Friday, December 30, 2011

Tell them you love them. or. Say what you mean to say.

It's been a few weeks ago that I read something over at Single Dad Laughing, but it still has me thinking... and thinking... I'm trying to sort my thoughts out, and write them in a way that makes sense. The trouble I keep running into (in my own head) is that what Single Dad says seems to make sense, but it also doesn't... And I guess I've tried to live like he suggests living... and it didn't work. This is me just sorting it out.

It's been almost a year ago that I started the post, "Not the problem I thought I was", but I've never finished it... In that post I wrote about how I have always blamed myself for everything: If someone abused or mistreated me it was because I wasn't good enough, kind enough, quiet enough. In other words, it was always my fault and my responsibility (never theirs) for their abusive behavior. If I ever finish that post, I will write about how I DO have some responsibility in the way people have treated me but it wasn't that I needed to be nicer, kinder, more positive, but instead I needed to take care of myself. It is my responsibility to decide how I want to be treated, and to communicate that. It is also my responsibility to leave any situation that is not healthy.

I was married to my first husband for two years.  For two years, I told him I loved him CONSTANTLY. I repeated it whenever I saw him. I wrote him notes telling him what a wonderful person he was. I really thought if I could just be nice enough, he would be kind back. If I just loved him enough and said it enough, he would treat me better... So I tried to be the nicest, kindest, sweetest, most loving and selfless person on the planet.. I apologized when I had done nothing wrong, but HE thought I had. I stopped fighting him, gave in to everything he said he wanted me to do, NEVER expressed my needs, thoughts, desires, hopes... That didn't stop him from mistreating me. In many ways, it made things worse. In psychological terms, I rewarded him for abusing me, so he continued abusing me. Finally, one day I saw the way out, and I took it. (Off-topic, but can you imagine how it must have felt to be HIM? In one instant, he thinks everything is good and I love him so much, and the next I'm telling him that I want a divorce. BJ says any logical or sane person would have recognized that I wasn't happy long before I asked for divorce, still... in my effort to be nice to him, I think I made it worse.)

Single Dad Laughing talks about how we all need to be loved, and we all need to hear we are good people, so no matter what OTHERS are doing, say, "You are a good person. I love you." In other words, no matter what I am feeling, or what I am experiencing, or how it might hurt me, think first (and only) of the other person. At the same time, he ends the post by saying that if you do that, then you'll hear the same back from the other person. I'm having a hard time reconciling his ideas.

First, if I am saying that in order to get someone else to say it back, that is being manipulative. If I am saying that to get the other person to do ANYTHING, I am trying to manipulate them. It feels icky. In order for that saying to do good, I have to say it and mean it, and have no expectation of getting anything in return. I was kind to people because I thought if I was just kind enough, they'd be kind to me. In other words, I was walking around lying to  myself and to them, and it didn't work. I can't say, "I love you," with any expectation or it isn't love...

Second, it feels good to be kind and loving, but if I am being kind and loving to someone else at the expense of myself, that doesn't feel good. That also feels icky. By "being kind" by not expressing my needs, thoughts, feelings, and then staying in the situation , I was hurting myself. I'm not advocating namecalling or telling other people how to live their lives. I am talking about saying, "When you hit me, or call me names, or (fill in the blank), I feel scared, hurt, sad, (etc.), and I don't really want to be around you." I believed that loving someone else meant that I let them hurt me. I stayed in a place that was emotionally and physically violent so he would know he was loved. It has taken me years to learn that getting myself out of situations that are triggering or harmful or even uncomfortable is a very acceptable and healthy thing to do.

Third, I'm thinking about intimate relationships I have in my life today. They did not come from stuffing what I felt inside and saying, "You are a good person, and I love you." Those intimate relationships became intimate because I was completely and totally honest and open with my feelings.

I was married to Dann for seven years. We were separated for almost three. While we were going through our back and forth do-we-stay-married-or-divorce-or-what-the-hell-do-we-do-now? stage, we were talking. I can't remember how the conversation started, but I felt angry with him. I wanted to leave and go back to my place, because I didn't want to tell him what I was feeling. He asked me to stay, and told me he wanted to know ME, which meant knowing my anger and my pain as well.

I cried. I can't remember if I used the words, but I definitely expressed anger and hatred towards him and the way he had treated me in the past. His reply is one of the reasons we are still friends today. He listened. Intently. And then he said, "It's really hard to listen to you say those things. It's really hard to see the anger in your eyes. Part of me really wants to lash back and tell you how wrong you are, but I'm not doing that, because I told you I wanted to know YOU, and I meant that. I also recognize that you are not wrong - I just wish you were," and then we talked. About all of the pain I felt, how worthless I had felt when he had done certain things, and all of the anger that I had been too scared to express to him for SEVEN years of marriage. I had thought it was my job to forgive him, love him, and tell him he was good... so I'd hold it in. (Lest you think I was saintlike, I wasn't. I felt like I should be super kind and quiet and loving, but I also didn't want to repeat the situation with my first husband, so I'd express anger rarely, but in explosive ways. Either inward at myself through self-harm or eating disorder, or at him indirectly. Or when he was already angry, and I'd push him to the edge to punish him. or... yeah, you get the picture. It was miserable for both of us.) For me, his willingness to listen changed everything. His reply was NOT, "You are a good person and I love you." He was both honest and calm, and that FELT safe and loving. It was a real, open, AWESOME conversation that started a really great friendship.

Intimacy, friendship, closeness all come from expressing emotions. They don't come from ignoring the emotions or pretending they aren't there. They don't come from saying one thing when you feel something else entirely.

I think it is important to be true to ourselves. Express love when you mean it. Express sorrow when you mean it. Say what you mean to say. Nothing more, and nothing less.
By being true and honest about who I am, I give other people the opportunity to be true and honest about who they are. It's a beautiful, wonderful, powerful thing.

"When we are liberated from our fears, our presence automatically liberates others."

Thought that didn't fit in anywhere else, but I still want to say #1:
There are moments when dealing with a spouse or a child that you can say, "You are a good person. I love you. I am (fill in the blank: tired, angry, frustrated, sad, exhausted, happy, busy) and I don't want to talk about this with you right now. Let's talk later." This is a way to defuse a situation and can be very helpful. It lets people know that your love for them is not contingent upon your emotional state. Children often believe that if you are angry at them, you don't love them. They internalize other people's emotions. This is a way to help counter that.

Thought that didn't fit in anywhere else, but I still want to say #2:There are also people I have no interest in having a close relationship with. To those people, I have no problem telling them they are a good person and that I have love for them. That is true - I don't believe anyone isn't a good person, and I have love for everyone. Still... going deeper requires going deeper.

Thought that didn't fit in anywhere else, but I still want to say #3: We all have a need to be loved... but no matter how many people tell us we are good and we are loved, until we find that within ourselves, it will never be enough. Other people will have to keep filling us up. That need to have others love us makes us dependent on others.

I was driven by fear that I might lose others' love. In order to keep the love of others, I allowed people to abuse and mistreat me. I ignored myself and my needs in the hopes that would make me good (and therefore loved). But, because I didn't love me, and because I KNEW they didn't know ME, their love felt hollow. No one else could fill the emptiness that hating myself created. No one.
Now instead of telling everyone else how much I love them, First and foremost, I tell myself that I love myself, and then trust that love to guide me. That makes me a more loving person.

Life is different today. It feels GOOD to be loved for who I am, and it feels good that there are people who don't like me. There are people who love me for me, and there are people who dislike me for me. The very same qualities that some people call "good", others call "bad". It's all about personal preference. Instead of living to please everyone by pretending to have only "good" qualities (which meant being a completely different person depending who I was with), I am just me. Always. I don't need everyone to love me. I just need me to love me. It also feels good to find other people who happen to love me too.


  1. Jen--thank you so much for posting this! I couldn't agree more. Everything you said was beautifully put and real. People feel it when you're lying and the truth really does set us free. it's ok to be disliked by others. it doesn't mean anything bad about us. I can like myself even if others don't. I can know that i deserve respect even if others don't. And i can choose to treat myself with respect. I no longer have to wait for someone else to come along to make me feel good enough and perfectly loved all the time. I get to show up for myself now and it is nice when someone else happens to as well! And it puts me in a place where i can actually receive and feel that love because i don't doubt it or need it from them....the world can be a safe and beautiful and loving place as i treat myself kindly, beautifully and lovingly. and when it's not i know it's not about me and i'm ok. :) And i'm free to see others as innocent and loving as well despite all of our wounds...I also completely agree that it isn't love if it's said with an underlying motive. If i'm telling someone i love them because i want them to say it back, "icky," is the PERFECT way of describing's passive aggressive. and it's not truly a gift. i'm still a baby i guess you could say at putting all of this into practice---but the tiny changes i have made have changed my whole life. i feel more like myself and more free than i ever have's amazing. and getting better everyday :).

  2. Jen - it's uncanny, sometimes, how you end up writing about things I'm dealing with. Right now I'm grappling with that same issue of believing I need to be nice and kind and loving and generous enough for other people to be kind to me - of stuffing myself in a box to try and be "worthy" of the people around me.

    I don't have anything in my life even close to the abuse you suffered, but that's hard in a different way, I think, because I have trouble understanding why I feel that way and it's easy to start thinking that I "shouldn't."

    Thanks again for your blog.

  3. Kate - I love the way you put this... and especially the "I'm still a baby I guess you could say at putting all of this into practice," because that's EXACTLY how I feel. I write about it as a reminder to ME to keep going.

    Daniel - I'd agree that not having the long list of abuse IS hard in a different way... There have been times in my own life that I wished things were worse, because that would justify my pain and confusion. That feeling of, "I shouldn't feel..." is normal, even if it isn't very helpful.

    Hugs to you. Be kind to you. You deserve kindness and love just because you are you.