I was recently talking with a close friend who is in the early stages of a divorce, and our discussion made me think back to a line from the first post I ever published, back in early 2014. In it I wrote the following about learning what it meant to be a parent:
Suddenly we were parents, and it was up to us to discover what that meant.
We spent the next few years learning and I’m sure we made some mistakes along the way. The bumps and bruises healed, and any psychological damage we did hopefully won’t surface for a few years yet (at least until he’s out of the house).
It was meant to be funny at the time, and it still kind of is (to me anyhow). But at the same time, in the years since I wrote that I’ve come to realize there’s a lot of truth to it as well.
While talking things through with my buddy, one of his biggest concerns (about the divorce) is how it will impact his kids. And really, the question is how, not if; because there WILL be impacts. Some of those impacts will be felt immediately, with pain and confusion. Tears, anger, withdrawal, etc. A divorce can have impacts that cannot be predicted though.
As children, parents often shelter us from the world and make us feel safe. Having your parents split up is often the first time that safety is really threatened, and it can be many, many years before the full impacts of that are felt.
I think these are natural concerns, and in fact I would be more concerned if he wasn’t worried about how the divorce would affect his kids.
This post isn’t about divorce. Divorce just happens to be one of the many things that can happen in someone’s life that will have long lasting impacts.
Rather, it’s about how all the little things that have impacts we can’t fully understand or appreciate at the time. Parents are always shaping our children through the things we say and do. As parents we are models to our children, and they learn much more than we realize. Hopefully a lot of what they learn from us is positive; but a lot of the issues they have in future life will come back to the “mistakes” that were made in raising them.
Attachment Theory is a psychological model that talks about how we form attachments with others; and how our relationships shape us, especially when we are hurt or feel threatened in those relationships.
Attachment theory has three attachment styles (four in some places, but the last one is just a mix of these three so I’m going to ignore it):
- Ambivalent Attachment. This is characterized by a reluctance to get close to others, and a fear that your partner doesn’t love you.
- Avoidant Attachment. This is characterized by problems with intimacy, holding back emotionally from the relationship (which probably contributes to the intimacy issues), and being unwilling to share feelings and emotions.
- Secure Attachment. This is characterized by being comfortable sharing feelings with partners and friends, and an ability to have trusting lasting relationships.
I mention parenting above, because our earliest relationship is with our parents; and it is these early years that are believed to be the most important for shaping how we are able to form attachments as adults.
Which is kind of scary really.
I’m a dad, and I’ll be the first to admit that I have no freaking clue what I’m doing most of the time. I try to do my best, as I’m sure most parents do. Am I a “good” dad? I would like to think so. Yet I know I’ve made mistakes in the process. Just as my parents did, and their parents before them.
This same dynamic has played out in our own lives.
As people we are the sum of our experiences. Everything we have gone through up until now has impacted us in some way, and has shaped us into the person we are today.
Think about that for a moment.
How we were raised, what our parent’s relationship looked like, and also what our earliest relationships looked like. All of these things have shaped HOW we form attachments. I say “shaped”, because they influence it but they don’t have to control it.
As attachment theory says, it’s the fears, threats, and the hurts in our relationships that shape our future relationships the most.
We’ve all been hurt. We’ve all suffered pain, and disappointment at the hands of those we love. And these things leave marks on our lives.
If we’ve been hurt a lot, it’s understandable that we start to become more tentative around people, or build walls to protect us from being hurt again. If we’ve been betrayed, it’s natural to start to lose trust in people, and fear these same things happening again.
All of the pain we’ve felt leads to insecurities, and we all have them. We all have some sort of damage that we carry with us into our future relationships.
The danger here is, if we aren’t careful the damage we carry with us can poison our future relationships and end up causing the exact situation we are trying to avoid.
If you’ve been betrayed and find it difficult to trust, that lack of trust can lead you to see threat in situation that don’t warrant it; and that lack of trust can drive people away.
If you’ve been abandoned that fear of abandonment can make you hold on too tightly, pushing people away. Or it can cause you to remain distant, preventing close attachments from developing.
There are all sorts of things we can do that sabotage our relationships; and while they may be understandable to those who know our histories that doesn’t mean they are healthy or acceptable behaviors.
The absolute worst thing you can do is say “this is just who I am”. It’s not up to our partners to accommodate us. To a degree they need to, but it’s also on us to try and heal ourselves, to be “better”.
We need to try and be self-aware and look at ourselves. Try to understand what we are bringing into our relationships that is causing harm. Because it’s only when we recognize and accept that damage that we can start to change it.
It’s a lot easier said than done though.
I’ve always thought of myself as someone who is fairly self-aware and emotionally healthy. I realize I’m affected by my experiences and I think I understand what my own insecurities are.
Yet even still I have times that I catch myself doing things and/or saying things that at some level I *know* are counterproductive to what I want. I know these things are self-defeating, but like turning your head to watch the scene of an accident, it’s hard to stop.
I’ve written many times that I don’t believe in “meant to be”. I believe life presents us with opportunities, and it’s up to us to determine what we want to do with them. So it’s especially frustrating when we do things that undermine those opportunities when they are presented. When we don’t give ourselves the best chance to succeed.
One of my current favorite bands is Editors, and in their song Bones they have the following line:
In the end all you can hope for
Is the love you felt to equal the pain you’ve gone through
I think there’s a lot of truth there. As I said, we’ve all been hurt. We’ve all been disappointed. We are all damaged in some way.
But it’s up to us to recognize that damage, and accept that it’s part of us. And while it may be part of our past, it doesn’t have to shape our future.
9 thoughts on “We are all Damaged”
I think I’m unclear about something. Why is “this is just who I am” the worst thing we can say?
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I probably should have explained myself better there. But my take on this one is related to my beliefs on nature/nurture:
When we talk about identity, and ask the question “who am I”, often there are a number of things that people believe are just “who they are”, while in reality they are learned behaviors. They may have been ingrained for so long that they are very difficult to change, but they many things are still learned – and can be unlearned.
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with “learned helplessness”, but to me when someone is throwing up their hands and saying “this is just who I am” then they are often showing learned helplessness – which is really unhealthy.
The paradox in my mind is, people need to be able to accept themselves for who they are before they are actually able to change. But change is important. We should always be striving to grow, and improve, and become more “healthy” as individual. And I don’t think that can happen if someone just says “this is who I am”.
I think it’s important to accept ourselves, and accept that this is who I am – right now. But who I have been yesterday and today doesn’t have to be who I am tomorrow.
I’m not suggesting anyone will go through major changes and become a totally different person. But recognizing that my issues are mine, and owning them allows me to not expect someone to accommodate me all the time.
If not, think about something like trust. Lets say you’ve been betrayed/hurt in the past, and as a result you have issues trusting people and letting them in. Those trust issues are justified – there is a reason they are there.
But there’s also a really good chance that those same issues from a persons past are doing a lot of damage to their current/future relationships.
Recognizing those trust issues are my own, and then looking at how they negatively impact my relationships is something that would be up to me to do.
Yeah, it’s great to have a partner who understands where they have come from and will be considerate of them. At the same time, if I’m not working through those things then those issues will damage relationships with people who haven’t actually done anything to violate that trust.
Not sure if any of that makes any sense?
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My ex used to say it to me when I would ask him to be more affectionate with me. It was the equivalent of saying “Like it or lump it.” He wasn’t willing to try to change a behavior even when I told him I was feeling unloved. Then he said if I wanted to be loved all the time, I should get a dog. Not something I would recommend saying to your spouse…
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Um, no. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with “The 5 Love Languages”, written I believe by Graham Chapman.
In it, he talks about how we all have a primary love language (as well as a secondary), and how it’s important that we understand our partners as well. Because it’s natural to try and love someone the way we want to be loved (that’s what works for us). However if we can’t understand our partners love language and try to love them in that way (even if it’s not as natural for us), then we often end up with disconnection and unhappiness in our relationships.
The key to me in reading that was, there isn’t just one way to love. And “my” way may not be the only way. It’s great if you can find someone who shares your love language, and when you do it’s pretty easy. If not, a bit more effort is involved to make things satisfying for both people.
I do understand what you are saying. The thing I ask when I think about this though is, where’s the line between “this is really who I am” and “this is who I am and I’m trying to grow and change”?
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Hah, I’ve spent A LOT of time thinking about and writing about that. I did a series of posts on identity a few years back, where it was kind of me looking at that.
Growing up I was pretty quiet/introverted. I spent a lot of time reading and drawing, and didn’t really play sports. I kind of hated gym class, because I was pretty awful and was self conscious about that.
Then in later high school some of my buddies started playing basketball. I did it with them, just to try and fit in. I was pretty terrible at first, but stuck with it. By university I wasn’t bad, and basketball started to dominate my life while things like drawing and reading fell into the background.
Years ago my sister tried to get me back into drawing as she felt I had an aptitude for it. She told me I stopped being true to myself when I got into sports.
So, who am I?
Now some context. Growing up, I was in a household where sports weren’t pushed or encouraged. So of course I didn’t get into them. And I disliked gym not primarily because I was so awful at it.
So how much is “what I really am” and how much is “who I learned to be”?
My personal belief – sure, there may be elements of us that are part of our core personalities. But MUCH of who/what we are is learned.
I’ve never been an outdoorsy/camping kind of guy. Why? I never did it. Now the thought of tenting doesn’t hold great appeal (give me a hotel any day), but had it been part of my childhood I may have a different perspective.
For me, I’m not sure who I really am. There are all sorts of side to me, and some of them may even contradict each other at times. But all of them are still me.
A buddy of mine gave me the analogy of a cut gemstone. Some people see one facet of me, others see a different facet. People who know me better will see more facets, but none of those facets is ME. I’m the whole gemstone. And in the case of people, new facets are always being added.
One more thought on this…
sometimes I hear of people who are afraid to “lose themselves”. Those tend to be the people who are most concerned about growth and change.
I would argue that often, those people who are scared to lose themselves are people who don’t really know who they are in the first place. So they hold onto some facet of themselves and say “this is me”. But it’s not. It’s just a part of them, and they can still be “them” even as they evolve.
I REALLY love what you said about about how you don’t really know who you are. Why are people so afraid to admit that? And when people figure out things that ARE part of who they are, why do they fight it? I have seen that occur a lot recently. Sometimes forcing change and trying to be your idea of what’s right can prove to be just as bad as not willing to change.
Growth is good. Looking at things from many perspectives is good. Being confused and unsure is good. Accepting things about yourself that arent likely going to change much is good. We’re all in transition right? Like, we always will be.
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One of the coolest things (for me) that we have learned about brain development is how it developed by what it is surrounded by. This is something that occurs through out life.
The cool thing about mankind is our ability to create our environment …therefore directly influence our brains.
We have the ability to chose what will influence us and change us.
People who chose “this is the way I am” ultimately are saying no to growing in any other way.
And, that is a totally different trait about mankind …our emotional response, our defensiveness, our laziness.
A lot of times those things are the influence that we would rather chose.
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