I grew up in a household where hard feelings were harbored against anyone whom you perceived had done something wrong to you, whether it was done intentionally or otherwise; a household where people didn’t talk about their feelings, but instead acted them out.
Instead of verbally articulating that someone’s words and actions were hurtful in some way, my family members would either bottle up their feelings never speaking of them and allowing them to turn into resentment and bitterness, or they would express their hurt by lashing out verbally and sometimes even physically, against the perceived aggressor.
But of course, it wasn’t only the perceived aggressor that felt the effects of the lashing out. The bitter effects would be felt by everyone around, and slowly but surely, everyone around would be caught up in that cycle of anger, bitterness, resentment, and victimhood.
This atmosphere is bad enough for an adult to experience, but for a growing child it can be devastating. In time the effects of such an environment become so deeply rooted in the subconscious that sooner or later the growing child begins to act in just the same manner he observed others behave.
By the time the child becomes an adult, these negative and destructive patterns have become second nature, and without knowing why, he or she becomes a living copy of the adults from his childhood, hurting and alienating the people he or she loves the most.
That was me not that long ago. As far back as I can remember, I observed this destructive behavior in most if not all of my family members. I became afraid that people would hurt me, and put up all kids of walls to prevent them from doing so. As I grew older it became difficult for me to make and keep friendships, because I scrutinized every word and every action, to determine whether they were trying to hurt me somehow. Most of the time, I decided that they were. The stories I told myself included lies such as:
“I’m not good enough for them.”
“They are just pretending to be my friend because they want something from me.”
“They’ll probably stab me in the back the first chance they get.”
“They are judging me for my appearance.”
“I’m not cool enough, smart enough, […] enough to be their friend.”
…and many others. Doubting or questioning someone’s loyalty, friendship, honesty, etc. was my predominant attitude. I also felt that in order to keep the few friends that I managed to make, I needed to make them feel sorry for me; I did not feel like I was good enough for them just as I was so I caused them to pity me so that they would not leave me, by faking illness, sadness, and pain. Of course that did not work for long because people eventually saw right through me or got tired of my pity parties. No wonder I was alone most of the time.
That’s what I thought the rest of my life was going to be like. It took many years for me to realize that I was creating the very circumstances that I wanted to avoid. I didn’t want my friends to leave me, but my behavior would push them away.
These thought and behavior patterns were not limited to friendships, however. When I got married I had the exact same attitude towards my wife. I took everything way too seriously, and often took offense when she was merely joking or being playful with me. I bottled up my feelings and harbored resentment. Were it not for the fact that my wife was extremely patient with me and held on for so long, I wouldn’t have a marriage right now.
I think I always knew that I wanted to change; I knew that these thought and behavior patterns were destructive and hurtful to me and to those I loved. I wanted to change, but didn’t know how to go about it.
Deep inside I knew it was possible, and I believed that I could do it if only I was shown the way. Well, nobody came along to take me by the hand or show me the way; I had to look for it myself.
I started reading a lot of personal development material. I watched personal development videos; I listened to self-improvement lectures and recorded seminars. Over the years I learned many techniques that helped me to heal old wounds, forgive the people who hurt me intentionally or unintentionally, develop my self-esteem, learn to love and accept myself, and overall, let go of the past; in other words, I learned to quite literally recreate myself.
I had to muster up the courage to take a hard and honest look at myself and accept that change was needed; then I had to forgive myself. This was probably the hardest part of my journey. Being a perfectionist at heart, it was extremely difficult for me to accept that I was imperfect. That I had character flaws that needed to be addressed and changed. That people around me, people I loved, got hurt as a result of my words and actions.
The process was painful and anything but easy, but the rewards have proven to be more than worth it. As a result of what I’ve learned and applied in my journey, I am a lighter, happier, more relaxed person. I am able to smile and laugh more and frown less, and I am no longer overcome with stress or worry. I’ve also learned that I am more of an introvert, but this does not prevent me from making and nurturing friendships.
The person who has truly experienced my transformation first hand is my wife. She now considers me the ideal husband, and after everything I put her through, after all the pain and anguish I caused her over the years, to have her say “I would do it all over again to get to this moment” fills my heart with immeasurable joy and gratitude.
Have I arrived? Am I now at the point where I can say that there’s nothing else to change? Far from it. But I am no longer afraid to take a look at myself, because I no longer fear finding imperfections. I am more tuned in to my thoughts and feelings. I’ve learned to spot destructive or negative thought patterns, and I know what I need to do to change them.
I know that I am imperfect, but I also know that I am human, and making mistakes is a part of the human perfection. It is how we grow and evolve into better versions of ourselves, and how we begin to realize our full potential.