All the way through my life there have been an abundance of people keen to tell me how difficult I am. Too sensitive. Too coldly logical. Too emotional. Too intense. I do too much and give too much and am just more than any reasonable person should be expected to cope with. Or I don’t do enough, am not patient and generous enough with them. I expect too much. They’re a regular feature and up until recently I’ve mostly agreed with them. I am difficult, and generally not worth the effort, and the only way to function is by hiding most of who and how I am, trying hard to fit in, and apologising for being as I am when I can’t hide it.
Back in March of this year, I started to realise that any kind of ‘belonging’ based on crushing my own nature was never going to let me feel like I truly belong. Since then I’ve been looking a lot harder at my network of relationships and thinking about what works for me and what doesn’t. Here are some things I have noticed.
One sided unconditional giving and loving can feel noble and heroic, but it does very little beyond that. As I get less interested in martyring myself for other people, I start to see the value of love reciprocated and returned. However stumbling and awkward it might be sometimes – because we’re all awkward and messy in our own ways – care returned is a precious thing. It’s possible to give far more to people who give back, the exchanges are meaningful. Unrequited attachments can be a strange form of self involvement, with ideas about the ‘beloved’ being held as more important than the unresponsive reality. It’s a silly game that allows me to stay warm and open to people who are only interested in using me.
Where there is real care, all manner of things are possible. Of course there are bumps, because life is challenging, people are imperfect communicators and we’re all dealing with our own fears and beliefs at the same time. But where there is care, overcoming those bumps is more important than pride and ego. Where the other person truly matters, working through the occasional issues also matters, and there can be no sweeping it under the carpet, demanding it be fine when it isn’t, or emotionally manipulating the other person into accepting their discomfort.
If someone else is suffering, I will try and alleviate that by whatever means make sense. That doesn’t oblige me to humour the people who like and manufacture drama. I don’t have to participate in other people’s dramas if I don’t want to. And mostly, I don’t want to.
I routinely under-estimate my own strength and resilience. I think about everything a lot, I can be really thrown by other people’s unconsidered actions, and I tend to take the things people do carelessly as a measure of where I am with them. There are two things I need to work on here. One is to recognise that everyone, me included, is fallible and that it’s ok for me and anyone else to get things wrong now and then, and that it does not necessarily mean anything much if that happens. However, people who keep getting the same things wrong it’s much more worth being wary about. I can be gentler with other people, and with myself if I recognise that messing up is not a measure of care. I also recognise that on the whole I do better with people who know themselves, act consciously and move deliberately through the world. People who know why they did and said whatever it was and can talk about it if needs be. Obliviousness is not a quality I find useful in other people.
I recognise that a lot of the ‘problems’ I have in relating to other people have a lot to do with how harshly I judge myself. The assumption that I don’t fit and won’t be accepted often colours how I interact with people. I’ve listened too much to the people who wanted to hurt me and put me down, and not enough to the kinder, friendlier voices, because that fitted my story about myself. I can change that. I can be more open to people I enjoy being around and walk away with a shrug and a sense of no great loss from anyone who finds me terribly difficult. I am not obliged to appease the people who don’t like me, and that’s a very liberating line of thought.