Instead of New Year's Resolutions, I'm Making New Year's Revelations
Much has been written about the issues with New Year’s resolutions. From toxic positivity to encouraging unrealistic expectations, there are many reasons to avoid them. I myself gave up on them because I am a recovering perfectionist and people pleaser, and giving myself just one more thing that I might not be able to accomplish tends to fuel my negative, overthinking brain with all the ways in which I’m some kind of failure.
But I do like the idea of taking stock of what I’ve learned throughout the year and how those insights might fuel my growth in the new year. Tis’ the season for lists, but this is a list of my revelations for 2021. A top five, if you will, of the most profound things that grew out of my continued healing journey and therapy. I hope they inspire you as much as they have inspired me.
1. You may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the right people will love you for everything that you are.
After parting ways with my ex therapist, I struggled in the early part of this year with feeling like I don’t matter. It took a lot of work with my current therapist to recognize that I do matter…to the right people. And sometimes people’s behavior toward you actually has nothing to do with anything you did wrong and more to do with them — something I have struggled with my whole life as I just assume I’m at fault or that there’s something fundamentally wrong with me.
2. Maybe the goal isn’t to be happy all of the time…
Because that’s unrealistic, but to be able to ride the waves of all of our emotions, including grief and sadness, without judging ourselves as being a failure for having those feelings.
I grew up being told not to be mad or sad because I’d upset those around me. You can’t eliminate one set of feelings without adversely affecting how you experience others. If we want to feel joy we must feel sadness too. And, the idea that I have control over someone else’s feelings is flat out wrong. Contrary to my belief, I do not possess the super powers of mind alteration. (Big bummer)
3. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.
To be honest, this is a work in progress. I continue to struggle with guilt over putting my own needs over those of others. But… I spent a lot of time trying to come to terms with boundaries — how to set them, how to maintain them and how to make peace with them.
Brene Brown has been my “boundary angel” if you will. In her book “Atlas of the Heart” she says “We can’t connect with someone unless we are clear about where we end and they begin.” She reminds us that setting boundaries isn’t just about telling the other person what’s not OK. We have to state what is OK clearly because “clear is kind.”
In an interview she did on Glennon Doyle’s podcast, she simplifies it even further…”I have to limit my time with people that demand that hypervigilance including people I love.” That hit me like a ton of bricks and really helped reframe boundaries as less of a punishment and more of an act of self-love. I may still need some work around this one, but the foundation that this gives me has helped me feel less selfish about the idea.
4. Sometimes the absence of something (emotional neglect) can be just as harmful as overt abuse.
Particularly when it comes to our parents when we were children.
In her book “Running on Empty,” Dr Jonice Webb defines the ways in which different types of emotional neglect can adversely affect adult children, and why it’s important to acknowledge the damage without blaming a parent in order to begin to heal from it. This was a powerful book for me because I often had difficulty figuring out how my mom’s covert incest and enmeshment could have affected me so much. I felt a deep sense of shame at holding her accountable for my problems, because I know it wasn’t intentional. And yet she continues to trigger me and when I’m around her I feel like I’m right back to being the overprotective, overly responsible little girl I was who had to protect her mommy at all costs.
Being able to say “what she did wasn’t right and she didn’t know any better” and comprehending that “it’s on her to do her own work to heal herself” freed me up to focus my attention on the healing I need to do. The responsibility for my healing is in my court, even if I resent it and it makes me angry that I have to do it. Acknowledging those feelings is also part of the journey.
5. Intimacy isn’t just about sex.
Discovering the myriad ways in which we can experience pleasure is as important as anything else in terms of figuring out how to reclaim our sexuality after childhood sexual abuse or assault.
Admittedly this one is still hard for me. I have to navigate my triggers and shame response to sex, but I’m slowly learning how to enjoy the connection and stop putting pressure on myself in terms of some kind of “normal” frequency or duration for sexual experiences. Reading Emily Nagoski’s “Come As You Are” and listening to copious podcasts and interviews with Esther Perel have given me a lot of food for thought regarding the ways in which my abuse was made so much more detrimental by my mothers objectification of my body and the ways in which a patriarchal society influence how women see their value as sexual objects. Disentangling what I want from what I think is expected of me is really where the work is. And understanding that saying no is a perfectly valid response no matter what has been invaluable.
And a bonus one: Having a trustworthy therapist who is there to guide you in a caring boundaried way… priceless. Really, she’s a gem, and I’m extremely grateful to have her after winning the bingo of bad therapy with my ex.
Here’s to a 2022 filled with continued growth through adversity and acceptance that healing isn’t linear. It takes patience, time and even some set backs — all of which simply remind us that we are human and deserve some grace and self-compassion. I wish you an enlightened new year, not just a happy one.
Getty image by Crispin la valiente