“Write clear and hard about what hurts.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
A few days ago, a friend asked me if I was ever worried about being so personal in my writing.
The obvious answer was, “yes.” Of course, I’m worried. I get scared every time I press, “Publish Post.”
I worry about whether it’s a good piece of writing—about whether it’s going to connect with the community here on Elephant Journal. But what about being too personal? That ship sailed a long time ago. My hand was forced on that front, and, once other people had made my battles with my mental health public, I had no choice but to “go big or go home.”
But what about the trolls, they asked? No, I’m not worried about the trolls.
I’ve only had one vicious comment whilst writing on Elephant Journal, and an editor shot that comment down in flames with intelligence, compassion, and a well-worded warning; it was the perfect example of an iron fist inside a velvet glove. Additionally, other writers rallied around and offered unwavering support—the brief wobble caused by the negativity was quickly soothed.
Then was I worried about what other people thought? Wasn’t I worried about someone from my past contacting me about my articles?
Again, “no”—I’m not worried. Because sometimes, a response helps.
Let me explain.
Writing is a way for me to process some of the things that have happened to me.
It enables me to unknot complex problems and provide me with a dose of clarity when all there is is a fog of confusion.
It doesn’t always result in instant peace of mind—in the majority of cases, I’m still working through those issues because they’re big ones. Sometimes, after writing a piece, I might be at 80 percent closure, whereas before, I was only at 40. I doubt I’ll ever reach 100 percent about any of those things—full closure is a myth, anyway, and one I’m not fruitlessly trying to pursue.
However, I do have a target in my head: 90 percent. Once I’m fairly sure that what I’ve written conveys what I’m trying to say to about 90 percent accuracy, then I’ll post it.
It’s significant for me. It’s my way of telling myself (and the world), “I’ve thought about and explored this, and this is my truth.” And the process of arriving at that 90 percent always (always) teaches me something about myself that I can use to be a better person.
That’s not to say I don’t have second thoughts; I do. What can sometimes seem like 90 percent one day, can also feel like 50 percent the next. If that’s the case, then I’ll take the piece down and give myself more time to think about it. That relates back to a lesson I’m learning about myself: I don’t always process things quickly and have been known (in the past) to be rash.
Some of this is simply a toxic trait I’ve inherited and which I am working hard to minimize the effects of. For example, in the past, I have been guilty of “protest behavior” due to an insecure attachment style. It’s something I’m aware of, and if I believe I’m ever straying into those territories, I won’t post the piece, regardless of how good I think it is.
Also, for an incredibly long time, I was in denial about how much the events of the last four years affected me. I knew I had been through trauma, but I naively thought that by removing certain people from my life, the trauma would naturally dissipate. It didn’t. It only got worse.
And there was one area, more than any other, where this was most pronounced: my abandonment wound.
Abandonment wounds are probably the least talked about area of narcissistic abuse—because they’re the most invisible. Inevitably, when we talk about narcissism, we discuss the gaslighting, the hypocrisy, and double standards—those things that are overt and easy to pinpoint. However, there is a growing realization that there is a more covert aspect.
There is a burgeoning acceptance that injury can be caused by desertion or rejection. And that can cause an existential hurt that is equal to even the most prolonged campaign of gaslighting. Essentially, emotional abandonment is caused by a significant person devaluing, dismissing, discarding, or even simply failing to acknowledge us.
Why is this so painful? Simply put, we need to feel that we matter to other people. When people abandon us, they show us that we don’t—thus, the abandonment wound. And timing is everything; if you’re in a genuine need for those people, a discard during one of those times cuts even deeper.
If you already have those wounds, future instances only hurt even more. It compounds the original wound—and I had plenty.
There is only one way to heal: grieve. If we have been abandoned, either permanently or temporarily, then we are hurt, and the only way to heal an emotional hurt is to grieve.
Most people don’t—and I certainly didn’t.
In the aftermath of receiving an abandonment wound, we invoke what we believe are coping strategies. In effect, these aren’t really coping strategies at all, as they are fundamentally unhealthy; they’re not helping us at all. All they do is stop us from undergoing the truly painful part: grieving.
A year ago, some of my writing was one such “coping” strategy; I was trying to get the attention of those who hurt me. It took me a long time to see the futility of that.
There’s a saying, “Stay away from people who think you’re arguing every time you express your opinion.” Although not everything I write about has happened to me, a lot has. Gaslighting, invalidation, abandonment…all of that has taken place; it’s part of my story, so I have the right to tell it, and it helps me to do so.
But the kind of people who have done those things aren’t the kind of people who are going to read one of my articles and say, “Gosh—that really hurt, Chris.” They’re just going to dismiss it—effectively, they see it no more as me arguing.
All I’m going to get is more invalidation.
I can say, quite clearly, how much those events hurt and changed me—it’s not going to make any difference to them. One person has accused me of all manner of things, but when I gave them the chance to address their concerns, they declined. They’re still chuntering away online even now, but as they’ve not had the courage to directly discuss anything I’ve written about, I’m happy to put that down to yet more projected blame; or maybe, I touched a nerve. Either way, as they’ve chosen not to engage, not my issue.
It took me a long time to begin to bury that—to see that my recovery meant saying goodbye to those people properly. The more time I spent focusing on them was less time I could spend on me—on eradicating my own toxic traits and shortcomings. To get to me, I had lose them. And to do that, I had to grieve them—you’ve got to grieve the loss of anyone you lose, even if that person was toxic to you.
I am now, and so like the “protest behavior,” I am aware if my writing is more for them than for me. Again, if it is, it won’t be posted. There are dozens of pieces littering my hard drive that will never be seen, as I’m pretty sure the motive behind them isn’t a healthy one.
What I post now is for me. It’s cathartic and healing—the more I write, the more I learn, and the better the person I become. I hope others will relate to it and find it interesting, but it’s predominantly for me, for my journey.
Sometimes, a response does help me. You know that 90 percent figure I alluded to earlier? It can be pushed higher by someone responding to an article. Their response to the piece will confirm what I could only guess at up to that point. (Either that, or it will show me that I’m utterly wrong—in which case, it’s back to zero percent, but that hasn’t happened yet.)
Recently, someone did contact me. And it pushed me way past the 90 percent mark.
One of the first articles I wrote for Elephant Journal was about invalidation. Someone from my past read this and contacted me out of the blue to say sorry if they had ever invalidated me when we knew each other. That was really sweet.
However, it was utterly undermined by them going on to actually invalidate me in the very same message. In. The. Very. Same. Message.
And, as they continued to do in future messages, until my head was so scrambled from the interactions that I purged all trace of them. The whole “you’ve contacted me to apologize for something, which you’ve then just gone on to do yet again…and again…and again…” was really just surreal.
In hindsight, although they must’ve seen my article, it’s obvious any relevance was lost on them. In fact, I don’t think my words mattered one bit—I’m pretty sure it was just a pretext to contact me.
However, that wasn’t the only piece I had up on Elephant Journal; I also had an article about abandonment. In it, I forwarded the idea that, sometimes, when people act as if they don’t care, they’re not acting; they are simply showing us how they truly feel. Thus, in the case of abandonment, it’s done because they don’t really care about us.
Despite abandonment being a hallmark of the relationship I had with this person, when they contacted me, they didn’t refer to this piece. At all.
They didn’t even mention that article. I’m not sure they were even aware the article applied to them. I’m either the world’s worst writer, or the basic proposition of the article is true: they didn’t care.
I’m not at 100 percent with that, but I’m nearer to that figure than the 90.
I don’t write for the people from my past, but, indirectly, sometimes, they help me—they help me gain a bit more clarity, a bit more closure. Whether by omission or denial, they’ve never failed to prove that the words I choose are the right ones.
I write for me, for my journey. A journey toward being a better, happier person than I was before. And any feedback (whether positive or negative) helps me travel just that little bit further.
And, far from being scared or worried, that is something to be embraced.