Letting it Go: When Compromising Becomes a Loss of Identity

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It’s two days until my trip to Vancouver and recently, there’s this wave of calmness that has washed over me. I don’t know where it came from and I’m not complaining at all. Calm is much preferred over anxiety if you ask me. But there’s some sort of inkling that things will fall into place in my favor and I just began to trust that the closer it gets to the day I leave. That I will get the higher position I want in the company I work for, and I will find an apartment that’s around my budget. That things will be okay. Things will be better than okay. Something in me knows that now and I’m trusting that that part of me knows more than my anxious scattered mind.

A woman I have a lot of respect for that works as part of the head department for the company and now my current store, came to me with all of the support and advice she could offer. She told me something people have been telling me for years and yet sometimes, certain things don’t seem to click right away…and then one day, they do. She told me to stop doubting myself, that I have a lot to offer and to show people that. That’s something I need to start bringing to the table, instead of my worries and fears.

So today, I wanted to talk about compromising and what it means in terms of your own sense of self and what it means within relationships. (I swear this will all tie together, just bear with me.)

I used to think that love came in fragments. That it was a waving motion that swept in and out of your life. That you had to match the current to stabilize it; to make it last longer. What I’ve understood lately is that love is already constant on its own. I’ve realized that any heart that beats is a heart that loves (whether we choose to admit it and be open about it, or not.)

But I’ve only recently understood that, which means that for most of my life, I tried to match any tide that wanted to wash over me. But I always found my own tide to be bigger. It would take over and consume the other, and more often than not, it would consume me with it.

One of my greatest fears has always been that I’ll be the one who cares too much, loves too much and feels too much. That no one else in my life had proven that they had the same extent of sensitivity that I did. I was always more intense with everything I did, meaning that I learned most of my boundaries by crossing them seventeen times.

So what exactly do I mean by believing that I had to match someone else’s tide? In less airy-fairy terms, I wanted to match someone else’s energy. Since I was drawn to people who seemed to not care about me very much, I decided that I would also be distant, withdrawn, and cold. Obviously on the inside, there was a lot more going on, but I got very good at my poker face. I got very good at making people believe that I didn’t feel anything at all. I wonder if at the time, they were pretending, too.

As the years went on, I wasn’t just drawn towards the cold, the distant, and the withdrawn. I was drawn towards people who were actually quite the opposite. Very affectionate, open and loving. People who were like the real me. It wasn’t something I was all that used to and I came to the conclusion one day, that I had forgotten how to not pretend. It felt like I had already done all this work to create this persona. I was tough, cold, unreliable, and often, in control. The case was no longer matching other tides, reciprocating what I received, but somewhere along the line, this was just who I became to my external world.

There are certain points in my life that I felt I had compromised too much of myself. That I gave in to what other people wanted from me and became the person that people wanted me to be. If I’m being completely honest, I felt pretty powerful at that time. It felt like for once, I wasn’t seen as weak, sensitive, and overly emotional, which was considered a terrible thing for a woman to be. I mean, how awful is it to be such a girl? No, I wanted to embody more of a masculine persona. It felt a lot more CEO and a lot less 90’s Soap Opera. (Don’t worry, the feminist in me is cringing right now at my old frame of thought)

I think compromise looks different for everyone which is why it can be so confusing. What I’ve understood as compromising is losing myself by being consumed of what another wants of me. I got so tired of being walked on and “compromising” that I became something entirely different. But what I never understood was that compromise didn’t mean admitting defeat or completely losing my own identity. It didn’t mean having to lose respect for myself that took me years to gain or just attain. Switching out to the person who is cold, distant, and withdrawn doesn’t mean you are strong. It’s usually just a mask for fear. And knowing me, I had…and still have, a lot of it.

I don’t know what meeting halfway looks like just yet. It’s something I’m still figuring out within friendships and romantic relationships. I’m starting to think that maybe it means something different for each relationship you have, for each person who is in your life. I realized that what I thought was compromise was just letting my loyalty become a sort of slavery. And when I embodied a more “masculine” sort of identity, I just wanted to reverse roles.

I think to understand what compromise really means within us and our relationships, we have to first align ourselves. What I mean by that is to understand who you are and who you are not. There’s this feeling of balance and calm that you get when you feel like the person you are with those close to you, matches the person you are on the inside. This alignment, this authenticity, and this understanding of your value and respect are the tools you need for anything that comes your way. And so when we find ourselves in another relationship, we won’t feel inclined to lose ourselves in it, nor will we not show up for it at all. We’ll just get to be and let the other be. Maybe that’s what compromise really is, simple and complicated.

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Recreating What We Know: A Word on Partners, Lovers, and Friends

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I’ve written a lot about friendships in terms of how relationships evolve, dissolve, flourish, and end, but I haven’t spoken too much about romantic relationships here, so I thought I might give that a go today. I’ll talk a bit about the ones I’ve had, but to do that, I have to first explain the one my parents had as I was growing up, because if I have learned anything from my degree in psychology and my own personal experience, it’s that we have a tendency to recreate the relationships that have always existed in our lives.

I think you can have many different relationships with the same person. I think that for a relationship to last, you kind of have to. Because, as you change and grow and as your partner changes and grows, it doesn’t make sense for the relationship to remain the same. The relationship I grew up seeing wasn’t exactly the healthiest. It was two people who didn’t like each other very much, two people who had fallen out of love, but stayed together for the sake of the family. Our home was divided in such a way that we lived as roommates. My mom, my sister and I were our own family; my dad and his mom who had come to live with us, had their own. Sometimes we would have interactions, usually, they’d end in arguments where one of us always left the house…or got kicked out.

The next day, we would all pretend it didn’t happen. We would go on, without any further discussion. We were all trained well on avoiding any form of confrontation because, in our experience, it just led to more anger, pain, and resentment. Growing up, my dad made it pretty clear that he wanted no part in my life, other than the occasional power over my decisions. I accepted it, but only because I was a kid and really had no other choice. I remember moments I’d beg my mom to leave him, but she never did. Sometimes she would for a short period, but she’d always come back and forgive him or ask for forgiveness because she was reminded that it was typically her fault. I watched their on-and-off-again marriage, understanding that this was what love must look like. I decided that there had to be another way and I’d figure it out.

And then I got into my own relationships…with a GREAT amount of reluctance. The first (real) one being an on-and-off-again toxic partnership: shocker. We fought every day and I felt lucky I found someone who was able to ignore it the next day like it had never happened. He didn’t like confrontation as much as me. I’d walk away from him over and over, but then I’d always come back. He did the same. I usually ate up the blame, and he reminded me that he loved me and also that no other man would be able to do such a thing.

There’s this sense of worth and value that I was missing. One that I didn’t understand I needed to have in the first place. I thought that I was lucky if someone loved me, because they’d likely be the only one who ever could. I was lost, reckless, sensitive and withdrawn. And I came with a lot of baggage. I wonder now, if my mom had felt the same.

But then something changed the script because something always does. When our relationship ended (for good), I came to understand that relationships could end. That when someone walks away, they don’t necessarily have to come back. It’s such an obvious thing, but it never screwed into my head properly. The second thing I learned is that there was a point I got tired of fighting, so I decided I would be the “chill” girlfriend. The one who shrugged off anything that would typically lead us into heavy arguments…and it worked, for a while. I learned that you had to remain quiet as a woman in order for your relationship to last. It was a compromise, I told myself.

But what you learn doesn’t necessarily have to be true. I compromised most of myself to hold any relationship afterward. Friendships, partners, anyone. The reward was that I got to have very long-lasting relationships with people; the con was that they were inauthentic and would always end…typically when I was tired of pretending. I was a volcano waiting to erupt but no one would see it coming. Healthy, right?

I thought I was changing the script that I had learned growing up. That I found a loophole, a way out. A way to stop the arguments, the walking out and coming back. But holding my truth may not have affected the other person so much during our friendship or relationship, but it ate me up inside slowly. That really, even though I had found a way out of one negative factor I watched growing up, I kept another. I avoided confrontation at all costs.

When my relationship ended, I woke up realizing that I knew nothing about myself. That I didn’t even know what I liked, what I disliked, who I was. That when I stopped arguing with him, I also stopped listening to myself.

It’s been a long time since that moment and I’ve definitely come a long way. But I get it now, how easy it is to fall into the patterns we watched growing up. How when we take on those patterns, we attract people who will fall into them, just like we did.

It’s a learned habit to recreate what we have always known because it’s familiar, even if it’s not pleasant. We know the script well, even if we don’t like it. And I think there’s something about familiarity that we’re always going to be drawn to. Lucy Quin once said, “We revisit old feelings for the same reason we re-read books – comfort in words familiar even though we know the endings.” Familiarity feels like home and even if home is chaos, it’s still home.

And maybe to break the patterns, we have to fantasize about a new home and repair parts of ourselves to fit into it. Because the thing is, we repeat what we don’t repair, but when patterns are broken, new worlds emerge and a new home can be built.

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The Difference Between Tough and Strong

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I like to say that I’m good at doing things on my own, probably because I am. But on the contrary, you won’t typically hear me say that I’m terrible at asking for help, especially when I need it. But that’s also true.

I’ve always been that way. When I was 7 years old, I dreamt of being an author (because I had just figured out that books were written by actual people) and let my mind escape into a future where I was my own version of wonder woman…you know, the one who wrote novels and started a non-profit organization. Oh yeah, she sang too and wrote her own lyrics and knew how to play every instrument. She was also a top secret agent who performed concerts with her girl group on the side. They were called the Soul Sisters or something along those lines. You know, realistic goals.

Even when I dreamt these things that were in collaboration with others, I dreamt that I was in charge of making things happen. Some people might translate that into a knowing that you want to be a leader of some sorts, but what I’ve wondered about is whether its mostly because I am still not fully able to trust others.

I like things to be done a certain way and sometimes, I think that I’m the only person who is able to accomplish what it is that I need. I know, I know, it’s a little egotistical…or a lot. But what it comes from is not having a stable sense of support growing up and so I got used to this assumption in my head that reminded me that people were unreliable. You have yourself in this world and no one else. The message was pretty clear and pretty true when I was growing up…and then I hit the real world. Then I moved out of my parents home. Then I was introduced to a whole new set of faces and personalities. But I always remembered what I learned. I always remembered that whoever these people were, they were not to be relied on.

It was only recently that I came to realize that this is a very lonely way to walk through your life. To place this assumption that you ingrained in yourself since childhood, and now seem to apply to everyone else around you and anyone you will ever meet. To believe that you have a right to help others but they don’t get that same chance with you. It’s a very ‘tough’ person thing to do, but what I now want is not to be a tough person. I’d rather be a strong person, instead.

The difference between being tough and strong is the amount of vulnerability you offer from within yourself. I’ve gotten used to being tough because I didn’t know there was even a difference. Tough meant I didn’t want to look weak, so I didn’t show my emotions. Tough meant I put a big smile on my face every day and buried the truth deep inside of me until even I couldn’t see it anymore. Tough meant that even my closest of friends knew nothing about me. Tough meant that I lived through a representative, instead of who I actually was.

I’ve come to understand that strength looks a lot different than this. Strength means opening yourself up to connection. It means saying your truth. It means letting people in. It means trusting those who have shown up time and time again. It means letting people show up for you in the first place.

I thought that to be strong meant that I had to do it on my own, but really it means the exact opposite. I’m still learning, I’m still trying to catch myself in these moments. But I think that understanding the difference helped. And when that voice inside me screams that people aren’t reliable, I remind it that I am learning how to distinguish the truth of that. Because, as Brene Brown says, “When you first start trying to be vulnerable, people are going to freak out and there will be pushback. You will scare some people. But vulnerability is a great filter. If people can’t accept your vulnerability, they don’t deserve your trust.” Meaning that all of this is not to say that I am suddenly trusting of all humans that walk this planet, but I’m practicing sharing with people who have earned the right to hear my story. I’m practicing allowing them to show up. I’m practicing this whole connection thing that I’ve strained away from for most of my life.

What I’m beginning to realize is that I may have been missing out before, because the more I practice, the more I know it’s worth it.

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