Feeling good isn’t quite what it seems.
Hello. My name is Chris Jamison. I may be familiar to those of you who have called into the Human Potential Center offices, more than likely to share something with Bob, but got a different voice on the phone than Bob’s pleasant and outgoing tone.
You would have heard me answer the phone because I am helping out with the center on a nearly-daily basis, mostly with office and Human Potential Center related tasks. So far my volunteering has been a relaxing, yet involved due to the ever-shifting demands of helping Bob with the non-profit. I seem to always go into the office, expecting to do one set of tasks, but am needed to abandon them and go in another direction just because the responsibilities of the day require that. If ‘variety is the spice of life’ as a wise person once said, my life is very well seasoned indeed.
While I am new to the Center, I have been dealing with issues relating to emotional therapy and growth since experiencing the death of my mother nearly 14 years ago.
At that time I was in college and trying to be an average, impulsive, carefree, fun-seeking twenty-one year old, but I would tend to sabotage my wishes for happiness by having friendships which weren’t mutually satisfying, being dependent on manipulating my circumstances to avoid painful reactions or over-reactions to people I felt threatened by, and the general insecurity that comes from being an adolescent and not knowing exactly how to accept myself and my flaws and dignity and ensure that I am respected and affirmed by those close to me without appearing rigid or clingy.
When my mother died, I had no idea how to process or describe what I was feeling. I felt grief, only I didn’t know that was what I was feeling, and it wasn’t only for the loss of my mother. I felt anguish about not succeeding in school, having receiving the attention and love I thought I was entitled to from my friends and family, and about not grieving about my mother ‘normally’. I just felt numb and crippled with a sense of loneliness that broke my spirit and faith.
I tried some of the more common but unhealthy methods to feel good: recreational drugs and alcohol. However while they worked sporadically, the more I used them the less pleasure I felt and the more self-deluded and isolated I became. So after a relatively brief time living that lifestyle, I stopped and tried to live a more sober lifestyle. I didn’t think I was an ‘addict’ because the amount of my drug use was relatively short and that admission was too painful at the time, so I never really sought out 12-step meetings. I just kept to myself and did my best to stay away from people who actively abused drugs and alcohol. This did make me feel somewhat ‘good’.
I tried to adopt a new spiritual practice, so I read a few books on Taoism. I wasn’t exactly sure what knowledge books like the Tao were trying to impart, so I didn’t follow up on that, but I did stumble upon some books on Buddhism and the idea of emotional or physical unburdening or ‘enlightenment’ seemed more familiar and intuitive so I read a number of books on Buddhism over the next few years. While the calm and accepting and inclusive and honest and open themes in the books soothed me, I think it was the emphasis on my immediate and present circumstances and the benefit of accepting myself and nurturing my capacity for love and kindness rather than aiming to act good for God to get to Heaven for the good of God over my own feelings was a message I needed so badly I didn’t even realize that it was what I was searching for since I was young. I did feel ‘good’ from stepping away from the faith I was raised on and listening to my heart and tending to my needs.
However, I still had a lot of old, established patterns of behavior and relating and responding ot others that was either unknown to me or that I hadn’t developed an awareness for so I ceased reading the books. I felt okay for a period of time afterwards. I guess the inertia of the messages and teachings in the Buddhism was still fresh and alive in me and that I had a renewed interest and connection to my emotional life.
Then I ended up in what was the most trying, difficult, and destructive relationship I had ever been in. He was a newly-sober addict and I thought my empathy and study of kindness in Buddhism could make a difference, so I befriended him. We grew somewhat close, but he is a fundamentally different person from me. I had wanted a friend and so I thought if I exposed him to things that interest me, he would become interested on his own and I would have felt the good in myself for caring that I hadn’t felt in a very long time since I had stopped strongly caring for myself. I ended up violating many of the limits I told myself I would never break and coming into contact with attitudes and opinions that I found hostile, disrespectful, and abusive at times. I thought if I just cared more he would change. What I realized instead at the time and more clearly over time is that I was enabling his careless and hostile and unhealthy behavior and that I was using my identity as a ‘super-caring’ person in co-dependent capacity to make up for the caring and I love I didn’t give to myself. While I had stopped using drugs, I had found that I had used this relationship as my escape and unhealthy coping strategy with my lack of self-care and self-love.
I had felt it at the time, but I realized that over the years I formed opinions and attitudes towards my family of origin that led me to rebel against the sense of responsibility and self-reliance that in some ways isolated me when I was younger. At that time I thought that needing a friend who was self-reliant and independent (At least as I term it. Honestly, I can say that I can at times unwittingly follow bad examples in the name of tradition. Not my best trait, but I’m working on it.) was a recipe for loneliness. However, what good could come of someone, like myself who is emotionally hurt, caring for someone else unwilling or unable to see the smothering or manipulating consequences of their ways?
I did end that relationship and focus more on talk-therapy and my relationships with my family and the reasons I have walls to them. I have joined a couple of 12-step groups, including Narcotics Anonymous. I’m not exactly the more involved member, but I do go semi-regularly and I do genuinely get a lot of emotional insight and social opportunity to care for other people who struggle with heart-breaking experiences in their past. As someone who was somewhat of a Pharisee for part of my life, it’s comforting to know that not only was I capable of a sense of growing empathy and making sincere human connections with people, and that the people I am connecting with are capable and willing and making the same strides towards health and self-acceptance as I am.
I recently have been attending a workshop the Human Potential Center is offering in assertiveness training called ‘How to be Assertive and Loving Too’ and I have to say that the workshop has been personally enriching.
I tend to struggle at times with empathizing and understanding that a lot of people have struggles and hardships and experiences with trauma and in many cases seem more difficult than the issues I have. A lot of times I don’t see past my own plight and don’t humanize other people that are noticeably struggle either by raging or being irritable or anxious. It’s hard out here and even though it seems scary to me to let people in emotionally who are in a ‘attacking’ state, it actually feels less trying or stressful than walling myself off and not feeling anything.
I have tended in the past to passively expect others to meet my emotional needs in relationships, to at best poor results. So I’ve learned a lot about not only the skills needed to actively engage stressful and important situations in relationships but also about how my lack of feeling ‘good’ has caused me to act quite selfishly and stand-offish and entitled in many social and inter-personal situations. I think I tend to look for certainty in relationships and outcomes and one theme in the classes has been to realize that while assertiveness increases the likelihood that the people we encounter in life when there is the risk of disappointment and ourselves can have mutually satisfying relationships, it is not a guarantee of that outcome. Sometimes you lose or sometimes you end up feeling all alone for putting yourself out there and not having your needs met or accepted or sadly respected. However, acting assertively does allow to you find out with a greater sense of certainty how the other person feels or is willing to treat you and like in many situations in life, the rest is up to you. The rest being the level of respect and acceptance and closeness that people deserve and is worth at times fighting for, although it certainly isn’t much fun to always have to fight someone to respect you.
And it does feel ‘good’ to accept and experience my emotions and be in a supportive environment to do so.
To sum up, I wanted to get across the notion that ‘feeling good’ has less to do with the experience of pleasure but more with a willingness and ability to accept your current emotions, even and especially if they are uncomfortable or you feel ashamed of them and allowing the emotions to be expressed in a healthy and affirming way.
Thanks for reading, will do again.