The G that comes around

The first word starting with G that comes to my mind is Gangsta. The second one is Guilt.

But guilt is also one of my oldest visitors, as I have always been an introverted perfectionist. It was always easier to take the blame myself than to look for the person that’s actually guilty. And it took me years of inner conflict to see that, more often than not, guilt is an atavism, a toxic, unnecessary emotion.

Let me be clear: unnecessary, not useless. Guilt is, in fact, a very important emotion, as it stands for our inner moral compass. We often feel guilty when we say or when we do something wrong. Something that hurts or even harms the others. Something breaking our moral principles, and probably the society’s ones as well.

This only means that guilt is an emotion with huge destructive potential, as it is so intense, and people tend to feel guilty for so many reasons. That’s how I define guilt trips: unnecessary feelings of guilt. It takes us by surprise when we decide to cut off someone or to say No, it takes over whether it is or not the case to do so.

Obviously, all feelings are valid, and no one is ever allowed to tell you what to feel or not. But guilt is a legitimate feeling in very few cases. If your words or actions are not putting anyone in danger, if you don’t harm them or become a threat to their well-being or existence, your guilt doesn’t have a reason to exist.

Actually, I have the feeling that the thing we often label as guilt is, in fact, shame. A feeling that guilt is very often coming with as a pair. Try to put I feel ashamed for instead of I feel guilty when you tell how you feel to someone else, or even to yourself, and observe how it feels. If it rings true, if it is, indeed, guilt, and not shame… Just try and pay attention to yourself, even take notes of the process in your diary, if it helps you. If anyone would ask me, I’d say we feel, 9 out of 10 times, shame. But as shame is associated with being dirty, guilt becomes a more popular substitute.

However, there is another possibility, even if darker. To feel guilt as a result of your past experiences. If you grew up in a household where you used to be the guilty one for whatever happened or to be accused because there was the easiest way for the accuser to deal with their frustration or rage, there are chances that you’ve internalized the It’s all my fault mindset, successfully applying it today. In other words, toxic environments often create grown-ups that believe that they’re to blame for whatever goes wrong in their lives. Just like in their past, when they were blamed either way.

And this is how guilt becomes a toxic, irrational feeling, instead of a legitimate one, the moral compass that helps to separate good from harmful. By being used by the powerful figures of the grown-ups as a way of dealing with their negative emotions while avoiding taking full responsibility for their actions or words.

The best thing is, however, that one can work and break-up with the toxic mechanisms learned along with life. We can set ourselves free of whatever harms us mentally and spiritually. But this only happens while working together. When we tell our friends that they’ve crossed our boundaries again. Or when we tell them how their words or actions make us feel.

It also counts as healing our old wounds when we ask ourselves Is this what am I really feeling? And if not, then what is it that I am feeling? and observing ourselves. Looking at our patterns: the type of people we feel attracted to, the kind of contexts that we find ourselves jumping into, the kind of feelings that we allow to express themselves freely.

Because what we tend to label as guilt, is rarely actually guilt, and mostly a  mixture of rage, shame, and remorse. Three very different feelings, with different triggers, but which tend to pass anonymously, being labeled as guilt.

Managing guilt trips is, as any other remarkable change, a matter of work. A matter of understanding what’s triggering the feeling, of the life experiences that root it, and of questioning one’s mechanisms. It is about asking yourself How am I acting when I feel guilty? and How can I act different and healthier, instead? It is also about questioning one’s close people, as they can see some angles which are unavailable to you.

And, as dealing with any emotion, is about understanding it, about being patient with yourself, and asking for help. For the support, a specialist could provide, and especially asking for your loved one’s support and patience. Unlearning emotional patterns is a bit harder than building them, as you’re discovering new ways of being yourself. Your real, uncontaminated from other people’s unhealed traumas, self.

The catch

For a few days, there’s a song stuck in my head. It is a man’s world, the voice sings over and over again. And I have to admit that, indeed, it is, still, a man’s world. However, this is not a title of pride, though, but a great responsibility.

Because, as a man’s world, the man also must help others. To protect them and ensure them that they can live safely on his watch. And this is a neverending task.

But there is, as always when it comes to sensitive matters, a catch. And here the catch is the fact that men are, in the beginning, boys. And boys have families. And this is the real catch: long before men have power and independence, they are boys that have families. And as a family member, you learn.

Because men and women don’t get born men and women. They become men and women as they grow up. What kind of men and what kind of women they become, that’s an answer to be found in their past as boys and girls. In their families and in the core values of those times when they were children learning.

I can’t stress enough how important family is in the journey of a boy towards manhood. It teaches him a lot. There’s a special kind of mission being a boy’s mom. You have to be always mindful of what you put on display. Of what you accept and you don’t, of what your boundaries are and how much of them are you respecting.

As a boy’s mother, you teach him how many things a girl or a woman should accept in the name of love. And that’s a terrific lesson to be taught, no matter what side of it are you.

Because there might be his father the one to teach him what you do and don’t do to a woman, but will always be the mom the one who teaches him what will a woman tolerate from a man’s actions. A woman will teach him that love can and must at times be tough, to remain healthy.

In my experience, the worst men have broken moms. Moms who were not able to do more for their sons than to reinforce old stereotypes about what a man does and, more important, what a man does not. These are the men who won’t talk about themselves. Won’t share feelings. The ones that will feel bad for seeing them crying. It is not because they don’t have any, or that they don’t care about you enough to share. It is because the little boy was punished for doing so, and after that was told that it is not manly to act that way.

There are a lot of men, of young, capable men, struggling. And they struggle hard with things they were taught that is not manly enough to talk about. Things like depression, anxiety, perfectionism, and pressure. A lot of pressure.

Because not only women have to face social pressure, it goes the same rocky way for men too. It only changes the narrative, that’s all.

If a girl is told that she has to have household skills, they’re asked to be good providers. If she has to be pretty, he has to be charismatic. And so on, until the great delusion and the burnout come to visit.

Then it comes the day when things get out of hand, and the man starts to see. He looks at himself and sees all the lies he took as truths. Every little flaw is now a sharp line, cutting his eyesight. Every little thing that pushed him further from being the man he hoped to be. Every moment when he felt like not being good enough, not man enough.

And every little thing is taken as a sign of failure. This is how, for most of them, unfolds the entry of delusion, burnout, and mental struggles. It really does not matter what is the starting point, as long as it has the speed of a forest fire.

There are other things that matter, though, and they also embody feminism. As a woman, you don’t have to be a boy’s mother to make a difference. You can be a lover, a friend, a sister, a woman that he’s trusting. We can and we have to help our men cut the struggle’s chord.

I’ve always told my male friends that being manly is just a  toxic illusion if the definition of it doesn’t match the definition of being human. That men are human beings, with human needs and feelings and they should accept and embrace them. That they don’t have to always be self-confident or to own the situations they find themselves in. That is wonderful that they are empathetic. That being insecure about your body, your skills, your career, your strong points is not something that depends on being a man or a woman, it is just part of what makes us human. All of us.

And it is also our shared responsibility to understand that, men and women as well, we’re being put in front of the same struggles. It is the time to make from this circle a safe space, where no man is bullied for being honest about how he really feels, and no woman is bullied for putting on display traits like ambition, determination, self-confidence, or other once-known-as-manly traits.

It won’t be easy, but it will be worthy because, at the end of the day, there is our shared territory, our common traits, the ground we build our foundation on. So let’s draw a circle around our people,  men or women, and allow them to feel their feelings, talk their minds, express their real selves, without fearing judgement. It is, after years and years of keeping harmful stereotypes for unwritten norms, the least we can do for their becoming. Maybe we did not, in the past, know better than this, but now we do. And we owe it to our childhood selves to do better. Because what we allow is what will continue, and what will continue will be our real legacy, not what we wished it would be.

Love, our shared battlefield

Lately, I’ve been spending more time than usual thinking about something that has always been very important to me: love. I’ve always thought that a healthy relationship can do more for a person than any personal development workshop it could possibly attend, but what does it even mean a healthy relationship anymore?

And, as always, I have started to apply my oldest method, which involves, as a first step, discovering what a healthy and loving relationship is not. And that’s a seriously long list.

First of all, a healthy relationship is not controlling.

Yes, a good partner will care about you, will ask you about your day, and will want to know about you, but s/he will do it naturally. You won’t feel interrogated or pressed. And, no, Where did you went dressed up like that?, Why are you coming home this late? or Who was calling you earlier? are not signs that your partner cares about you. They are, instead, signs of controlling behavior, and should not be ignored in the first place, or you will witness them escalating slowly but surely, as time flies.

A healthy relationship helps you grow.

And this is so important, I can’t even stress it out enough. If your partner tries to convince you to give up on your dreams or your long-time planned path for us, that’s not gonna work. A relationship where one has to sacrifice its desire for growth and evolution because the other doesn’t want more than s/he already has is a failure from beginning to an end. A good friend of mine gave up on a long time relationship because her partner disapproved of her career plans. I didn’t really understand that immediately, but  I did a few years later when I’ve been put in front of the same choice: do I want that relationship, or I want to accomplish my dreams? I’ve ended up by choosing myself, and I still would, if I would be put in front of that choice again. Because a partner which is, indeed, a good fit, won’t make you make decisions that could throw you into an inner war. For a good partner, your inner peace is just as important as its own, and your evolution is not a threat. If s/he pressures you into giving up on your education or change your career pretexting that it is for the future good of the relationship, run.

A healthy relationship won’t make you feel unworthy.

Yes, being criticized is an important part of human interactions, regardless of their kind. Somehow, you have to pay some extra attention to how your partner’s negative feedback makes you feel. If it makes you feel unworthy, not good enough or a disappointment, if it makes your self-doubt explode, there is a big chance that your relationship is a toxic one.

Toxic relationships are lasting just because one of the partners know how to constantly make the other feel guilty and ashamed.

An unhealthy relationship will always let you feel that all the fault is yours, for whatever rough corners that relationship might have. It is always you to blame, never the partner. And this is where the drama starts, as it teaches you that those are the kind of behaviors that you deserve. Needless to say, that’s one of the most obvious signs that a person has a toxic history to battle.

It won’t happen fast.

Even if this might sound counterintuitive, truth is that most of the toxic relationships have a common trait: they happen all of a sudden. You two get to know each other out of nowhere, online or maybe from some social event, that’s less important, you overshare, tend to be inseparable and, after less than a month, the first I love you is said, too. Does it sound familiar? If yes, then I’m sorry, but you have, also, a toxic past behind.

Love, true, healthy love, is rather built than found. It implies knowing each other, making sure that you share the same core values, and being friends. Yes, friends. Because when the lust is over, that’s when the actual relationship starts. And it can either be a healthy, long-time standing one if the partners took care of also befriending each other in the meantime or a living hell if there was one of those stories where the aggressor and the victim have found each other.

If there’s a truth behind all this, that is the fact that a toxic relationship is extremely hard to escape from. Even if one manages to cut ties with the toxic partner, there will remain something, usually known as the narcissistic wound to be dealt with. This usually involves low self-esteem, depression, fear of creating intimate connections with other people, and, depending on the length of the toxic relationship and the forms of the abuse experienced, might also include symptoms of PTSD. This is why, after getting out of a toxic relationship, some people tend to fall again for a partner with the same behavioral pattern as their former abuser: because, without professional help, one rarely manages to overcome all these issues on its own. And without a complete recovery, the relapse is just a matter of time.

Because, and that is something it took me a long while to see, all our relationships, and our romantic ones especially, are the reflection of one thing: the relationship we have with ourselves.

Only by improving our self-image, by understanding our inner worth and the fact that it is independent of our human interactions, we will learn to put and respect some boundaries without guilt. Of course, our toxic partners play their parts as well, but they wouldn’t get to become our partners in the first place if we weren’t toxic for ourselves. If we would be understanding and supportive when it comes to us just the way we are with our best friends. If we would keep learning and exploring, even with the risk of seeming ridiculous. If we wouldn’t just assume that we have everything figured out already. If we wouldn’t put so much unnecessary pressure on ourselves, on a daily basis.

Because, at the end of the day, any person who will ever meet you will learn how to treat you from yourself. What you allow and what you don’t, what you care about, and what are you only pretending to care about. You will teach them which are your limits, your self-worth and you will show, by the way, you treat and talk about yourself, what you’re expecting and accepting from others. So what if you’d wake up one morning and, while sipping your coffee and listening to your favorite music, would decide to actually act as positive and firmly as you talk on the Internet feed?

And to anyone out there reading this article, if you find yourself in a toxic relationship, please, PLEASE, RUN AWAY! SEEK HELP! Talk to anyone you trust about your problems, and accept any type of help you are offered. It will hurt, but you owe it to yourself to escape. You are worth living a beautiful, fulfilling life, so run as fast as you can of anyone trying to convince you that you’re not. The man that tries to make you live a life dominated by fear, guilt, and shame doesn’t love you. He won’t change. But you have to, so be brave, be bold enough, and leave. You’re gonna thank yourself later for doing so.