Interpersonal relationship

Faith, Belonging, and Community

It is no secret that I have struggled with being in relationship and community with others. I have struggled with myself, God, my family of origin, my children, friends, co-workers, acquaintances. Relationships have never been my strong suit.

It has been a lifelong struggle to feel like I belonged somewhere, anywhere.

The primary relationship I had with my mother was difficult and detached. I now understand that it was her own attachment and depression issues that created the emotional and psychological distance between us. Being disconnected from my mother, not having my father, continually moving and changing schools every year or two, and then no longer having any relationship with my mother and being under the guardianship of my uncle whose relationship skills and relationships with all of us around him were impaired and dysfunctional, meant that from a very early age and going all the way through adolescence, there was no relational tether to any one person or community that taught me I belonged.

I became the girl who tried too hard, stood too close, interrupted, talked too much, always had the answer, reacted too easily, and eventually acted out my pain by either getting too physical or using my words and intellect to establish dominance and superiority. When the going got tough, I got going and let go of the people who should have and could have been my strongest supporters because I believed that no matter how hard I worked, no matter what I tried – rescuing, fixing, having the answers, being the problem solver – it was never going to be enough to fit in. I didn’t fit in with the rebels and screw-ups because I wanted to do good and be better. I didn’t fit in with the achievers and winners because I was too guarded and unable to believe in my own worth and value.

I’ve spent the last 20+ years trying to be accepted, be loved, and be included. All the while, the things I tried to make it happen just fell short and I pushed away and let go of those who wanted to be there for me. I chased after the relationships with those who I thought would accept me because of the value I could be to them. Meanwhile, the critical relationships with my children and other family members were neglected and damaged in ways similar to how mine had been damaged by the adults in charge of me. None of whom were any more available or capable emotionally and psychologically than I have been.

The ENTIRE time, there has been One who has chased me down in so many ways, with so many faces, time, after time, after time to convey to me that I am loved, I am known, I am accepted, I am understood, and I belong.

Marc Shelske, the pastor of Bridge City Community Church, has been doing a teaching series on Ephesians and I have had the privilege of being present the past two weeks to hear his insights in person. Thankfully, when I need to revisit and recall what was shared, these messages can be found on the Bridge City Media YouTube channel.

Last week he talked about the fact that Zombies are biblical concepts and not just a current entertainment trend. It was very enlightening and a good reminder of things I’ve known intellectually, but never internalized on a personal level. This was the “before” picture of how I have operated with my lack of personal understanding and acceptance of God’s grace and mercy for me, in my life.

He continued the conversation this week and spoke about the “after” picture. What he described was exactly what has been happening inside of me, in my life, and in my relationships over the course of the past year and a half or so.

“As we get closer to God, we have the capacity to get closer to other people.” ~ Marc Schelske, 5/18/13, Bridge City Community Church

I was “saved” when I was 8 years old. I’ve been being “saved” my whole life. I’ll be 44 next month and I’m just now internalizing that being “saved” isn’t about not doing wrong or doing good, but it’s about God’s absolute acceptance and love for me because I am His creation, and that creation is not static, but an ongoing work of art, displaying and revealing the character and nature of God, the artist.

As I have allowed these realizations and understandings to sink into my being, without me having to work and strive through my own efforts, God has been closer to me, naturally and organically. As I have grown in my ability to just accept that God is with me and present in every aspect of my life, no matter what, my ability to connect and reconnect in relationship with others has been improving.

I started with the internet and the online communities available here in the blogosphere and on Facebook, with people who didn’t know me or my past who I felt safe exposing my self and my truths to. Slowly, others who have known me and shown me they care and want to be in relationship with me have gotten to know this part of my identity.

The lines are now blurred and I am fully engaged in supportive online communities which include people I see and engage with in person, in significant and meaningful ways. It is also increasing my connection to others who sincerely care, accept, and include me as part of their community, simply because I accept that I belong, I AM because GOD IS.

Emotional Safety

I just read this post on Emotional Safety by A Gripping Life. Please, go read it for yourself, otherwise, I would wind up reblogging her entire post.

After reading this, I got to thinking about how isolated I have gotten myself. Yes, I have isolated myself. Primarily because of all the interactions with emotionally unsafe people over the years. Why so many of those kinds of encounters and interactions? Well, because I was an emotionally unsafe person as well.

How emotionally safe a person are you for those you care about? Who are the ones who offer emotional safety in your life? I’m learning and improving in my practice of being an emotionally safe person. As I do this, as much as I may care for and love them, I am learning to limit my interactions with those I don’t feel emotionally safe with. As a result, I am opening up to the reality that emotionally safe people have been in my life all along – I just didn’t understand it, recognize it, or seek it out. I deserve emotional safety in my interactions with others. So do you. So does everyone, how else will we learn?

Believe it or not, blogging and writing about the angst and drama of dealing with the codependency and depression issues, as well as the relationship difficulties I have had with the various family members, friends, and others has been a training ground for me in becoming healthier emotionally and better able to establish and honor boundaries.

Some of the things I have done to become a safer person for myself and others have confused, irritated, and gotten some negative feedback. I’ve been told by some that it is making it difficult to be a friend to me because I’m being less open about every single interaction I have with other people I care about.

I know I’ve mentioned it elsewhere, so for those who may have seen this before, please bear with me. I used to be like the character, Melinda, from Ghost Whisperer. In the opening lines of the show she states, “In order to tell my story, I have to tell theirs.” That was me. Anyone who ever had any kind of relationship or interaction with me learned two things early on:

  1. Any conversation, interaction, or event where you and I impacted each other would wind up being talked about, ad nauseam, to anyone with an ear in my vicinity.
  2. You would frequently receive a non-stop earful of overwhelming and confusing stories and information about anyone and everyone I was dealing with, just because you said, “Hi, how are you doing.”

I wanted to be understood. I wanted the other people in my life to be understood. I wanted to be the one who ensured the correct understanding of what was going on. I needed support. I needed the other people in my life to be supported. I wanted to be the one who arranged and shaped the kind of support needed for the specific understanding and sensitivities of what was going on.  I wanted validation. I wanted others to be validated without invalidating me and did everything in my power to influence who validated them, when and how. I didn’t want to be judged, but knew it was happening anyway, so I wanted to continuously state my case and defend myself and others in my life in order to shape the judgment of others.

Yeah, I was pretty crazy and intolerable in these things.

In trying to ensure my safety and the safety of others I became the most unsafe person and breaker of boundaries. As people had enough of being bombarded and invaded, they distanced themselves and all I was left with was other unsafe people and boundary breakers. We were in a toxic swirl with each other. We loved each other and we cared about each other, but had no clue how to actually BE loving and caring in constructive, healthy, and safe ways.

Now, as I am working to become the safe person that my children need me to be, that I need me to be, it is confounding and confusing to some others who have only ever known the other me. Finding the balance between oversharing and being authentic is difficult. However, it is one of the most rewarding things I am doing in my life. Because of this work, my relationship with LaLa has reached the point where she told me yesterday morning that she considers me her FRIEND, not just her mom. Four months ago she told me she had never felt like she was a priority in my life and that she had not experienced unconditional love and acceptance from me.

As much as it grieves me that some of my other friendships or relationships may have suffered or been diminished by my efforts to change and grow, to have gained this level of relationship with my adult daughter is the better trade-off. So is the fact that communication and the relationship between Keith and I is better than it has been in years and is continuing to improve. Just as important, there’s less intense angst and psychological disturbance occupying my mental energy and I’m moving into doing things I love with my writing and in developing existing opportunities for relationships where I can be engaged and mutually supportive and encouraging.

It’s sad to realize that some of those who have tried to have this kind of relationship with me and I with them are unable to do so because of all the unsafe and toxic emotional baggage that has built up between us. Hopefully, we will be able to work through these things in safe, constructive, and mutually beneficial ways. I am sincerely and truly grateful for who they are and the roles they have played in my life. I just had to choose to stop holding myself hostage to passive aggressiveness, walking on eggshells, and unforgiveness. I pray they will too.