Baby steps for a recovering (mental) child

I used to do anything to avoid conflicts. I enlisted every arsenal I could find to not cause any upsetting moment for anybody. I said yes when I disagreed, I remained silent when I had a strong opinion, I avoided meeting someone when I felt I had to face him or her, and I did not share personal issues with others when I was going through ups and downs of life.

I desperately wanted to keep the world smooth. Even though I had always been a “drifter” in my life as a member of an expatriate family and later as a nomad, or maybe because of those experiences, I was always looking for a sense of stability within myself or with people close to me. I was a walking contradiction: fluid in how I lived beyond borders/cultures, rigid in how I perceived human interactions.

In the end I became numb for “soothing” too many feelings of my own, and some precious relationships also disappeared because I (or often, we) suffocated for trying to “pin down” our connections which were intrinsically dynamic.

I am currently on a recovery path from that hopeless scenario, and would like to summarize what I have been through so far. Hopefully it will offer some perspective…for me, to begin with.

Step 1: Acknowledge feelings—all of them. I started to catch whatever emotions the moment they occurred. I abandoned selective acceptance (labeling feelings or emotions as good, bad, or ugly and picking only the good ones) and decided to welcome everything on board. The point was not just to feel everything, but also to be okay with it. No judgement, no harsh feeling, no euphoria. Just acknowledge whatever existed, that was it.

It was painful at first and frankly, I would have preferred to feel more happiness. After decades of burying my emotions, the immediately recognizable feelings left were mostly that of pain and sorrow and fear, which were protected by my primitive survival instinct no matter what. I had to start somewhere, and that was to grab low-hanging fruit.

Step 2: Stick to what I feel. Every time my thoughts flew over to what other people felt or thought or did, I gently pulled my consciousness over to myself. If the focus was on someone else’s action, I refocused it to my reaction or perception. It wasn’t about what he/she/they did: It was about what and how I felt.

At times I thought I was trapping myself internally with a bag full of emotional sxxt, but escaping over to what others did, which I had zero control or accuracy, wasn’t the solution either. I believe every human interaction is about acknowledging the energy that exists between each other, and if I do not recognize my own, nothing would materialize. I had to keep facing myself to the end.

Step 3: Express feelings on the spot. My lifetime of playing the nice-card led me to automatically delay emotional reactions (especially when they were uncomfortable), which often changed into resentment or indirect attacks internally or outwardly.

Now that I acknowledged feelings (Step 1) and learned to face it (Step 2), it was time for me to start expressing my reactions on the spot. The good news was that I did not necessary had to face someone. I only had to express, and therefore when reactions were too strong, I shouted into the john, wrote a letter that was never sent, kept writing journals, or exercised mindfully until I gained a perspective.

I still occasionally bursted out my reactions too bluntly to people who opened their hearts to me, because—let’s admit—I could, but as I kept connecting with them with sincere attitude, interestingly things resolved on their own terms. When connections did break apart, they were already broken at that point; I simply revealed the truth. (Note to myself: Nevertheless, these incidents should never be taken as an excuse or justification for my behavior.)

I am still on the road to recovery and there may be more steps to take and retake, but overall it has been an extremely powerful journey to get in touch with whatever existed inside me. I also feel incredibly lucky to be with my dear people, and I hope I can reciprocate their compassions and understanding by doing the same for anybody.

Does the above sound too much like one of the thousands of feel-good online articles? No, it doesn’t “sound like.” It is. It is truly humbling to realize that I followed such a predictable pattern of human behaviors despite taking pride in my uniqueness. We might be different, but we are all alike. But that also means hope: as long as I stick to the track, I should be able to keep recovering, also predictably.