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January 31, 2021

When Love comes with Conditions: the Wilderness of Trauma & Shame.


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The Soil of the Soul.

“You would be so pretty if you were skinnier.”

My friends and I were at a forest bonfire, and a guy across from me said those words. They cut through my 17-year-old alcoholic haze—forever drawn into my “shame memories.”

I had just responded to someone’s comment, and out of nowhere, this guy decided to impart an opinion that should have stayed in his mind and not entered mine.

But, as a child of 1971 and the years that followed, I was used to being an object of shame and others’ opinions. It was the epitome of the “suck it up” era.

I was well-versed in taking the harmful words of others and adding them to my armour of self-hatred. So much so that I became heavier and heavier through the love of food.

My childhood memories are filled with negative comments of all kinds and the physical and mental abuse that came with them.

Seeds of darkness grew into blooms of anxiety, anger, and depression. Those responsible for my personal growth from a much younger age passed the watering can from one to another and scattered those seeds far and wide.

Those who love me most have always remembered me requiring validation from others for reassurance, whether in what I said, what I wasn’t saying, or what I was wearing.

What others said to me from the time I could recall anything became my inner voice—a confirmation of how much I wasn’t enough, how nothing was good enough.

There was no escape from the unkindness. The teachers who made an “example” of me and my lack of physical strength in front of a whole class. The whisper of a mean boy as he passed by. The sting of pain from a mean girl. 

I could say I am resilient. I would say I “powered through.”

I could say a million things, but at some point, the heart and mind of that inner child who never got enough love stay a child.

The adult mind separates and takes over with hints and reminders:

“Yes, you are not enough.” “You can never be loved.” “You are too fat. Too ugly. Too much for people.”

I quickly learned the definition of conditional love. The kind of love that put limits on who I was. The kind of love that was someone else’s anger and rage and worthlessness.

Not the kind of love that would tell me:

“Yes, you are enough.” “You are worthy of love.” “You are perfect as you are, and that is beautiful.”

Unreciprocated unconditional love easily becomes damaging to those offering it. To my husband and my children.

Years ago, I realized how much I was pushing others away who got too close, how I would argue with their kind words and actions.

How unconditional love meant I would need to accept it instead of replacing those words and feelings with the familiarity of hurt, shame, and guilt.

The hurt and guilt were easier and more comforting. It is what I knew—what I know.

However, here in my 49th year, something else has started to push through the soil of my soul. Something I have not intentionally planted.

Something that has been yearning to bloom and is growing without water or sunlight: the sheer determination of authenticity. And vulnerability, the wildflower of the heart.

The need to be seen in the light and in the dark—in the sunshine and in the rain.

The need to see me and love all the parts myself.

Seeing how the weeds, which are so unpleasant to the mind’s eye, actually serve a purpose in nurturing growth.

That all that grows is beautiful in the light.

It is the wilderness of trauma that needs to be explored and loved and exposed.

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Helen Bobbitt  |  Contribution: 3,020

author: Helen Bobbitt

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Editor: Kate Force