January 4, 2017

Our Lack of Self-love Hurts Others, too.

In the last year I have undergone a major shift in my life.

Well, actually, my life has stayed remarkably intact despite the earthquake shaking my soul. I don’t know if it is a mid-life crisis, a typical woman in her 40s, a spiritual awakening, or just waking up and deciding to live again, but whatever it is I am not the same woman I was in the summer of 2015.

I am going through a divorce, moving 1,000 miles back to my home, looking at being a single mom again, all while knowing I am growing as a person and a role model. My friends have been instrumental in this process and I could not love them any bigger.

I have written previously about my epiphany that I really was beautiful, not because my friends told me I was, but because I could see it for myself. I have written about mantra of focus and making mindful decisions. I have even written about trying to sit in the moments of neediness and discomfort to learn to be authentic in the difficulties of my life.

In my life, as in my writing, I have been actively working on paying attention to who I am and what I need. I am not trying to chase happiness. I am trying to embrace all that is. Every lesson to this point has led me back to the truth that it all comes back to loving big. The more I love, the more I am in my element and the more at peace I am.

Today, I had another realization that has me sitting wide-eyed and grasping for understanding: the more I love, the more love I am attracting.

This invokes the spiritual law of attraction, which states that what you put out comes back to you. This is not any surprise to me and is exactly how I know the universe to work.

What I have been really amazed by today is that this law is actually causing me my deepest angst. That’s right: my biggest challenges and troubles right now are that I do not know how to deal with being loved like this. I am emotionally and spiritually unprepared to be authentically loved.

This is a lesson I did not know I was going to have to learn, and it has caught me completely off-guard. The major changes in my life are having aftershocks an entire year later, and I am realizing that this awakening I thought I was experiencing is actually a continuous awareness that there is more and more happening in my soul. I have to learn to deal with the workings of my soul I want to be at peace.

Let me explain. In the last year, I went from a true social introvert to opening my life to more people and becoming closer to many friends, most of whom have been in my life for long periods of time and I have kept at a comfortable distance.

As I listened more, cared more and loved more, I was allowed into the deeper chambers of these individuals’ hearts. I have fed my soul on the trials and triumphs of those I was surrounded by as I remembered who I was when I felt most myself in my life. I have searched out the company of friends who needed me because loving them has made me feel like I am taking a deep breath again. I have appreciated the phone calls and messages that sought out my input as they were looking to celebrate or needed someone to listen to their troubles. I big as I can love, without feeling overwhelmed or asking me to temper my enthusiasm for moments shared.

Then, today, I had a conversation with someone I’ve become close to after decades of periphery friendship. He was sharing his life, and we were laughing heartily about the adventures of his last few days and discussing what the upcoming week had in store for him.

The time came, as it usually does, where he asked, “So, hold on. How are you doing?” And the response came, as usual, “I’m fine.”

But to our mutual surprise, as I spoke these words, tears betrayed me and I was stifling the gasps of breath that came with overwhelming sadness. I immediately apologized and he immediately told me he was listening. And in that moment I heard myself say something I have said quite a few times to my closest circle: “I am so sorry. I am just going through a tough time. This is no big deal. I do not mean to burden you with this.” And he, like the others who have been faced with my sudden emotional breaks, said, “I’m here. I care. I want to know what is going on.”

And I found myself defensive and difficult, downplaying these feelings that were obviously so on the surface that I could not begin to conceal them. I rushed through a ridiculously abbreviated version of what the problem of the day was, trying not to refer to any lead-in issue or more deeply-seated cause of the problem.

When he said, “I am sorry. I do not know what to say,” I jumped to reassure him that it was fine, that it was nice of him to care and this was really just “stupid stuff” that was “no big deal.” When I tried to change the conversation, he stopped me. When I tried to laugh it off and say we were having much more fun talking about him, he said, “It was more fun, but this is more important.”

He tried to get me to talk more, but I was so anxious and so overwhelmed that I literally was not even sure what I was saying. What I did recognize was that I started to respond with short phrases and a tone that sounded aggressive. I was done and I wanted him to be done, too. He tried to make a joke, which I took wrong, causing me to pounce back on him. He tried to express sympathy and ended up feeling like he needed to apologize to me for upsetting me. So finally, with a curt goodbye, we hung up the phone.

I sat and cried. Why in the world did we have to start talking about me? I thought. Why did this have to get all f*cked up? Why does this always happen? This is why it is easier not having friends.

And there it was.

I have had the life-changing realization that I avoid being close to people not because I have a hard time loving others, but because I have a hard time being loved on any more than a surface basis. I am able to give love, but to receive love is something completely different.

When I look back at the biggest times of conflict in this last year, they have almost always centered around having my troubles slip out, leaving me feeling self-conscious and uneasy. In each circumstance, a friend has been patient and tried to embrace my anxiety and fears and encourage me to talk, to let it out. In each instance, fight-or-flight set in and I was seriously ready to abandon the entire relationship rather than bare my soul. In the last year, the only arguments I have been in have been when someone wanted to reciprocate love and I could not participate.

When I see this pattern so clearly, it makes me really sad. I don’t want to push anyone away. I want to love and be loved. I am not sure what I can do with this new found knowledge—but I want to figure it out.

Meanwhile, I apologized to my friend and asked him not to give up on me. I’m a work in progress even after all these years. I know he knows. And I know he is not going anywhere. But I will be thankful when I know there is no aftermath and that we can move forward, even if it is baby steps for me. I wonder how common it is to fear not the falling in love, but the standing authentically in it.



Author: Andrea Byford

Image: Unsplash/Tanja Heffner

Editor: Callie Rushton

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