And where did I learn to equate going it alone with virtue?
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a coach who works with sensitive people so they can stop second-guessing, make decisions confidently and live the life they’ve always dreamed of. You can learn more about working with me here.
You can listen to this essay as audio here
Happy Sunday, Soothers. I had been torn lately on what seems like a very small decision, whether or not to go to my parents’ in the suburbs for the week of inauguration here in Washington, D.C.
Part of me felt ridiculous; I live in a residential neighborhood two miles from the Capitol, and the chances of any real danger occurring around here are slim to none. I also battled with the thought that I was letting these domestic terrorists “win” if I left my home and my city, that I needed to tough it out in my home alone during inauguration week to prove that I wouldn’t give in so easily to the despair and fear they were looking to wreak across the country.
Another part of me yearned for comfort and company. I remembered working from my desk that Wednesday, looking up at the news and realizing suddenly what was happening, leaving my desk, and staying immobilized on the couch for the next 10 hours, glued to the TV and frantic check-ins with my friends.
As many of you who have been forced to spend the pandemic largely on your own know, being alone has both its burdens and its blessings. But being alone during a terrorist attack that’s unfolding near you is a very particular sensation of isolation.
I didn’t feel I wanted to experience that again.
As I was going back and forth on this seemingly simple decision — to accept my parents’ invitation to stay with them for a week (our safety protocols in place) or to ride out another week alone in my condo because of a sense that it was, I don’t know, braver? Tougher?, I thought back to the many times I’ve correlated toughing out a circumstance, a pain, a sadness, a reach for a goal, an experience, alone, on my own, with virtue:
- Going through a traumatic breakup in my 20s, telling everybody around me, friends and family included that I was totally fine and didn’t want to talk about it, but spending almost every morning crying in the shower
- Realizing I wanted to leave a job or a relationship, but deciding I had to figure out how to do it on my own, without admitting those desires to anybody else
- Deciding on a goal, like running a marathon or starting my business, but doing the training and the work by myself
- Experiencing bouts of anxiety or depression, but avoiding going on medication because I wanted to prove I could best them without aid
I saw a reiki healer last week as a treat to myself for my birthday, and as we talked (virtually; reiki can be performed effectively from anywhere) she gently guided me from my root chakra upwards, clearing and explaining what she saw along the way. When she got to my heart chakra, the chakra that rules our love and emotional connections and ability to give and receive, she paused.
“Now this is interesting,” she said. “Here, it’s like you have this boundless river of love pouring to everybody around you, to all of humanity, in fact. But that same river of love — it’s like, if you tried to turn it back to yourself, you would only give yourself two drops.”
I had to laugh because it was so accurate.
Why is it so hard to give ourselves the love and assistance we would willingly give out to others?
Is it because we think we don’t deserve it, or because we think it’s somehow more virtuous, more likely to be rewarded and praised because something was done with our own grit?
Or is it because at some core, deep, wounded level, we don’t think we are worthy of that help?
Or is it because we’re afraid of what will happen, how our hearts will burst open, when the love and help is given willingly?
Of how we’ll be seen, in our full, raw humanity and vulnerability, our deep and abiding neediness?
I suspect it’s a mix of all of these.
Receiving is so hard. I was thinking of this when I thought of my romantic relationship, how my boyfriend is so happy to go out of his way to do things for me that I worry are inconveniences for him. He’ll get frustrated when I say, “You don’t have to,” or ask for the tenth time, “Are you sure?”, reminding me that he’s his own person and he truly only does things he’s genuinely happy to do. He never learned along the way, I suppose, the dangerous mix up of conditional love, love given on the basis of you being able to do something in exchange for the other person, that I’ve somehow acquired, and which I think sometimes informs my basis of my fear of receiving.
I teach on what I now think of as the “receiving block” in my Intuitive Dating course; it’s one of the most surprising blocks to dating the sensitive women who take the course come up against, not realizing they’ve had it most of their lives. In one lesson of the course, I write this:
This block is one I see a lot especially in those of us conditioned as women: the ability to receive. Receive compliments; receive love; receive gifts, help, attention, and more.
We’ve been much more conditioned to see giving as the superior way of being.
It’s much easier to give and we often want to take care of everybody, to nourish them, and help them in any way we can.
Unfortunately, an inability to receive can be a serious block in dating. The very act of being in a relationship demands that you receive somebody else’s love, adoration, attention, focus. If we’re unable to do this, if we feel uncomfortable doing this, if we don’t feel worthy of these focuses, then it can be difficult to be in a relationship where somebody really wants to give you that.
Maybe for some of you, receiving kindness, love and help feels natural and easy, part of your birthright (which it is, at its core).
However, I suspect for many of you reading this, it’s a lifelong struggle, something that feels rusty and strange as we contemplate it, awkward and even a little bit bad, tinged with guilt, or resentment, or cynicism.
But as we move forward into another strange year where the only way we’ll get through is asking for and allowing in that help and those connections, I urge you to lean into softening where you can, asking where you’re able, and turning that river of love and compassion back onto yourself.
As for me, by the time you read this, I’ll be on my way to my parents’.
I don’t have to be alone, after all.
And I never was.
PS: If you want to learn to become better at receiving, that is a lesson covered more deeply in my Intuitive Dating course, enrollment open until Jan. 31st. And I talk about the effects of group coaching, and how it helps with learning to do things with the help of other humans, in a recent podcast here.