“I believe in you so much I could die from the words that you say”
Many people are not familiar with the term Baby Tough. It was born on a Christmas day some 5 or 6 years ago in Portland, Oregon. There was no manger or baby Jesus, but there was inclement weather and some wandering about. There was also a degree of deafness, or on another level, someone not being heard. I am the deaf one, and having been tested, again, this past summer it was confirmed, again, that some pricey hearing aids might be in my future, to go along with the lip reading I am doing now. Or, I can just keep nodding yes when people ask me things I don’t understand and wind up with yet another pet lama. That Christmas day, my long term beau and I were wandering about in a cold gray misty rain. At the time Portland was under consideration for my move out west. The spitting cold weather was how San Diego won, hands down. My beau, a delicate flower of a man, being an avid athlete had no body fat to keep him warm and I was fretting he was uncomfortable. I asked to see how frozen he was and he replied not to worry he was “Navy tough.” What I heard however, was “Baby Tough.” We laughed pretty hard at that, both of us knowing it was closer to the truth.
I believe most human beings have three things in common. We want to be seen, we want to be heard and we want to know that we matter. There are times when, even though I really try to listen, and am hearing what someone is saying, I still don’t hear the person. And I know that people around me have had the same experience. I grew up in a house where if my feelings got hurt and I let it be known, or I expressed a need or want I was shut down. Using my words was not welcome in my home. I don’t think I am alone in my twisty flawed logic on love, self-worth and this legacy of seen but not heard, but that is not the point. The point is: as much as I wanted to hear what that man had to say I didn’t. What is equally important is that I learned down the road that I also needed the freedom to say what I wanted and needed and to be heard.
My childhood taught me that I would be punished for expressing my needs; my parents would withdraw affection and attention, essentially ignoring my existence. Being compliant and going along meant I was loved, which was a strong incentive for me. If one of my parents disappointed or hurt me, my saying anything would result in excommunication. Unfortunately, I continued to reinforce this belief in my adulthood, so I sometimes chose other people to act as my parent’s proxies when my parents were no longer part of my life on a daily basis. Nope, I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
As an adult I came to understand that my folks felt overwhelmed and judged by me asking for my needs to be met, even though, as we know, that is what a child does. But my folks had fragile psyche’s, both of them coming from homes with no role models. And even though I was asking, not telling them, they saw me as judging or perhaps even trying to change them. Really, I just wanted to be heard and know I mattered. Expressing a want or need is not an act of emotional terrorism. Any relationship needs a good level of communication and negotiation but these were not tools my folks were adept at so pushing me away was the easiest form of relationship management. It took a long time for me to see that sometimes when we express our needs that those around us can take it as criticism, and are hurt by our words.
I know that to be true because, I have had those I love express their needs or hurt feelings to me and it hurt like hell. Was it my intention to hurt them? Generally not, most of the time I am oblivious to my transgressions unless they are pointed out to me. When my “bad” behavior is pointed out, my first stop on the crazy bus is, “I am a horrible person and a colossal f-up. The second stop on the CB Express is, “You are such a pain in the ass, and I am tired of dealing with people.” Then, the pendulum swings back and forth, again and again. It finally settles when I put the comment into context and look at what expectations were set and my part of the miscommunication, and we go forward from there, or not. This can take minutes or years, depending on my partner in crime. What I do know is that not saying what I need, in any relationship, leads to resentment and an implosion because nobody can be aware of their impact on me without me using my words. Punishing someone for something they don’t know they’ve done only robs them of the chance to address it. It is like playing a game with someone who you don’t tell the rules to and getting mad when they don’t play right.
On another note, I am not interested in changing anyone. I have enough crazy with what I have growing in my own backyard, thank you very much. I trust those around me to let me know what they need and want when it comes to our relationship. My job is not to read minds or guess, they have words and it is their responsibility, as it is mine, to use those words. When younger, I wouldn’t do that and I would get furious with people for taking advantage of me, for the way they hurt my feelings and for lots of other grave transgressions. The first part of that bad is: nobody does anything to us that we don’t take part in or give permission to, after the first time a transgression is done. The second part of that bad is: I didn’t realize that not telling someone how I felt was setting him or her up for failure. When my anger got too big I would either explode all over them, recounting every past bad deed, or walk away. As I got older I realized I was doing to others what my parents had done to me. Yes projection is a twisty tool in this play too; we forget that sometimes what we dislike most in others is rooted in ourselves.
Now, if I want someone to know how I feel, I tell them in as kind a way as I can. It is still a terrifying prospect and causes major anxiety, because history shows that some folks will still walk away from me, deciding life is better without an exuberant redhead. I need to honor where they are, and let it go. I also probably suck at expressing myself and being vulnerable, but life for me is about practice and trying to get better. It is also about being authentic. I get mixed results in expressing the good, the bad and the crazy: some folks deflect it, some ignore it, and some folks even leave, but most folks agree to talk about what is going on and try to find a middle ground. What I know is, if I don’t express why I am mad or hurt I don’t give the other person a chance to show up for me, to fix or reject what is happening. They don’t have to do anything but hear me, see me and maybe let me know I matter. I can do the same in return for them as best I can. Not doing this fragile, vulnerable dance means that personal relationships only get about as deep as a Frisbee. And we know that personal relationships are meant to be messy, joyous, painfully chaotic waves that crash into us on a daily basis. It is not like I have not played all the roles in this twisted little play, I have, and it makes me all too aware of my short comings. But I manage to find strength in that each time I step out I try my best. What I know now is that in reality, all of us are only Baby Tough. We all are thin-skinned, hopeful and terrified that we might be seen, heard and know that we matter… talk about a crazy making system, huh?