About a year ago, I was taking a class on women’s religious memoirs. While the women and their journeys were very different, I kept noticing a sometimes-subtle, secondary theme of self-compassion in each text. Mentions of the female Buddha Tara, a sublime personification of compassion and wisdom in female form, led me down a path toward the White Tara, which can be one of seven of the 21 primary emanations of Tara, representing the enlightened activity of pacifying. Sometimes this can be pacifying limitations of the physical body and overcoming illness and avoiding an untimely death. Sometimes it can be pacifying fears to overcome obstacles in a path to success or enlightenment.
In my readings, application of the teachings of the White Tara included applying those concepts to the self, especially for women, who seem more likely than male adherents to turn to Tara. I started to look online for “‘White Tara’ +self-compassion” and eventually stumbled across a book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha, by Tara Branch. (See how that path goes along?) Writing from her own intersectional experience as a Buddhist and a clinical psychologist, Branch offers Radical Acceptance as a spiritually-healthy alternative to the “trance of unworthiness” that we tend to fall into when faced with unhealthy or unreasonable expectations and demands of society, family, and ourselves. She analogizes Radical Acceptance as a bird, which can only fly with both of its wings--in this case, clear seeing (mindfulness) and compassion.
She also posits that the Adam and Eve story is at the heart of much of Western dissatisfaction. Even if it’s not part of your chosen religion or mythos, she asserts, the idea--of punishing the self to redeem your own sins (and thereby the Original Sin) in order to be returned into God’s paradisiacal garden--so deeply permeates Western culture that it’s almost impossible to escape its influence. People are assumed to be inherently flawed, to be in need of repair and redemption for sins that may not even have been theirs to begin with. By this measure, our suffering stems from the conflict between the ideal of paradise and the manifestations of our intrinsic unworthiness, and we are caught in a constant cycle of struggling to redeem ourselves.
Of course I started to think about this in terms of my own struggles. It’s no surprise that I have consistently gone back to emotionally- and logistically-unavailable men. Subconsciously, I am always hoping the next one will do what the others couldn’t--love me no matter what, thereby alleviating the deep-seated fear of emotional abandonment that stems from my childhood.
Not only do those unavailable men never fulfill my hope for redemption, that’s a wholly unfair amount of pressure and expectation for me to put on anyone else. So if they can’t make up for what was done to me in the past, and if the people who traumatized me to begin with can’t undo what they did and are unlikely to ever make any kind of real amends for their transgressions (see that sin thing happening again?), then how exactly am I supposed to get over my fears?
Where is redemption for me, for my inner child? What does redemption even mean for me?
Those things happened. I can’t escape the reality of having been sexually or physically or emotionally abused. While I have finally come to understand that they weren’t my fault, that I didn’t choose to be a sexualized object or to find the man I loved had moved his heart a million miles away from my own and blamed me for it, I do have culpability in how I responded to the trauma. Especially within the context of adult romantic relationships, I could be difficult and demanding, so desperate not to feel what I was feeling as a result of my insecurities coming into contact with theirs. I had moments of utter tantrum and a fatalistic view that if that relationship in that moment couldn’t be fixed in such a way that I felt secure, then I must be unlovable and undeserving of anything different or more.
But that’s just not true, either.
Yes, my insecurities are strong and numerous. So were theirs. That’s just a reality of lives experienced into established adulthood. Sometimes bad shit has happened, and we all have developed in response to those stimuli.
But the redemption comes not from meeting someone who can not do the stupid shit that undermines my tenuously-reintegrating psyche. It comes from my not making the same choices, not having the same limited emotional responses to similar stimuli.
I met Finn a few weeks ago and really liked him from the beginning. There’s a lot about him that’s truly wonderful, and it was exciting to see the possibility of something again. It was reassuring to find that I was attractive to someone else, both physically and psychologically.
But Finn’s schedule and my schedule don’t mesh. He works long hours on a schedule that’s very different than my own. Our time together had dwindled considerably. While I loved spending time with him, to date someone requires actual interpersonal engagement within a certain physical proximity. Logistical conflicts made seeing each other very difficult, and I made the decision to be open to other possibilities.
Reliability and consistency are very important for me. I am not comfortable with not knowing when I’ll see my romantic partner again. Rango accused me many times of wanting him “up [my] ass 24/7,” which was actually not the case at all. What I did want was to know that I was a priority--not the only priority--and that I would get concerted care and attention from him. I needed reliably consistent and consistently reliable. I needed to know that he would set aside time to show up and would actually show up when he said he was going to.
I didn’t take it as a personal affront with Finn. Whereas I might have previously seen his inability to spend time with me as a rejection of me outright, this wasn’t. His work schedule is hectic. He tried to make time for me, because he liked me and wanted to spend that time with me. He just wasn’t able to do it at times when I was also available.
I don’t feel abandoned by him. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t make our schedules work. I really, really like him, and I was looking forward to exploring more with him. I miss him a little bit. I’ve had a few moments where I felt a little sad that I don’t have time with him to look forward to. But I was constantly looking forward to time that wasn’t coming, that he couldn’t provide because his job is different than mine--not because he didn’t like me enough to want that time.
So I made the decision to do what was healthy for me. Rather than drag it out for weeks or months longer, hoping beyond hope that it would magically fall into place, I gave myself the freedom not to be bound by the emotions and unhealthy responses to them that would come from fighting futility. I didn’t have a tantrum. I made a Self-led decision and executed it without blame or recrimination--aimed neither at him nor at myself.
When the pangs do come, I take a moment and let them sit. Sometimes I’ll feel something and one sub-part will immediately chime in with her interpretation of what that emotion is and means.
“Oh, that’s irritation. That’s the beginning of angry, because he didn’t make time to show up to see you, and that means he wasn’t ever going to be able to love you like you need, and your needs aren’t unreasonable, and he’s an asshole for not seeing how wonderful you are--”
Yes, it might be irritation. It might be at him, or it might be at me, or it might be at the email I just got, or it might be at the scratchy tag on the inside of my shirt. It’s just an emotion, and it will pass almost as quickly as it came. There’s no need to turn the faucet on just to watch the water swirl. But you’re sweet to be concerned. You’re sweet to defend me and to protect me, and I love you for wanting to.
I try to be mindful of the emotions, to clearly see what they are, and to treat them compassionately, letting them exist without the endless overanalysis that always seems to end in judgment and recrimination. They are neither good nor bad; they simply are, and to let them just be is the healthiest way I can deal with them.
The same goes for the men I meet, and it goes for me, too. Certainly there are not nice people in the world, but someone else’s bumping up against my insecurities doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person. My even having or admitting to my own insecurities doesn’t make me a bad person. While I twistedly pride myself on being able to pick out the Fragile Cats quickly in a crowd, I can’t usually know how their issues will play with mine until we are engaging. Rather than hope beyond hope that an extreme avoidant will love me so much that it changes his attachment style--thereby helping me to change mine--it’s far healthier for me to work on myself and to politely disentangle from any relationship that seems very likely to be unhealthy for me.
The redemption comes not through someone else’s choices in how they love me but rather in my own choices of how I love myself.
It’s all still new. It’s an ongoing process, of course, and I won’t really know how I’ll respond to emotional stimuli until I am adequately stimulated. For now, there’s no agitation or anxiety, no desperation to quell an internal storm of fear or dissatisfaction or loneliness.
Today, I’m just aware, and I’m not beating myself up over it.