It’s not always easy to see what is missing from your life or sense of self. Sometimes, absences are only properly visible if you know what presences look like. Since last summer I’ve had a bit of a journey with this one.
It started with my volunteering for OBOD. I’ve been a volunteer before, but I’ve never felt trusted in the way that I do now. I’ve never felt confidence before, that I was doing enough, giving enough, being a valuable enough part of the team, and there was always that feeling of being watched in anticipation of my messing something up. I think this has everything to do with the culture at OBOD, where there’s a careful vetting process, but a person who has been accepted and trusted to do their job, is then trusted. I find it a lot more functional, and makes for a far happier working space. If I messed up, there are structures that would catch this.
I’m in an emotionally secure relationship based on mutual trust and respect. There is no sense of conditionality, no need to bargain. A feeling of having a place to belong where I am welcome and wanted. Being in this landscape encourages me to feel rooted, in a way that I haven’t for a long time, too. Again, that sense of belonging and being welcome.
It’s not been a smooth ride in terms of friendships and communities, because I made some significant mistakes. However, having recognised those, I’ve learned a lot about my need for people who are able to accept and work around the things I struggle with. Friends who don’t keep me up late reliably, and who either don’t trigger distress in the first place, or respond to it with compassion, rather than telling me they can’t be bothered with walking on eggshells. If I am not worth making some effort for, it occurs to me, then there is no reason for me to stay.
I have an increasing sense of belonging to a tribe that is glad to have me as a member. There have been too many times in my life when I’ve felt like an imposition, when no matter how hard I worked or how much I gave, I felt like a second class participant, and was given to understand how generous people were in just putting up with me. There were people who told me how difficult I was, how demanding and unreasonable, such hard work for them. I was to be grateful for the sacrifices they made in order to accommodate me. There weren’t many of them, but they were all too often people with power and influence in my life. Not any more.
I eventually worked out that if someone finds me desperately difficult, depressingly hard work and that being around me is tantamount to martyrdom, then the answer is for me to step away from them. I do not need people who feel noble and self-sacrificing about putting up with me. What I want are people who like having me around, who trust and value me, enjoy my company, find me a good part of the mix. Where I have that, I get to feel welcome and like I belong, and increasingly that’s how things are working, not least because I’m no longer tolerating the other thing.
A person who is not valued and respected, cannot root properly in their community. None of us are perfect, all of us have shortcomings, weak spots, bad days… the person who is scapegoated for that, and constantly reminded of it no matter what there is to balance it up, always gets to feel like an outsider, an imposition. I am increasingly conscious of the direct link between not feeling valued, and not feeling any sense of belonging. It’s been there my whole life; an absence that has taken some identifying. Up until very recently, what I carried was a sense of just innately not being good enough somehow. Not a person who deserved a place. There are enough people in my life who have treated me otherwise, that I’ve become able to think about it differently, and to pick out the minority whose attitude left me feeling outside the tribe for so long. A rethink of who I am, where I fit, who my people are, and a lot to consider about how we treat each other and construct our communities.