A Letter to My Past Self

The past 40 years have taught me some hard-fought lessons

Dear Danni (my 20th-century self),

It’s been a wild ride so far, hasn’t it? It gets wilder, but don’t be daunted. Here’s what I want you to know. If you remember these things, life won’t be any easier, but maybe it won’t seem quite so difficult anymore.
 

You Are Worthy

'Your value doesn't decrease based on someone else's inability to see your worth.' --Anonymous Click To Tweet
You have never deserved the abuse you were born into, and you did nothing to perpetuate it. You deserve to be loved and treated with respect. It’s not your fault when people don’t treat you the way you deserve to be treated. They control their behavior, and nothing you can do will change that. All you can do is control your own actions and reactions as much as possible. You cannot control another person’s behavior with your actions, and it’s not your responsibility.
 

Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

You are literally doing the best you can with what you have, which has never been much. You’re not perfect because you’re an actual human person, made of flesh, blood, bone, strengths, and weaknesses. You are constantly learning and adapting, which will serve you well throughout your life. Give yourself a break every now and then. You deserve it.
 

Stop Making Excuses for People Who Hurt You

The only thing an excuse is good for is making yourself feel better for a short time, but if you keep making them, nothing ever changes. Don’t lie to yourself about why people hurt you. Those who hurt you, especially consistently, are not worthy of the time and energy you put into explaining away their inexcusable behavior. No one has the right to mistreat you, and I won’t say “for any reason” because there’s never a reason. People who are not toxic do not abuse others, no matter what kind of day, week, month, year, or life they might be having. Eliminate negative, toxic people from your life as soon as you’re aware of them, and seek out healthier alternatives.
 

You Are Not Who They Say You Are

I know it’s tempting to listen to other people’s opinions of you, especially when they’re your parents or other people you’ve been taught to look up to, but don’t believe what they say about you. They don’t understand you, and they never will. They feel threatened by you, and they want to control you, so they have to gaslight you into believing their lies. Never listen to anyone who claims to know you better than you know yourself, even if it’s your own parent or another authority figure. No one knows your own mind better than you do.
 

You Are Whomever You Decide to Become

You have control over whom you become. Where you came from and what you’ve experienced does not define you, but what you learn from it and how you use those lessons to evolve into the person you’ve always wanted to become does. You are a complex composition of everything that has ever happened to you — good and bad. You can be whomever you decide to be. And you decide every day with each individual choice you make, so try not to let yourself down.
 

You Are the Only One You Can Count On

Sadly, you are the only person you can rely on, but I think you’ve always known that deep down. No one else is looking out for you, so if you want what’s best for yourself, you’d better figure out what that is and make it happen. Don’t worry, though. Someday you’ll meet someone else who has only your best interests at heart, doesn’t want to hurt you, and actually, wants to help you lighten your load. It hasn’t happened yet, but I know one day it will.
 

Trust Yourself

I know it’s incredibly difficult to trust yourself when you’ve literally been brainwashed not to since you were born, but you’ll save yourself so much trouble if you just follow your instincts. Don’t believe that anyone else knows what’s best for you, and never take advice from someone who won’t be affected by the consequences of it.
 

Be Brave

You can’t go through life too afraid to live it. Nothing ever changes until you leave your comfort zone, so learn to embrace the discomfort. It’s terrifying to try to change your life, particularly when you’ve been told you can’t, but they were wrong. You are the only one who can, in fact. Never doubt that for a second. Use your fear as a tool of transformation.
 

Be Weird

Don’t conform to what others want you to be or think you should be. The world is full of people just “earthworm-ing” their ways through life, not paying attention to anything other than what’s right in front of them. Don’t be like them. Your unique perspective gives you an edge. Don’t be afraid of it. Learn to love it, cultivate it, sharpen it, and use it to cut off anyone who wants to dilute your spirit. Go find your tribe of fellow weirdos, and bless the world with your rare vision.
 

Be Present

This one is tough. As much as possible, try not to live in the past or for the future. The past is merely a place to visit and learn lessons from, but you can’t live there. And you can’t even visit the future. All you can do is try to prepare for it as much as possible, and plan for as many contingencies as you can think of. Learn from the past to improve the present and build a future you can be proud of. Live in the present with the people you love while you can because tomorrow is a luxury not everyone has.
 

Believe in Yourself

You don’t need anyone else to believe in you, which is good because there’s been a decided lack of that in your life so far, hasn’t there? It’s not because there’s anything wrong with you. There is something wrong with the people you’ve been surrounded by thus far. They are abusive, manipulative, and cruel. They don’t want to see anyone else succeed, so they try to sabotage others whenever possible. However, not everyone is like that. You’re not like that, and you’re not alone. If you’ll allow yourself to admit it, you know you have the ability to do pretty much whatever you put your mind to, but other people don’t want you to believe it, because they are jealous and spiteful. Don’t listen to them. Figure out what you want and go get it.
 

Love Yourself

This is another hard one, huh? It’s so difficult to love yourself when you’ve been told you’re unlovable by the people who are supposed to love you the most. You are just as worthy of love as anyone else is. You are working hard to become the person you want to be, and that is something to love. Your goals are noble. You are constantly looking for ways to help others, and that’s a pretty lovable trait. You deserve to be treated with kindness, respect, and love, so be open to it, especially when it’s coming from yourself.
 

Stop Trying to Make Everyone Else Happy

You can’t please other people. At least not in the long run. You are the one who has to live with the consequences of your decisions and mistakes. When you only try to please others, you never get what you need, and that will straight-up ruin your life. It’s not your responsibility to make anyone else happy. That’s on them. It’s not selfish to build the life you want.
 

Tell People How You Feel About Them

When you care about people, tell them. I know this sounds like a cliche, but it’s true. Life is short. At the end of it, you’re not going to regret saying how you felt. In fact, you’ll only regret the things you didn’t do and the people you lost because you couldn’t make time for them or simply express how much they meant to you. If you actually lose someone you care about because you express that to them, is it really a loss after all? You won’t have to force, beg, or trick the right people into loving you or being there for you. They will want to be part of your life because you are worthy and they are the right people.
 

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

If you want something, go after it. If you feel something, say it. If you love someone, tell them. If you don’t love someone, tell them. Don’t waste your time or anyone else’s. You don’t know how much of it you’ll have to spend with the people who matter, so don’t give it away too freely because, as it turns out, there is never enough it. Achieve as many of your goals as you possibly can because no matter how much you do or how long you live, you’ll still never accomplish everything you want to in the end.
 

Everything is Temporary

Everything you are feeling and will feel is temporary. I know sometimes it’s unimaginably painful, but I promise it won’t last forever, so hold on tight. I’ll always be here to help you get through it. Similarly, the good things are temporary too. But, don’t be saddened by that. Instead, know it and take the time to enjoy the positive. You deserve to celebrate all of your successes, and you are certainly allowed to be happy.
 

Finally…

All that has happened, and will happen, to you will continue to shape who you are for the rest of your life. Without each of these experiences, you would not be you. They were and are necessary for you to learn and grow. They have taught you more than anyone can possibly imagine. You have learned to be stronger than you ever thought possible, stronger than you even know right now, and to take nothing for granted. Remember, I love you and I believe in you. It may not always seem like it, but it’s true. I will never give up on you. That’s how we’ve made it this far, and it’s how we’ll get where we have always wanted to go.
 
All my love,
Elle (your 21st-century self)
 

The Mourning After

I’m still deep in mourning…again. Only, it’s not over the death of a loved one.

Source: pixabay.com

I’m mourning the loss of yet another illusion of a longtime friendship with someone who supposedly loved me and wanted the best for me. In hindsight, I’m not sure I believe that was ever the case. This was not just anyone, but someone I have considered “family” for a long time, who let me know that sentiment was not mutual in no uncertain terms, despite claiming otherwise for years. Since the “final straw” incident, I have come to the harsh realization through dissecting and reflecting on the entirety of our relationship, that I have been confusing this person’s now evident disdain for me with love, because that’s what I was taught love is supposed to feel like. Now I know better.

This person masquerades as caring and optimistic, yet is quite critical and judgmental in actuality. There have been plenty of times throughout our decades-long friendship when their judgments have made me uneasy, but I was conditioned to believe being overly critical and judgmental were “normal” and that I was somehow “abnormal” for having a natural reaction to the toxicity it created around me. Those who are truly caring, positive, and optimistic are not critical and judgmental, nor do they invalidate other people’s feelings and experiences, because they are more interested in building others up than tearing them down. On the other hand, negative and toxic people must tear others down to build themselves up.

This is yet another person in my life who never genuinely knew me, and has refused to get to know me, because the real me doesn’t fit their narrative. They insist on telling me (and others) who I am. I suppose I’m guilty of the same in one way, though, as I kept buying their front when the truth was glaringly obvious. There is no need to “talk it out” with them, because they told me I was “overreacting” and to “lighten up” the last time I tried to express my feelings. I can’t allow my emotions to be mocked, minimized, or invalidated by this person again. The last time was the last time I will walk into that trap. From now on, I will protect my heart.

I’m angry. Not with them, but with myself for being so willfully blind to reality for so long. Looking back on the overall relationship, I now recognize all the same patterns I’ve excused and ignored for years, and this is just another person who seems to get a kick out of my inner turmoil… Yet another “friend” who has been using me to feel better about their own life for a very long time. I can’t express how much it hurts every time I realize someone has never cared for me the way I have cared for them. And it just keeps happening.

It’s been nearly two weeks since I authored the first post that was inspired by this agonizing reawakening. This one has been almost as devastating to accept as the death of my marriage was. Almost. I even had to take a mini-break from Facebook, because I couldn’t stand watching the facade crumble before my eyes, while everyone else is still lapping up the lies. I couldn’t take knowing what I know, but watching everything go on as usual. (Truth be told, if it weren’t for work and support groups, I’d take a permanent vacation from Facebook.)

Source: pixabay.com

I finally took an honest look at the whole relationship with fresh, educated eyes, and I cannot ignore the red flags any longer. (I’ve been doing that my entire life, and look where it’s gotten me.) I won’t be placing people who continue to inflict harm on me ahead of my own needs anymore. It doesn’t matter who they are, what our “relationship” is, how difficult their lives have been, or how long we’ve known each other. I’m no martyr.

There is legitimately only one person left from my past who has the power to wreck me like this, so there’s that bright side I’m always looking for, I suppose! Maybe soon I’ll be “unwreckable,” but only because there won’t be anyone left that I care enough about to trust? If I literally trust no one, I can’t be hurt anymore. Right? (Don’t worry. I’m only slightly serious.)

When you grow up with a narcissistic (or otherwise toxic and abusive) family dynamic, you are conditioned to distrust your own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. If you have even one parent who persistently engaged in gaslighting, you likely knew you couldn’t trust them either, which makes it impossible to trust anyone else. If your other parent was also an abuser or an enabler, where did that leave you? If you can’t trust yourself or your own parents, who can you trust? How do you even know what trust and honesty look like?

To contribute to the trust issues, growing up under the influence of prolonged familial toxicity leaves you vulnerable to further victimization throughout your life by other abusers. Unfortunately, narcissists and other abusive people are excellent at finding targets to victimize. They look for specific characteristics to exploit, like kindness, compassion, honesty, authenticity, vulnerability, and generosity. People who possess these traits are likely to project them on to others, as well as be more prone to look for the best in everyone, and narcissists use this to their advantage. This, coupled with a history of abuse, makes for a perfect target. If you’ve already been groomed, it takes much less time and effort to convince you that you’re the problem. Besides, they can play the hero or healer to you…at first. But I digress. (This could be the potential start to another kind of post altogether.)

I think what I need most right now is a hard reset. I need to learn to actually trust myself before I can even think about trusting anyone else, including those from my past. (I’m finding I have a great deal more work to do in that respect.) If I have no faith in my perception, how will I know when someone is displaying signs of dishonesty, for instance? If I can’t trust my own instincts, how will I know if something about a person or a situation “feels” wrong? If I can’t trust what I feel, how can I keep myself safe? At this particular moment, my solution is to exercise extreme caution with everyone and trust no one. I know that’s not completely healthy, but it may be safest…at least for now. Once I’ve done enough healing to have confidence in myself, I will be able to trust my perceptions of other people. What’s more, I will begin to attract and be drawn to healthier, more positive people who will be worthy of my trust.

To read about how I decide when to go “no contact” with someone, check out my previous post

To learn about gaslighting on a societal scale, please see my most recent HuffPost piece