A former student contacted me recently, (thank you Facebook) and as we were getting caught up with the changes in our lives, I mentioned Bill (my husband of 20 years) had recently passed away. She was so kind and said just the right words to let me know she cared and hoped that I had been able to find some comfort and support through this time of my life.
I accepted her comforting words.
Later,when I was thinking about our conversation, how nice it was to hear from her and to know how good she was at what she had learned to do, I realized I had changed in some subtle ways I hadn’t noticed. So bear with me as I try to give words to what I noticed. Growing up as a sexual abuse survivor, I learned it wasn’t in my best interest for some people to love me. The important ones, the ones I was supposed to be able to trust to have my best interest, didn’t. My biological father abandoned me, my stepfather sexually abused me, and my Mom didn’t notice. As you can probably guess I definitely preferred being ignored over someone who paid (painful) attention to me. From those experiences I learned to not accept people who professed to love and care for me. Now there were people in my family who I loved and who loved me but I held back not really accepting their love, knowing it wasn’t safe to let my guard down. As I grew into an adult, I realized I didn’t want people to love me, it was too dangerous and I was going to be hurt by their love. I didn’t understand the connection between the danger I lived with as a child and how that fear carried over into my personal relationships as an adult. I have never been comfortable with other people having strong feelings about me.
But I wanted someone to love me. And to pay attention to me. That was/is the healthy part of me.
So with that said, you can imagine, it’s very difficult for me to be open to people loving me and it scares the crap out of me. I know some of the people who read this blog are survivors, you know what a huge risk it can be when you want to love and be loved. The struggle is immense. I can love people easier than I can let them love me back. Once I start feeling like they want more in a relationship, I run. That’s not just romantic relationships,but close friendships, work or even casual friends. It’s just too much for me. For me, the danger is in them having feelings about me.
Years of different types of therapy has helped, I have learned to not bolt, to slow down. To breath and check in mentally and spiritually to see if they intend to harm me, or have a history of harming others. When I am not sure what is going on I try to be open as I can and adopt a “wait and see” approach, but that is not always possible for me to do.
Being able to accept with ease her comforting words and concern, felt effortless. Not like it had in years past. I am grateful for the people who have continued to care for me, love me and often times taught me about loving through their own relationships. (more in the next post)