January 10, 2022

“I don’t just have Daddy Issues”: When Abandonment turns into Connection Issues.

CDD20/Pixabay https://pixabay.com/fi/illustrations/k%c3%a4det-siteet-solmua-surrealistinen-6298720/

I’m always surprised to discover that people care about me—that they feel a connection.

Oddly this happens with women more than it does with men.

With men, my thought is usually more like, “Of course they do. For now. In a few months to a year that’ll change and they’ll leave.” But with women it’s always this curiosity deep in my being, along with a small bit of shock.

Really? You connect with me? Why?

I remember the surprise when I came to work for Elephant and a former colleague messaged me to tell me she was so excited to be coworkers, and greeted me with such excitement and a hug when I first arrived in our old office. I just didn’t get it. Why the excitement over me? Why the interest?

But what hit hard recently was a couple of days ago when my best friend, who I’ve known and maintained a special connection with for more than 30 years now, left something for me on her counter when I watched her dog for a day.

It was a simple felt stuffed frog that I’d gotten in the ER when I broke my thumbs as a child. Neither of us can remember how she got it. We have vague memories of it possibly being a parting gift when I moved away in our early teens. We’d been next door neighbors for almost a decade and spent probably close to equal time in each other’s home as our own.

I’d seen this frog in her house before, in her daughter’s stuffed animal bin. I shared the story with her children of how I’d broken both my thumbs in a window during a Brownie’s Christmas party when I was six years old. I loved that another little person was getting some enjoyment out of such a keepsake that held so much memory for me. But it never hit me quite like seeing it on the counter did the other day. It brought tears to my eyes.

I’d figured that eventually it would be donated. Given away. Forgotten.

I figured that eventually I’d be let go, our friendship given away. I figured one day I’d be forgotten.

But here was this frog from so many years ago. Here I was, so many years later. Remembered. Our relationship and history together kept. Loved. Cared for.

It struck me that for once I was able to see this: how often I’ve underestimated the hearts of the people who care for me, just how blind I’ve been to how parental abandonment has crippled my willingness to want to connect with anyone, not just a decidedly absent father figure.

And a moment flashed back in my mind, something that my best friend and I talked about a couple of years ago. I’d asked a hard question based on my former Elephant colleague friend’s assertion: “I can sometimes feel like you only reach out when you need something.”

Another friend had verified she also sometimes felt this way about me, so I figured I’d ask my bestie. The answer was yes. And it hurt, but I knew there needed to be repair. I just didn’t know where to start. My brain couldn’t pin it.

These sorts of things cannot be fixed in the upstairs realm of the brain. They need to be worked through via feeling and listening to our inner self. Last year, I decided I was ready. This flood of touchy-feely fuzzies was the culmination of a a few months of work—and it was a big reward.

Often times, I have felt so emotionally heavy that I’ve avoided weighing people down with my presence. So, I’ve stashed myself away until someone else needs me, or until I really need to reach out.

Connection with others has been a matter of selecting how often I allow myself to be a burden to those I care for the most.

I’ve felt loving me, caring, and showing up for me was a responsibility issue for others. An act of pity or a weird sort of duty.

When I saw that frog on the counter, when I heard my best friend’s children say they remembered my story, when they wanted to play games with me, it struck me how low of value I’ve so long placed in myself.

So, there it was, this frog I’d received when I was seeking help to heal some broken bones, showing me a core belief that needed healing—the core belief that I don’t matter.

And more importantly, I saw just how false a belief that is. I saw that while my not-biological dad could choose for me not to be his and his biological children’s family, my best friend could choose for she and hers to be my people.

I saw the genuine care of my former Elephant colleague friend when she came to help me pack a moving truck—the same thing we were doing when we had the conversation about only reaching out when I needed something—and inquired gently about my mental health.

All the threads tied together like the stitching on that felt frog, and in a two-day period of time, I felt a little patch being sewn over a gaping hole in my heart.

I just might frame that little frog to remind myself that I am loved whether energetically heavy, light, or in some cases even absent.

To remind myself I am not forgotten. To remind myself to allow myself to care deeply, despite that “paternal” bond having been broken like my tiny thumbs so long ago in my youth. To remind myself that, like my once fractured bones, we can heal and grow.

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