships to demonstrate we might be worthy and acceptable. We need other relationships to tell us we are marvellous. Ultimately, we hope that we can integrate their belief into ourselves. We believe if others think we are acceptable, we can believe ourselves to be acceptable. A foundational belief such as this is a kind of talisman, blessing, protective bubble – it is a deep well of self-acceptance we can draw from throughout our lives, grounding us in our own intrinsic worth even when we meet those people who do not treat us as through we are worthy.

Even where our parents did a wonderful job of filling up our “well” of self-acceptance, other life circumstances can poke holes in it. Frequent moves, shifting cultural expectations, ruptured relationships, trauma, loss, grief… all of these and more can signal to us that maybe we aren’t as worthy as we thought – or hoped to think. Maybe we aren’t worth sticking around for, being interested in, having time or money spent on us. We learn others are more worthy.

Wherever and however our well of self-acceptance was breached, we need other relationships to help us plug the holes. We need to learn people do stay, do care, are listening, and aren’t repelled by our anger/grief/fear.

We were never meant to learn these things alone.

Conflict-resolution

We learn this through practise. Friendships wax and wane and we learn how to distinguish between those worth working through and those we need to extricate ourselves from. Except sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we didn’t get great friendship modelling from our families, or we moved around so much that we are best acquainted with the ‘honeymoon’ phase of relationships – all good, not the time or longevity to run into conflict. Or perhaps we learnt to jump in deep and quick with people, approaching relationships as an all or nothing process… with little room for the ambivalence and ache cause by slights, hurts and conflict. Perhaps life events have left us approaching relationships from a ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ perspective… when we feel vulnerable to losing people, we don’t tend to feel confident risking any upset to them.

Where we feel tender around conflict, we need gentle practice. We need relationships that stick around long enough, get deep enough, are with people different from us enough to invite healthy conflict/discussion/disagreement. We need people to practice this with.

We were never meant to figure out how to navigate conflict alone.

Identity development

Our sense of self is initiated through interaction with others. Are people laughing at my jokes? I guess I’m funny. Do people ask me to hang out? I guess I’m likeable. Do I get good grades? I guess I’m smart. There are lots of experiences that can confuse and complicate this process. Perhaps we had caregivers who gave inconsistent feedback – smart one day, stupid the next. A common experience for people moving between communities or cultures is that the feedback we get can change dramatically between groups of people. This group value this skill I have. This group thinks it’s lame. In this city/country people think I’m funny, in that one people think I’m rude. In this school I’m smart, in that school I’m behind my peers.

Lots of mixed messages growing up can result in feeling like you are trying to piece together a sense of who you are using puzzle pieces from different boxes! Lots of partial images that just don’t want to join up with other ones. Lots of not fitting together. Lots of not making sense to anyone else looking on.

We develop a sense of who we are with support, with people, in relationship. And what got muddled up in childhood we can unravel and clarify in adulthood. But we were never meant to figure out who we are alone.

We need feedback, affirmation, validation – supportive witnesses. And this isn’t weakness. This is just how it was always supposed to be.

If you are reaching for support, community, help – you are exactly where you are supposed to be. If you can, shed the shame of needing support. If you can’t, reach for someone who will remind you that you were never supposed to go through this alone. And then tack their words to a wall, repeat 10 times a day, and make their voice your own.

We need other people’s voices to find our own. Where people have wounded us, we need other people to enter into our own healing. We need to be in relationship with people to be in relationship with ourselves. And that’s how it was always meant to be.

“Shouldn’t I be able to handle this on my own?”

“No. And you were never meant to.”

 

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Dan Elyea

    When it can happen, positive feedback blesses and soothes; negative feedback curses and burns. And haven’t our lives indeed been loaded with both positive and negative feedback? At school, at work, in our various social interactions. I have to admit: the tendency to “go it alone” plays large in my own life. Thanks for the valuable insights, Dr. Rachel. “Outside” input is a major actor on the stage of life. As in the oft-repeated phrase in the time of Covid-19: “We’re in this together.” For better and for worse. May the better win!

    Reply
  2. Jeroen

    “While we may have adapted for self-sufficiency, we are not designed for emotional island-living.”

    and

    “We need to learn people do stay, do care, are listening, and aren’t repelled by our anger/grief/fear.”

    Wow such a relevant affirmation for my journey. Thank you for the warm hug through your words. I am grateful for the time you spend (and spent) close the roots of the universal pains of TCK challenges/patterns.

    Reply
    • Dr. Rachel Cason

      Just seen this comment – thank you for reading and for the amazing feedback that it resonated with you on your journey.

      Reply

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