I don’t remember how it started, just that the other kids began to tease me. The teasing led to outright social isolation and bullying, and without understanding the reason why, I came to a conclusion in my kid-brain that I had somehow done something to deserve it.
When my Grade 4 teacher, who had some kind of personality conflict with me, joined in the teasing a few times, it wrecked both my grades and my sense of safety. From Grades 4 to 9, I spent every recess alone and anxious. Despite having once been considered for the gifted program, my grades didn’t recover until high school. I had no confidence.
I learned at an early age that, outside my immediate blood relatives, I was unworthy of love. I would always be awkward, unattractive, and alone. I didn’t even entertain the lofty notion of having a girlfriend. Not only that, I decided that outside my immediate family, I could trust no one, especially not an authority figure like a teacher.
These two mental programs, Unworthiness and Mistrust, have been my sword and armor for over 30 years in my interactions with people, and for the last six of those years, they’ve been at their strongest.
When I fell in love with a girl at 15 years old, asked her out at 18, married her at 26, and then, at 29, watched that relationship end in her infidelity with a close friend (whom she later married), these two programs went into overdrive. I had let a beautiful woman into my inner circle from the outside who later deceived and rejected me in favor of someone else whom I had also let in.
When it all went down in 2010, Unworthiness declared “See? I told you: no good woman will love you”.
Mistrust, always in the service of Unworthiness, raised the shields and declared “Never again. No one gets into the Green Zone without passing through the checkpoints.”
People have to earn my trust over time to get beyond my outer circle, and even when they’re in, it takes the smallest offence to my sense of safety to get me pushing them right back out again.
Since an authority figure (my Grade 4 teacher) was also part of creating Mistrust, this also means that no matter how many times you may tell me about one of my bad habits, or some shitty belief I need to release, I won’t quite believe you. I have to actually make the mistake over and over again myself until I really “get” it.
This is unfortunate, because it usually means my relationships get damaged in the process of my own empirical testing.
None of this is new. I’ve been aware of this path I need to walk for a long time, but in my laziness and failure to take responsibility for what needs to be done, I’ve just gone about my days doing what I do, but sounding really smart and enlightened that I “know myself” so well.
But I have been hurting someone I love, thanks to actions I’ve taken rooted in these beliefs. Looking back with a critical eye, I see I have mistreated many people I’ve loved, some of them badly, turned them into caricatures of who they actually are, and then dismissing and distancing them so I can feel “safe” again.
The Ripple Effect (or, How I Hurt the People I Love)
Here’s what it looks like in action.
My friends will sometimes tease me. They’re doing it out of good-natured fun. They’re not trying to shame and distance me the way the kids at school did. I know that intellectually, but deep down, where that hurt 5 year old runs the show, it reminds me of the schoolyard. This activates Unworthiness, and I hurt.
To stop hurting, I isolate myself from my friends, the “sources” of the teasing and thus the pain.
Isolation, in turn, causes me to over-rely on one person – my girlfriend Nikki – for the sense of connection and validation I would have otherwise gotten from my friends and other loved ones that I’ve pushed away.
That over-reliance causes Nikki to rightly desire her space.
Nikki’s retreat then causes me to believe that I’m not getting my needs met.
That belief then causes me to dip into my Soulmate Superstition, wherein I then measure Nikki up against a made-up fantasy woman whose qualities no one can match.
That comparison, ultimately, puts the relationship in doubt for me, which reminds me of how the last one ended.
That reminder re-activates my Mistrust, and I push Nikki away through words and actions, hurting her in the process until I feel safe again. At that point, I reconnect and want her back. No one deserves to be jerked around in this way, especially not her.
Meanwhile, my friends stand at the sidelines, wondering where I’ve gone. No one wins.
The chain reaction ripples away from the original source to the point that you can’t recognize the original cause for what it is, but make no mistake, it’s all Unworthiness.
And in hurting them, in letting Unworthiness and Mistrust run the show, I am hurting me, and that’s not where I want to stand.
I choose to stand in connection and love. To do that, I need to confront my own sword and armor.
Dismantling Unworthiness and Standing Down Mistrust
The first step, obviously, is stopping doing those things I’ve been doing and spotting myself when I’m doing them. That’s the first, and the easiest.
Mistrust serves me sometimes. Having a sense of skepticism about the world is helpful. It keeps you from falling for scams and bullshit, keeps you safe from unscrupulous people who actually want to take advantage of you. There’s no taking apart Mistrust: it’s an instinct that serves us when conditions call for it.
But how often does that actually happen? Jim Carrey talked about the distinction between an imaginary dog that could attack you versus an actual dog that’s actually biting you: too often, I look at the world and believe it’s full of criminals, some of them disguised as lovers and best friends, as clients and bosses.
Truly, there’s nothing to fear from people who have already chosen to work, play, and/or be with me, unless they give me a clear, unambiguous reason to be afraid or mistrustful. Unless that happens, it’s best to holster Mistrust and only use it when needed.
Walking The Talk
Knowing that a hurt and sad five year old is pulling the strings is powerful awareness, but it’s just the beginning. I am worthy of love, friendship, and relationships. Grown-Up Jody gets that. Grown Up Jody has never been more grateful and happy to have learned this, but that belief has yet to soak into the subconscious where that 5 year old lives.
Two solutions, then. First, making the time to connect with the people I love the most. Many of my closest, oldest friends are scattered, but even seeing them once a month, chatting on the phone whenever it works, and just keeping up with how they’re doing will help me feel connected and loved.
Second, when I am alone and feel lonely, using the tools I have been trained in, and writing some good ol’fashioned affirmations and incantations, with appropriate visualizations, will help soak the idea into my subconscious that I am indeed worthy. I’ve known that I can do this, but I haven’t actually done it faithfully. Even starting the day out with these will help.
Detachment and Love For Its Own Sake
What I desire the most in my relationships is to love as much as I can, add my energies to someone else and create as much joy for someone else as the other person wants to take without requiring anything in return.
And even though I’ve heard it a thousand and one times – that before I can love someone completely, I have to love myself – I’m now finally prepared to listen, walk the path, to fill myself up through self-care and connection, before I can give that unconditional love to others.
This isn’t easy, and it won’t get easier, I’m sure, but I am starting immediately. I can’t afford to waste another instant not standing in connection and love, not with so much at stake.