Practicing Boundaries After Trauma

stop walking

Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash

Boundaries take practice, especially when you have a history of trauma. Being a survivor of abuse can make the inner alarm bells malfunction — they either don’t go off at all because mistreatment has been normalized, or they go off at the slightest whiff of something that reminds you of a past traumatic experience.

This can make it extremely difficult to establish and maintain healthy boundaries.

Examples of healthy boundaries include:

  • Saying no to something without explaining your reasons why
  • Asking someone to stop doing something that bothers you
  • Canceling plans when you are too tired or overwhelmed to socialize
  • Taking a step back from intimacy in a relationship

These seem like they’re easy, but a history of abuse can make them seem insurmountably difficult. Complex PTSD, anxiety, and other mental illnesses can turn simple boundary setting into an exercise in self-loathing and self-sabotage.

You feel like you’re being difficult for no reason and that by saying no, you’re going to make everyone hate you and it will be all your fault.

It sucks. It is hard. It is painful.

And you have to keep practicing. 

I got a message over the weekend asking me out for lunch. It was a perfectly polite message, very complimentary, and I felt warmly about being asked out. But I wasn’t feeling a dating vibe with this particular person and I confess that I panicked for a moment. How do I say no? There’s no real “reason” to say no!

Not feeling enthusiastic about something is enough of a reason to say no.

The idea of a date wasn’t sparking joy for me, and it took me a moment to breathe and realize that this was just a conversation with an acquaintance and not a life and death situation. I wrote back to her and said thank you but I am not interested in a date. And she said that was totally fine and then we talked about a party she was throwing. It was a complete non-issue.

You’re allowed to say no when you’re just not feeling something. It doesn’t make you a bad person, and you don’t owe people a yes when you’d rather say no.

The fear: Saying no will make them hate you.

The reality: If it does, that’s pretty messed up and definitely not your problem.

I also canceled a date over the weekend because I just wanted to lay in bed and be lazy. That was totally okay too. (Side note: dating is exhausting, and my energy to do it waxes and wanes faster than the moon).

You are in charge of who is around you and how you spend your time.

What about when you do want to spend time with someone and your anxiety tells you THEY don’t want to hang out with YOU? 

Recently, the little voice in my brain decided that I needed to put some boundaries in place with a friend because he didn’t actually care about me and it was all a game. I was being toyed with. I was a punchline. Ha ha, who wants to be friends with sad traumatized Caitlin?

When someone is important to you, anxious traumatic patterns will convince you that they’re not safe (just like before!), so you protect yourself from future heartbreak by ending things ASAP. Constant self-sabotage is the name of the game when you’ve been raised with love and abuse as two sides of the same coin.

I wrote a very polite message to my friend, explaining that I needed to take a step back from our relationship because I felt like my mental health was at risk.

He responded by telling me that my mental health came first and he would respect what I needed to do. He asked if I would like to talk about it and we talked out what the little chattering weasels in my brain were saying. He gave me the safe space to get out all of my anxieties and fears. He responded with reassurance and kindness.

Oh. I guess it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. Thanks a lot, brain weasels. 

The huge, glaring, neon sign of difference between my relationship with this friend and my relationship with my abuser: My abuser told me that I was responding to an imaginary villain version of him in my head and that he’d never do something to make me feel that way — completely invalidating my fears and telling me they were made up. It’s not safe to express discomfort to a person who tells you your discomfort isn’t real.

My friend took my concerns seriously, let me talk openly about my fears, validated my feelings, and worked through the anxious spiral with me. We came out the other side of the experience feeling closer to each other, and I felt safe and seen and valued.

The fear: Talking about my trauma will make people think I’m too much work and I should just stay quiet and never be open about it.

The truth: The only way for me to keep learning that it’s safe to talk about my fears with people is to talk about my fears with people.

Moral of the story: Boundaries (and healing) take work. But it’s worth it. 

Read more from me!

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a five star review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

I’ve also set up a Patreon page which will get sneak peeks of upcoming topics, an opportunity for you to suggest topics, and additional Patron-only bonus content. Check it out, Patron levels start at just $1 per month to help support my writing.

 

 

Find your shortcuts to healthier boundaries and love

love 24 hrs

Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

A couple weeks ago I attended a queer geek convention in Cleveland in its second year – Flaming River Con. On a complete whim, I messaged the admins of the con on Facebook with a week to go before the event and offered to host a workshop on figuring out how to communicate your boundaries and love languages, especially when you’re also navigating past trauma. They said they were booked but would keep my information on backup in case of a cancellation. It was a long shot, but I would have regretted not asking.

With only a few days before the con, I happened to roll over to check my phone one last time before sleep, and found a message asking me to fill in for a panel that had to cancel. Suddenly wide awake, I wrote the outline of my presentation along with a quick bio about myself and sent it to the team that night.

I was only 80% nervous as my workshop approached but found that my 45 minute session went by quickly and I had an amazing time facilitating a discussion about boundaries, trauma, and asking for love in the ways that you need it from friends, partners, and more — in full crop top cosplay, no less.

The room was packed, to my delight and surprise. I had underestimated that people want to learn that it’s okay to say no, to ask for love in different ways, and to establish boundaries.

I realized I could do this.

I could teach this.

I had learned it myself and I can show others how to do it too.

I’m launching a six week online course to do just that: Teach you how to ask for the love you deserve.

Check out the full details on the course page, but here’s a sneak peek of what the course includes (for a one-time membership fee of $199):

  • A private Facebook group to chat with course members (and me!)
  • Weekly video lessons and guided exercises
  • Weekly video chats with the whole group
  • A template to create your own “how to love me” manual

We start class on Monday October 28 and I’m capping the course at the first 20 members, so sign up fast to reserve your spot! If you miss this round I’ll send you a personal invitation to the next time the course opens (in January to make Love and Boundaries a new years resolution you can stick to).

Since the workshop, I’ve gotten feedback from attendees about what they liked from the discussion:

The talk about love languages was key.

Learning about love languages, especially the way people can give and receive them differently.

I loved the talk about love languages and how giving and receiving love can be in different languages. Also the pep talks; I’ve read mine almost every day.

Join me in learning how to ask for love the way you need it — you deserve it.

Sign up for the Course to reserve your spot now!

Why you need to go to therapy, and why you probably can’t

therapy

In theory, every single person would benefit from regular therapy. Just like you get an annual physical to check your blood work for issues you can’t see, like cholesterol, blood sugar, inflammation, and more, a regular check-in with a therapist can help you maintain healthy levels of psychological self care.

When I meet with my psychiatrist, she goes through a depression and anxiety inventory and scores it. From the time I went on medication in December 2017 to my checkup in February 2019 (and quarterly follow-ups between), my scores consistently dropped. It was a quantitative way to check in and realize I was making strides in my mental health that could not have been noticed by just considering if I was feeling “less depressed.”

We developed a plan to wean off meds, and I’ve been off them entirely since May 2019 (the same month my book launched and I broke up with a boyfriend of over a year — it was a great time to go off meds! Sarcasm!) The moral of the meds story is that once I was out of an abusive marriage and actively working through my trauma in therapy, I was managing my mental health without the use of medication. If it turned out that I still needed it, I would have gone back on.

However, even if you don’t see a psychiatrist for a diagnosed mental illness like depression, anxiety, bipolar, borderline, OCD, C-PTSD, etc., and even if you don’t take meds, mental health care helps everyone.

You would benefit from therapy

Yeah, you. Whoever you are and whatever you’ve been through, even if you think you’re fine.

We live in an extremely stressful society that is not set up for our well-being. We are over-worked, minimum wage doesn’t cover rent prices anywhere in the U.S., we’re drowning in student loans, and we have concentration camps. That’s just one country. Globally, there’s genocide and rampant homophobia/transphobia and the Amazon is burning and the ice caps are melting.

Watch the news for five minutes and you could benefit from a therapist.

Some of my readers who attend (or have attended) therapy said:

  • “My health insurance is good about covering therapy and visits to a CNP who can prescribe medication. I absolutely needed therapy almost three years ago and it’s led to me rising high above much of my depression and anxiety, and to just see more of my own worth. All of it was hard. Making appointments. Going to appointments. Having my therapist tell me things that were hard to hear. I don’t regret any of it.”
  • “For an hour I slow down. It isn’t deadlines and juggling, it’s take time, process, feel, reflect. As a single mom, there’s very little time for that. It’s always putting out fires and juggling other people’s needs. My therapy is my one self indulgence, the one thing I completely do for me. It’s like the bare minimum of self care and it still feel selfish for it when I’m doing the schedule shuffling to make our weeks work.”
  • “I have been going to therapy for three years now and it’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever done for myself. I went from being on 7 different medications and still unable to function as a human with C-PTSD and DID and now I take one medication and have a full time job with normal to low anxiety.”
  • “It’s been amazing for me and helped me leave my emotionally/psychologically abusive marriage, start healing the trauma from that and from my childhood, improve lots of areas of myself that also have helped improve my parenting. I recommend it to others every chance I get.”
  • “I go to therapy to find myself again. After so much abuse I’ve gone through I’ve lost the real me. My therapist has helped me so much. I’m so very grateful for him and would recommend therapy to everyone.”
  • “I used to go to therapy. It helped me process some stuff that I desperately needed to work through, like realizing just how abusive my parents truly were. I’m tempted to go again because I’m barely functioning again, but I worry they won’t help, just use me as a lab rat to satisfy their curiosity.”
  • “My therapist is always calling me out, and, don’t tell her, but I like it.”
  • “Finding the right therapist is key and worth being patient.”
  • “Without therapy I would never have identified I was being abused.”
  • “I have been to multiple therapists in the past. The only one I’d say had a real impact was my PTSD specialist (EMDR therapy). The others… by and large, I usually left sessions feeling more confused than I did when I went in.”
  • “I have been in and out of therapy since I was 5. I go because while I have figured out how to process and unpack my trauma on my own, I currently and desperately need to undo some learned behaviors and deal with my most recent bout of abuse and deal with my PTSD. It helps to have a space space to break down or soundboard once a week. I personally think everyone can benefit from therapy. EVERYONE.”

The key is that everyone would benefit from a therapist with absolutely no biases that preclude proper supportive care, and that’s not always possible.

When you can’t go to therapy

There is a huge problem with access to therapy. Many people are without insurance, transportation, or income to be able to access a therapist. More, it can be difficult and daunting to find an inclusive therapist who is open and accepting of all gender identities, sexualities, relationship styles, ability levels, etc. or who is informed in a specific need if you have one. As a result, marginalized people face even more hardship because they cannot even access the services and tools to help them cope.

I asked readers to chime in if they go to therapy or not and why. Here are some of the negative responses:

  • “I’ve been told by basically everyone I’m close to that I need to go to therapy, and I want to, but I can’t afford it and I’ll never be able to at this rate.”
  • “Every therapist seemed wholly overwhelmed and some cried”
  • “Not anymore. They spend more time studying me than helping me. ‘Oh you’re nonbinary, I have a lot of questions.’ While some of them never mention ‘the autism’ some brought it up to congratulate me for being so functional. And some were really helpful – that’s the bitter pill.”
  • “No insurance, so no. Probably not once we have insurance, because nothing I can find that we can afford covers it. When I did, I found it largely unhelpful due to the profession being dominated by people who don’t think people with breasts can possibly know their own mind. Never mind trauma-informed, educated on chronic illness, accepting of autism self-diagnosis, etc. When I’m having to educate my therapist constantly, it doesn’t make for a good relationship.”
  • “Even if I had insurance, it would be near impossible to find a non-racist, trans inclusive, queer positive, non Christian therapist with a good praxis on ableism here. When I have had therapy it was not helpful because the therapist could not understand my life experience and was not comprehending of the support I needed, which resulted in me being gaslit and given harmful advice that increased my abuser’s control over me.”
  • “I have insurance but I have phone anxiety and anxiety about not knowing how to set up appointments. I also have some trauma related to bad counseling I’ve had. That’s not getting into being a neurodivergent creative weirdo and also accidentally stunning them with my trauma. It honestly feels like having to translate a deeply personal internal language with other people outside myself for every basic communication.”
  • “No. Because the stigma means that if anyone knew, they would think less of me. Like there’s something wrong with me.”

Others who are able to go to therapy can only do so because of special access programs.

  • “The only way I can afford to go is because I signed up with Open Path. I go because I finally realized last year that I needed to talk to a professional about my past traumas and talk about my depression and anxiety issues that stemmed from them. My therapist has helped me totally reframe the way I think about my past and change the way I talk about it. It’s gonna be a long process, but I feel more optimistic now than I ever have before.
  • “The only reason I’m able to is because of a local organization of therapists who volunteer their time for the uninsured. I chose to go when I was having daily suicidal thoughts, but I should have been going for the last 20 years. I’ve been going for 8 months now and so far it’s been extremely helpful just to be able to talk without fear of judgment and without feedback or bias. The entire experience has been extremely validating and I think absolutely every person on this planet should see a therapist regularly.”

This system is letting people down

People don’t have access to safe, inclusive, reliable, affordable mental health care — and that means that people are not safe. We are letting down trans people, domestic violence survivors, veterans, and everyone else including people who just need a safe space to unload their mental burdens. We are mainlining stress and gating the resources to manage it in a healthy way.

In a new study published in 2018, researchers found that “mental health services in the US are insufficient despite more than half of Americans seeking help. Limited options and long waits are the norm, but some bright spots with 76% of Americans now seeing mental health as important as physical health.”

Barriers cited in this study include:

  • High cost and insufficient insurance coverage
  • Limited options and long waits
  • Lack of awareness (not knowing where to go for service)
  • Social stigma

We’ve created a world that is too stressful to bear, limited the access to mental health care, and stigmatized those who seek or use it. Not to mention we raise boys to avoid emotional expression, thereby ensuring a huge chunk of each generation doesn’t even know how to express that they’re feeling stressed or angry or hurt without violence, lest they be seen as weak.

We need to do better.

Read more from me!

If you enjoyed this post (enjoy is a strong word, it was kind of a downer), you might also like my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a five star review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

You can also follow me on Medium and clap for this story to support me for the low low cost of your Medium membership.

I’ve also just set up a Patreon page which will get sneak peeks of upcoming topics, an opportunity for you to suggest topics, and additional Patron-only bonus content. Check it out, Patron levels start at just $1 per month to help support my writing.

 

 

 

A breakup doesn’t mean you failed

broken heart string

When you’re deeply committed to someone, the end of that relationship can be devastating. Whether it’s a romantic relationship, friendship, or even removing a family member from your life — breaking up is hard. But it doesn’t mean you’ve failed at anything.

I reject the notion that a relationship that doesn’t last a lifetime is a failure.

Breaking up isn’t failure, it’s acknowledging that something isn’t working for one or more people. I used to believe I had two failed marriages, but really I had two examples of putting myself first and realizing that I wasn’t obligated to stay unhappy for the sake of other people.

People are constantly learning and growing and developing – especially people with mental health struggles. To be able to say, “I can’t be in this relationship because it’s hurting me” is a huge thing. It is something to be proud of. It is not a moral failure, even if there is pain involved. 

Here are some reasons I have had breakups:

  • I was deeply unhappy in the relationship and felt incompatible with my partner
  • I was demanding more respect and consideration than I was giving in return (yeah, this was the time somebody broke up with me — for very good reason)
  • An abusive third party convinced me my partner was toxic to me to isolate me
  • My partner was abusive
  • My partner had a meltdown every time I tried to express a boundary or concern
  • My partner could not support my recovery from an eating disorder and lost sexual interest in me when I gained weight
  • My partner said something negative and judgmental about people who aren’t ready to leave abusive relationships and broke my trust

Love isn’t all you need

Just loving someone does not mean you need to stay with that person. You can love an abuser. You can love your parents when they are unkind and manipulative toward you. You can love someone you’ve spent years with, even though you are no longer in love with them. And you can love someone and not trust them.

It’s important to build relationships on mutual respect, reciprocated intimacy and emotional labor, trust, and safety. You need to be able to talk about hurt feelings without worrying that the conversation will blow up. You need to be able to express your expectations of a relationship without feeling like you’re being “too much.”

If they tell you you’re “too much,” that’s simply not a person for you to be as close with. The answer is less of you in their life, not less of you in yourself.

I have some friends that are “a lot.” I love them so much, but I’m an introvert and their extrovert energy drains me. I still love these people, but I make sure to plan my time accordingly so that I’m not seeing five extrovert friends in the same week one day after another or attending two huge social events in a row. I will end that week miserable!

And I’m not shy about saying “I absolutely want to spend time with you but I am spent right now, can we plan something for next week?” Or even while spending time together, if I feel overwhelmed I know I can say, “I’m feeling really overstimulated, can we spend some time just hanging out on our phones or watching a movie so I can calm down?”

These people love me, yes — but they also respect me and my limits. I can’t give all of myself all of the time. Love is a wonderful, joyful part of life and it can definitely make life better, but it’s not “all you need.”

The point of life is not to find a partner to spend your life with

This is tough, right? The vast majority of media shows us people coupling as a major plot point and even resolution for a happily ever after. But this makes us believe that we need a partner to be fulfilled and nothing is further from the truth.

A partner can be part of a fulfilling life but is not the reason for your fulfillment.

I was describing some upcoming dates with a coworker recently and she said, “Oh, maybe this guy’s the one.” I said, “There is no ‘the one.'” It took the wind out of her sails, but I didn’t mean anything negative about believing there’s a “one” for you — just that there’s no “one” for me. Firstly, I’m polyamorous, so reserving a space for my most special partner is inherently not cool, and secondly, I’m twice divorced and I am well over the idea that another human is a necessary factor in my happiness.

I absolutely adore dating, relationships, and love. I love to love and be loved. It is a huge part of who I am as a person. But it’s not my one and only purpose.

Additionally, the idea that a lifelong romantic relationship is the number one priority leaves out asexual and aromantic people who really may not even care about a long-term love story. It also reduces the importance of friendships, which should hold just as much value in society as romantic relationships. Friendship is intimate and committed and passionate in ways similar and different from romantic relationships, but Western society places romance on a pedestal over an interwoven network of friends.

Why is there no term for breaking up with a friend?

Friendships are valid relationships just like romantic relationships are. Friends should be able to live together, raise their kids together, spend quality time together, without it being weird that they’re doing these things platonically. Our heteronormative monogamy culture makes it seem like we’re not whole until we’ve settled down in a one-man-one-woman long-term relationship with children.

And when a friendship ends, we should be able to grieve it like the loss of any other loving relationship. Breaking up with a friend sucks. But just like love isn’t all you need in a romantic relationship, it’s not all you need in a friend relationship either.

Here are some reasons that I, and friends of mine, have ended friendships:

  • A friend made a disrespectful (homophobic, transphobic, fatphobic, sexist, racist, ableist, etc.) comment and refused to apologize or be educated
  • A friend made judgmental comments about someone’s weight and activity level
  • A friend was a bad tipper
  • A friend was named as an abuser
  • A friend repeatedly tried to sell MLM products after being told no
  • A friend voted for Donald Trump
  • A friend just generally gave off an uncomfortable or unsafe vibe
  • A friend made excuses for someone’s racist “sense of humor”
  • A friend became an emotional vampire and refused to grow, go to therapy, or otherwise deal with their issues
  • A friend constantly one-upped and pointed out how they did everything better
  • A friend was dismissive about a health condition or disability

You get to have boundaries and limits, and no one is entitled to your time except the people you decide to share your time with. You have a reasonable expectations that your friends are respectful (of you and other people), and it is okay to distance yourself or end a friendship if your boundaries are violated.

Regardless of the nature of the relationship, you reserve the right to change or end it to protect yourself. Ending a relationship is not a failure.

Read more from me!

If you enjoyed this post , you’ll be thrilled to know there’s a whole chapter on relationships, including info on polyamory and relationship anarchy, in my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. Millennials didn’t invent these relationship types but we are fairly noisy about normalizing them. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a five star review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

You can also follow me on Medium and clap for this story to support me for the low low cost of your Medium membership.

I’ve also just set up a Patreon page which will get sneak peeks of upcoming topics, an opportunity for you to suggest topics, and additional Patron-only bonus content. Check it out, Patron levels start at just $1 per month to help support my writing.

 

 

There’s no timeline on healing or love

time

When I turned 25, I made a five year plan. Become debt free and a mother by 30, in April 2018.

I am now 31 and neither of those things happened.

In fact, as 30 approached, I was facing a lot of other huge life circumstances. In August 2016 I got married and immediately started trying to conceive a much wanted baby. In January 2017 I stopped speaking to my mother, until February 2018 when I unwittingly made contact with her through my stepdad’s phone. She tersely let me know he had cancer, and through speaking with my siblings I came to understand that she had deliberately kept the news from me to punish me for cutting her out of my life. (I wrote about this experience here).

Within a ten day span in March 2018, I left an abusive marriage, packed everything I owned and moved into a new apartment, endured transatlantic cyber bullying at the hands of my husband, and watched my stepfather die of lung cancer. Oh, and accepted a book deal.

Life did not give one iota of a shit about my five year plan. I still have student loans and I never did get pregnant (thank goodness).

The timeline of healing

After I left my abuser, I committed to only casual relationships on a non-monogamous basis for at least a year. And then I fell in love. And I fought it. I didn’t want to be in love, I wanted time to be single and to heal.

My sister gave me some sage advice: There’s no timeline on healing or love. You’re allowed to fall in love whenever you fall in love.

I decided I could work on healing from my abusive upbringing and marriage at the same time I was enjoying a relationship. I continued going to therapy and reading books that helped me process my trauma, and I had fewer panic attacks and C-PTSD episodes as time went on. I was healing.

And then our relationship imploded, as did another year-long relationship of mine, and I found myself newly single again.

But I noticed something important. While it had taken me years to realize my marriage was harmful, it took me only months with my boyfriend and mere weeks with my girlfriend. Of course, looking back, I can see that there were signs of the unhealthy patterns long before I realized them, but it was proof of my healing. I was doing the work. I wasn’t putting up with unhealthy behavior once I realized it was happening.

The timeline of love

Letting myself feel my feelings and fall in love was important. Fresh out of an abusive marriage, I really needed to feel loved again. I am a big fan of taking time to be single and focus on self-love, but I’m also not upset that I spent my first year away from my ex feeling loved and supported by two partners.

When those relationships ended, I was much more able to take time to be single. Seeing that I had fallen into similar behaviors (serving as one partner’s sole emotional support to my own detriment, allowing the other to continually violate my boundaries and forgiving them because each time seemed individually like an honest mistake) as I had in my marriage, because on some level I was still scared of being seen as too hard to love, was something I needed to realize. And now that I’ve had those experiences, I have realized them.

This has given me new targets for therapy.

Your responsibilities in a relationship

Some fundamental truths I’ve stumbled upon in therapy include the following:

  • I am not responsible for making my thoughts and emotions comfortable for other people. How many of us do this? We feel hurt or upset but keep our pain internalized until we’ve either ignored it or whittled it into something tiny and non-offensive that we can bring up to our partners apologetically and hope to stand up for ourselves about it. The trouble is, when we’ve been taught over and over again that our hurt feelings aren’t valid, we just start invalidating them ourselves. “I won’t talk about this with him, I’m probably just overreacting.” No, we’re not doing that anymore. If you feel hurt, tell your partner. The discomfort of this conversation is important: if the discomfort gives way to healing and repair, then that’s a sign of a healthy relationship. If it gives way to invalidating blame, then that’s a sign you aren’t with someone who values you and wants to treat you well.
  • Managing my partners’ behavior is not a normal part of a healthy relationship. I’ve always been the PR spinner in my relationships. With my abusive ex, I would post cute stories about our conversations on Facebook and my friends fawned over how sweet we were. “Get a man who makes coffee in the morning and does the dishes!” I’d say, to a chorus of “He should teach a class on being a husband!” and “Can I borrow him so he can teach mine??” But the man only had three regular chores and didn’t do any of them completely. If I wanted to continue getting coffee in the morning and have him washing dishes at 50% competency, I had to put on the happy face and brag about him in a public way so he rewarded me instead of punishing me. I also had a habit of staying mentally two steps ahead of partners’ behavior to make sure they didn’t do something problematic. I also did this with my parents: I’d have to watch to make sure dad didn’t harass a waitress with a sexist comment or keep an eye on mom’s mood to warn my sister to behave. I have always had to stay aware of everyone around me to reduce the risk of danger/abuse. Turns out this is not a normal part of a relationship.
  • I give my love away freely so people never feel like they have to earn it. Realizing this was hard. I have always felt like I had to behave properly in order to receive love – I had to earn it. If I was a bad kid, I didn’t get love. If I was a bad wife, I didn’t get love. Subsequently, I wanted to make sure no one ever felt like that’s what I was doing to them. I didn’t want to paywall my affections and make someone earn them… so I had no boundaries because I always wanted people to have access to my love. This is unsustainable. Love is unconditional, but access is not, and sometimes I have to say no to something or someone in order to take care of myself and avoid burning out. Boundaries are a form of love too.
  • I am not responsible for making other people love me and treat me with value; that is their job. Seriously. If you are in a relationship with me, I shouldn’t have to convince you I’m worth loving, appreciating, or being with. Having to perform at this level with so many partners has been exhausting, and I don’t do it anymore. If you don’t want to be with me, stop being with me. I should not have to earn your time and attention.

Single part two

As I mentioned, after these two breakups I’ve been spending time being single and casually dating, but I’m not in any serious relationships. I still consider myself single. But I’m also feeling like I may be ready to start dating a little more seriously soon. My plan is to stay single until the new year, but we all know that life laughs at my plans. And if I end up feeling ready before then, that’s okay too. Because I decide when I’m ready, and it doesn’t mean I can’t dial things back if I find I still need single time later.

The same is true for you. You can’t heal on a timeline and you can’t control when something happens off your plan. But you can choose to lean into your vulnerability and your love and let something wonderful happen. (And you can also choose to pull back and say no, I’m actually not ready yet. It is up to you!)

Read more from me

If you dig my brand of encouragement, you might like my Patreon page, where supporters receive a weekly pep talk post! You can sign up at varying levels for different content access, starting at just $1 per month.

You can also support my work by purchasing my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

 

 

Breaking out of the binary 

gender sign

Source: Unsplash

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of what you could call “finding myself.” After serving as an ally member on the board of my college Gay Straight Alliance, I only realized I was bisexual in my early twenties. Even when my sister came out as bisexual and went to prom with a same sex date, I never questioned my own default straightness until I found myself surprisingly attracted to a woman. Rather than an “Aha!” moment, revealing my queerness was a series of “Huh” moments. 

And I guess I should not have been surprised when the same thing happened with my gender. It started with allyship and with friendship. One friend posted to “think outside the binary” and it changed my whole paradigm in an instant. I noticed when people said things like “I’m really nervous about my boyfriend not responding to me, I know I’m being such a girl!” and responded “That’s not a girl thing, that’s an anybody thing.” The more I tried to “think outside the binary” the more I saw how things are ascribed to gender that make no sense. 

As I made more trans and non-binary friends, I began sharing more posts and information about gender inclusivity as I learned from them.

I started using gender inclusive language. Spouse and partner instead of husband or girlfriend. Pregnant people instead of pregnant women. Parents instead of moms. Chestfeeding and nursing instead of breastfeeding. Menstrual products instead of feminine products. Reproductive healthcare instead of women’s healthcare. “Hello, friends!” instead of “Hello, ladies!” in Facebook groups. 

A side effect of using gender neutral language is that you start undoing a lot of bias in your own head about highly charged gender assumptions in society. Should your spouse do an equal share of housework? When you stop saying, “Oh men are just like that, women have to pick up after them!” and swap it for “Spouses are just like that, the other spouse has to pick up after them!” you see really glaring holes in logic. Operating a broom or dishwasher is not a gendered task. 

I started learning that trans people don’t owe the world “passing.” It’s not any person’s job to look like what you expect their gender to look like. Men can wear dresses and makeup, women can have facial hair, and non-binary people aren’t androgynous mixes of feminine and masculine features that leave you wondering what type of ethereal fae forest they crawled out of. (The answer is that they probably would actually tell you they crawled out of an ethereal fae forest). Two trans friends independently told me their gender was “angry bees” in a 48 hour period. 

I learned that saying “Male to Female” is outdated and harmful language. A trans woman has always been a woman, she was just labeled incorrectly at birth because we assign gender to genitals instead of allowing people to self identify. (Note: If she uses this term for herself, it’s okay, but she’s the only authority on what phrases and labels should be used to describe her). 

I learned that dysphoria isn’t necessary to be transgender. You don’t have to hate your body or feel like it’s wrong to be trans. 

Once you start realizing that gender is a collection of societal expectations and that genitals don’t have anything to do with it and hobbies, interests, voices, career goals, leg hair, etc. don’t have anything to do with it, you’re left questioning what the point of gender even is. 

I gave myself a mental prompt and discussed it with a few friends: What if we were all raised as “they/them” in gender neutral ways, with no leaning toward dolls or trucks, dirt or cooking, dresses or pants? What if literally every option was available to every child and they just got to pick the things they like without redirection to an “appropriate” interest? What if we supported every crying child the same? If we were all raised the same and there was no difference between genders except the fact that each person decided on their own, how many would just stay neutral because it doesn’t matter?

The more I circled down this thought experiment around why the gender binary is a thing… the more I realized I didn’t like participating in it. My gender has nothing to do with my interests or my career or my wardrobe. I love femininity and my presentation is very femme. But does that necessarily make me a woman? 

People have already decided for me what it means to be a woman. It’s supposed to mean a hairless body and performative diet culture and being humble so that men can be the source of my confidence and validation. It means being talked over in meetings at work and apologizing for having an opinion. But I’ve already stopped doing all of those things. So if I’m not performing womanhood the way society wants anyway, what’s the point of “being a woman”? 

And this slow unraveling of the yarn-ball of gender expectations is how I decided the gender binary was not something I wanted to participate in, so I’m starting to explore neutral pronouns and a non-binary approach to life. 

Huh. 

 

Read more from me

Curious about gender issues? There’s a full glossary of gender-related terms and important information we should all know about what it means to be transgender in America in 2019 in my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

You can also follow me on Medium and clap for this story to support me for the low low cost of your Medium membership.

I also have a Patreon page which will get sneak peeks of upcoming topics, an opportunity for you to suggest topics, and additional Patron-only bonus content. Check it out, Patron levels start at just $1 per month to help support my writing.

 

 

 

How to ask for the love you need

 

worthy

I recently did something that I thought would be silly, or selfish, or outlandish.

I wrote a manual on how to love me.

It gives the basics about me and my background, includes a list of my favorite things, discusses how to best communicate with me, describes how I interact within each of the five love languages, and has links to blog posts and book recommendations to help understand my trauma and triggers. It even has tips on how to help me through a panic attack.

I posted about it on my personal Facebook page and I expected some laughs and comments about how I was being super type-A.

But the response was nothing short of love and encouragement.

It’s okay to ask for love

It’s okay to ask for love in the ways you need it. It’s okay to say, “Hey could you love me this way instead?”

For me, one of the worst things is to ignore me or make me do all the work of initiating conversation or contact. Feeling like I have to chase affection is deeply painful. I am still learning that love is abundant and available, that I don’t have to earn it, and that I certainly don’t have to beg for it.

An unexpected message from a loved one can light up my whole day, reassure me that they are thinking of me, and show me that they care.

When I shared my manual about how to love me, people thanked me.

The next day, I posted a status to “love me louder,” and I got some people sending gifs and hugs… but I also noticed several friends leaving comments about how great a friend I am, how they’ve been inspired by me, how proud they are of my writing and my work. And that small shift in the way I asked for love felt really good.

It can be scary to ask for love

When I was in sixth grade, I was living with my dad after my parents divorced. I told him “I love you” multiple times a day. It was an easy way to check in, to receive that “I love you too” back. I was trying to ask for love. And one day his response was not, “I love you too.”

It was “You say that a lot. Seems like you might be trying to convince yourself.”

It has never really felt safe to ask since then.

It’s been twenty years since I felt safe asking for love.

When I check in with someone to ask for something they aren’t giving me automatically, my heart pounds. Tears prick my eyes. My whole body feels hot. I want to be anywhere but vulnerably in front of them showing the truth of what I need. Risking myself like that is physically painful.

I learned as a child that love can be faked.

Every time I ask someone to change the way they love me, it feels like I’m being ungrateful and selfish. Like I should change the way I need to feel loved rather than ask them to speak my native tongue.

It feels like I am flinging myself off a cliff and hoping they might catch me.

Sometimes it feels easier to sit around wondering why someone doesn’t love me than to say what I need to feel loved. Vulnerability is scary, but it’s where we get our needs met. It’s where we find resolve in our worth and value.

It’s where we remember who the fuck we are.

Vulnerability at work can look like asking for a raise or promotion. You’re risking a no. If your boss says no, you might feel unimportant or not valued. If your boss reassures you that you’re doing great and puts together a six month plan for you to be in a place where they can offer that raise when they have the next budget meeting — that’s a reward for your vulnerability, even though it initially feels like rejection.

Vulnerability with a partner can look like saying, “I feel like I’m chasing you down for affection and I want to hear from you more during the day.” This feels scary, because they could say no. They could say that’s not how they operate their love languages and they aren’t willing to learn yours. They could say this feels like a lot of work.

Or they could say, “I’m sorry that I’ve been loving you in a way you weren’t receiving, and I will remember that you need loved this way. It is safe to remind me, and please do until I make it a habit.”

Being told I’m hard work is one of my top triggers. It’s something that has been said by a parent and by a partner, and its message is clear: My love for you is conditional on how easy you make my life.

Relationships take work, but people are not hard work

It’s rare for two people to connect in a way that is 100% flawless all of the time. But if you are important to each other and there is mutual trust, respect, and caring, asking for what you need is a blessing. It’s a road map and a manual. It’s cheat codes to making sure you feel loved.

Interpersonal communication takes practice, and this can feel like a tough job.

But if people didn’t want to do the work of learning how to best love me, they wouldn’t be out here loving me.

Tell your partner your love languages and be specific

Your partner can reference your top love languages for a reminder that you really get a boost from a love note in the middle of the day or them offering to pick up dinner on the way home so you don’t have to. Maybe they buy you an awesome gift because you feel loved when you receive a thoughtful present.

Whatever your love language, it is okay to communicate it to your friends, family, and partners. In fact, it should be a regular part of interpersonal relationships.

Not sure what your love language is? Take the quiz here to find out and learn about all five languages, which are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts

The hidden benefit of telling people how to love you

When you tell people how to love you, and especially when you tell people what makes you feel downright unloved or unappreciated, you have a measuring stick for people’s respect for you.

Once you’ve told someone several times what you need to feel loved and they repeatedly ignore it, it can help you see who doesn’t belong so close to you. You deserve an inner circle of people willing and eager to speak your language.

It doesn’t make people inherently toxic or bad for you if they don’t speak your language, but it is okay to place distance between yourself and them.

Normalize love

Normalize talking about love languages.

Normalize telling friends you love them.

Normalize asking for what you need, without apology.

Read more from me!

If you dig my brand of encouragement, you might like my Patreon page, where supporters receive a weekly pep talk post! You can sign up at varying levels for different content access, starting at just $1 per month.

You can also support my work by purchasing my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a five star review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.