There Are Two “I’s” in “Intimacy”

There are two “I’s” in “intimacy.”

The first “I” is for insatiable. It’s the version of me that craves intimacy, and can never get enough. It’s the part of me that’s emotionally starved.

The second “I” could stand for injurious / infernal / insolent. Take your pick; they all apply. This is the version of me that’s so suspicious/distrusting of intimacy that once I have it, I must destroy any trace of it to protect myself.

Both “I’s” describe my lifelong, contradictory struggle with friendships, relationships, and really any situation involving someone being close to me. I live with constant self-righteousness and self-doubt. I desire commitment yet I am terrified by it. I instigate conflict but I also avoid it.

For nearly my entire life, I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression, sometimes flipping between highs and lows so fast that I suspected I may be bipolar. But I’m not. My internal conflict has almost everything to do with intimacy, how I grew up, and who raised me.

If you haven’t read Dr. Patricia Love’s book, The Emotional Incest Syndrome: What to Do When a Parent’s Love Rules Your Life, you should definitely read it. About 2 months ago, it changed my life because I finally had a name for my dysfunctional family, and I’m dicovering peace just understanding why I am the way I am.

Basically, I grew up with one parent who smothered me with constant ego-boosting adoration and affection. The other parent was physically there (sometimes) but 100% emotionally unavailable. That is, until I did something wrong, in which case extreme rage was the one emotion that parent would show.

Growing up in this environment was made possible by my resilient sister, who rebels and provides comic relief in any situation. She remains my best friend to this day. But it wasn’t easy for us. We both struggle with relationships because our parents were the opposite of a healthy example. We are having to construct our own example through trial and error as adults.

Our parents are polar opposites. Same values on paper, but couldn’t be more different in practice. In our family, there is a very obvious head of household.

Parent 1: Extremely domineering, very defensive toward any type of criticism, very loud, yet emotionally unavailable. Never affectionate. Only wants to have shallow conversations such as politics, science, math, education. Nothing involving feelings, only logic/statistics because feelings are weakness. But if you mess up, prepare for their wrath. Pessimistic, thinks the world is doomed.

Parent 2: Extremely submissive and passive aggressive. Pouts/weaponizes guilt or the silent treatment in response to criticism. Shy in group settings and extremely emotionally available; everything is ruled by emotion. Wants to know everything about everyone, nosey, judgy. Nothing is logical because feelings guide all decisions. If you mess up, prepare for either instant forgiveness or a few hours of silent treatment and then forgiveness. Super affectionate. Optimistic and hopeful, thinks people are mostly good.

Now imagine the emotional rollercoaster of being the chosen child of parent 2 when parent 1 is so distant. I bore the emotional weight of a confidant, friend, therapist and spouse. I was a place holder for the actual spouse, which made the family dynamic way worse. My sister was left out and rebelled to win back attention. I coped by trying, in vain, to give the advice asked of me by my parent. I was a child being asked to fix adult problems and I was the middle man for both parents’ grievances about the other. I shrink away from responsibility and avoid the spotlight like the plague because I was always in the spotlight growing up. I was put on parent 2’s pedestal and treated with utmost importance. Because of this, I was constantly on parent 1’s radar as the one interfering in the marriage (a responsibility I never asked for nor wanted) and my sister viewed me as the favorite.

So based on my experience, intimacy to me has meant being idolized and being expected to fix everyone’s problems. It also means I’m doing something wrong and need to “butt out”. But it can also mean never allowing myself to get close to any one person, because I’m trying to reassure others that I am not more close to someone else than I am to them.

But love is not quantifiable like that, and I’m learning that being close to one person is not a betrayal of someone else. And not everyone expects me to sit in for their significant other. Some people truly do want me to just listen. Intimacy shouldn’t mean compromising who I am to conform to who someone wants me to be. My emotional needs are valid just like everyone else’s. And I’m learning to be okay in the spotlight (sometimes). I’m also building boundaries with my parents and making them solve their own problems without me as a middle man.

I’m teaching both parts of myself (the emotionally starved side and the emotionally destructive side) that they can work it out and have a happy marriage, even if my parents can’t. And in realizing this, I am making peace with things I cannot control. Intimacy starts with the self, and my self is finally whole.

Control Yourself, Control the World

Not too long ago, a friend and I were discussing the idea that you can control things around you simply by having self control. And this would have sounded so counter-productive to my younger self.

In the past, I used to imagine that there was power in always having a knee-jerk response to everything. I thought as long as you defend yourself when someone attacks you, you’re in the right. But the thing is, people nowadays rarely listen to what you say. In this age, people watch how you say things, and they will twist your words/tone any way they see fit.

So now that I’m older, I know that you have more power over the world around you when you remain calm and collected instead of defensive.

For example, if someone is shouting at you, the typical instinct is to shout back. But if you do, you’re not gaining control of your image; you’re losing it. People walking by will view it as a fight if both parties are shouting.

Instead, if you can remain calm and polite in the face of someone screaming at you, you’ve won the psychological game. You’ve controlled how you are perceived by others and you don’t have to defend yourself because your demeanor already has. You will look like the logical one, and they will look like an attacker. And if you don’t curse back or respond in anger the way the antagonist wants you to, then there is nothing for them to twist. Peace honestly packs more of a punch than violence/anger ever will.

So, if you can control yourself, you can essentially control the world. (Or at least your little corner of it.)

A Cynic’s View of the Nice

Ever notice how the nicest people can also be the most ruthless? Me too. And I have a theory of why that is.

I think ‘nice’ people fit in 2 categories:

  • Those who are born extraordinarily ‘nice’. They have natural empathy.
  • Those who have become nice because they don’t want to treat others the way they’ve been treated. They have learned empathy.

But a high level of kindness in any case is an obvious indicator that someone can be intense. In either category of ‘nice’, the person is able to generally maintain their perspective/values, despite what the world does from this point on. Resisting negative outside influence can be an intense thing to go through in this life.

Now, back to the ruthlessness. So I may be cynical, but I feel like those who are regarded as naturally nice have simply never openly displayed aggression; they aren’t void of it. In any case, it could have been building for years and nobody would know until the person snaps from the pressure of holding it in.

On the other hand, those with learned ‘niceness’ or empathy have been through the wringer. They have been hurt deeply and choose not to hurt. While this is admirable, it also can mean that the defenses they’ve built up in the past to protect their heart have become very brittle; trust is easily broken with these people, because they cannot tolerate any repeats of the pain caused to them in the past. Their intensity/ruthlessness surfaces when they are betrayed, and it’s like flipping a switch.

So in one case, it’s an overflow and in the other case, it’s a defense mechanism. But either way, I believe the nicest people are capable of the worst things, because their breaking points can seemingly come out of nowhere.

I’m not scared of evil people because you can always predict that they will do evil things.

I’m scared of the nice people, because of what they are capable of: ruthlessness at the drop of a hat.

The You in Universe

For those who are struggling to find their place in the world, I want to share some thoughts I’ve been mulling over in my head recently.

While there is no rule book for life, I truly feel that the universe guides you along a certain path, where you are meant to fit in. Any time my life has felt difficult, it was because I was trying to forge my own path, rather than the one that I’m meant for. Everything I’ve ever learned in science tells me that the natural world seeks balance, and everything I’ve learned through personal experience tells me that anything that upsets that balance will be met with opposing force.

Think about it:
If you go along with traffic and obey the laws, nothing really happens. But when you fight the flow, drive aggressively, and weave in/out of traffic at 100 miles an hour, other drivers around you will inevitably act out in opposition and try blocking you in so you cannot get around them. This, in my opinion, is the universe seeking to balance out the thing that is disrupting the flow.

In my own personal experience, the times where I’ve been the most depressed/anxious have been when I was attempting to force something that was not meant to be. Whether it was bending over backwards for a person who wasn’t meant for me, or pursuing a degree that would ultimately not pan out well because I’m just not built for math.

However, when I was walking the path I was supposed to walk, I could feel it. When things start to line up in unexpected ways, and the timing is perfect, I believe that’s the universe rewarding the fact that you are contributing to its overall balance. I can see this trend in personal relationships, tense situations, and interactions with other life.
PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS:

  • I know at least a few close friends who have trouble finding good guys to date. They will share their horror stories with me, asking what I think about it. I can only speak from my own experience, but I’m sure a lot of people who have found their soulmate will tell you that it was by a funny coincidence or that it was totally unexpected. The key here is that good things like this happen ONLY when you stop trying to force things to happen with the wrong people. When you just let go of the idea that you can control everything and you allow the universe to add balance to your life, it will send you the right person if there is a void that truly needs to be filled. And this is a much better way of getting someone than forcing something that’s not meant to be and being miserable for the rest of your life.

TENSE SITUATIONS:

  • Anyone who has ever been in an argument knows deep down that things only escalate and get worse if you yell back at someone who is yelling at you. Maybe I’ve only discovered the solution because I go to therapy, but I’ve learned that the only way to get your way in an argument is to remain calm. The reasoning behind this is that the more a person screams/acts out emotionally, the more you will appear logical, trustworthy, and of sound mind when you choose not to yell back. I believe this is attributed to the fact that balance has been introduced when you realize you cannot control someone else, only yourself. And in nearly every case of me trying this method, I have been rewarded either with being taken more seriously, or gaining whatever else I needed to gain in the situation.

INTERACTIONS WITH OTHER LIFE:

  • If you encounter a snake, it will do what snakes do and attempt to strike you. That is, IF you upset the balance and act in a way that makes the snake feel threatened. (I know this because my dad picked up a wild snake, which caused it to bite him out of self defense. But he continued to hold the snake, and it realized that he meant no harm because he did not try to restrain it. And it didn’t strike him again.) Nature can tell the difference between an “animal person” and a non-“animal person”. The animal people will get along a thousand times better with animals because they allow the animals to be themselves. However, those who have nothing but negative things to say about animals almost always tried to control the animal and faced the consequences of upsetting the balance that they should have respected instead.

I think the main flaw with humanity is that we overestimate our intelligence and mistake it for absolute control over our surroundings. There are always unintended negative consequences every time a human tries to assert control over their surroundings. My answer to this is for us to stop ignoring our roots. I think we have to listen to our surroundings and act accordingly, because we are still so very connected with nature as long as we’re living on Earth. It takes some faith, but I think if we learn to let go a little bit, we will get more of what we want in life. It sounds contradictory, but it’s the only way I’ve found any peace in recent years.

Opposites Intact

As everyone knows, America isn’t doing so hot, politically and socially. But this isn’t a post about despair. This is my personal obstacle-ridden story of hope for anyone who feels pessimistic about America’s future, or even the world’s future.

Travel with me back to 2015, for a moment. The Obama administration was on its way out, and that presented the two main political parties with a chance to put their best guy or gal up for the vote in the following year. Blah, blah, blah, cue the anger and hatred from all around. My current relationship had humble beginnings that also happened to be in the middle of 2015. Lucky us, right? Well, sorta.

In the honeymoon phase of dating, everyone puts on a nice happy front for their partner. You avoid political discussions. At. All. Costs. Except we couldn’t avoid it forever because the tension was all over the news and creeping into all social media platforms as well. So naturally, these issues would find their way into our daily conversations. And when we discovered that we are political polar opposites, that’s when the problems really began.

The real kicker is that these arguments and problems stemmed not from incompatibility with each other, but from the immense pressure that bombarded us from everyone else’s hysteria. The entire country was an echo chamber of frustration that felt impossible to escape. And it magnified all of our individual insecurities and doubts that come with a new relationship.

After an exhausting year, several break-ups, and several getting-back-togethers later, he and I came to a point where we just couldn’t fight about politics anymore. It wasn’t worth it. A relationship is supposed to be your place of comfort. Despite what I’ve been told, I realized that politics really have nothing to do with my relationship. I think we both pictured ourselves with someone who believed the exact same things as us, and that’s just not how it panned out. So we essentially had to re-teach ourselves how to talk to one another, and this surprisingly re-shaped how we viewed each other.

If you want to know the big secret to mending a broken relationship, I think it’s humor. Constantly joking around is the biggest thing that we rely on, in my opinion. We have the same absurd sense of humor, and we’ve found that laughing together at our problems (big or small) is far better than getting angry. He’s the only person in the world (besides my sister) that I can come to, completely pissed off, and he’ll make me laugh so hard that I’ll forget what I was mad about in the first place. I think sharing the same humor is more powerful than anything else, because it makes the other person seem so relatable, so human. And that’s what we were missing before. We were allowing outside influences to make us dehumanize each other.

But with laughter, we’ve realized that we are not enemies, no matter what the media or anyone else tries to tell us. As cheesy as it sounds, we’ve learned to drown out the negativity with our giggles. Neither of us are Nazis or terrorists. Neither of us are incompetent, hateful, or evil. We both share a passion for important issues, we just disagree on how to go about solving them. And that’s okay, we can deal with a difference of opinion. Because at our core, we are the same. He is just as compassionate, logical, capable, driven, and loving as I am. He just happens to be much funnier, but I’ll let him have that.

After 3 solid years of getting to know so much about the best person I’ve ever had, I would never allow something as minuscule as political differences get in the way of us. Now, we’re in such a good place that we’re even able to make light-hearted little jokes about each other’s political leanings, and nothing bad ever comes of it. We each allow the other person to be themselves in their entirety, and that’s the most important thing in not only this time frame but also this country. And despite the notion from others that dating a Democrat or dating a Republican means that you need to change them, we both know that’s not true. We are the biggest force to be reckoned with, because we refuse to hate each other for our differences. Our mutual respect is our strength. If anything, dating someone who is the opposite of me has strengthened my political beliefs. I’m sure he’d say the same thing. And that just goes to show that neither of us is here to stifle the other’s growth. Even if I don’t always agree with him, I would defend his right to be respected and heard, just like I know he’d do for me.

I know there is still hope for the future; we’re just hitting a little rough patch as a country. All it takes is for us to have a little humor, have a little respect, and find strength in leaving opposites in tact.

Horns

My zodiac sign is the ram.

The actual animals are known for protecting/watching over their herd. Biblically, the ram is a symbol of sacrifice.

Lately I’ve felt like a shining example of both interpretations, sacrificing my own happiness to protect others’ happiness. It’s driving me mad spreading myself so thin that I don’t have the time/energy to pursue what makes me happy. It’s nobody’s fault, really. When you always tell everyone “yes,” they start expecting you to keep up with that pace because they don’t know it’s destroying you.

Now, I’m beginning to embrace the astrological view of the ram. It describes some of my better traits that I’ve sadly been silencing for a while. The zodiac sign of the ram is stubborn, passionate, straightforward, courageous, and unapologetic about who they are. They fiercely protect their loved ones while making sure they don’t neglect themselves in the process. They know how to put themselves first when they need to. I’m learning how to balance, by giving myself the same time/energy I give others. You’ll always be unhappy when you ignore who you truly are and what you truly need.

It feels good to have my horns back.

A Chameleon’s True Colors

Chameleons have become society’s symbol of adaptability. My experience in raising one tells me exactly the opposite, but this makes me love them even more.

In 2013, I became a pet parent to the most relatable and misunderstood animal I’ve ever crossed paths with: the veiled chameleon. Initially, I wasn’t fully prepared for everything that this entailed. But if there’s anything that a driven, perfectionist, animal-lover can be trusted with, it’s a high maintenance pet. *The lengthy list of their needs is included at the bottom, if you’re curious about what exactly I got myself into.*

I was absolutely mesmerized by her colors and patterns, just like anybody would be. She actually got her name, Melon, from one of her most striking patterns that made her eyeballs look exactly like the striped exterior of a watermelon. But she wasn’t standing in front of any watermelons; veiled chameleons don’t change their colors to adapt to whatever they’re surrounded by. They have a set amount of patterns and colors that their skin will shift into, depending on what their mood is.

Melon was typically a light green, which means she was feeling calm. She would develop dark brown stripes against the light green if she felt threatened, and she would puff her neck. Her vibrant teal, orange, and green pattern would show itself when she was feeling excited. And only once in her lifetime did I ever see her turn a deep brownish grey, which meant that something was really wrong.

She had a commanding presence about her, too. Any time I would walk into our room, she would nearly run down her branches and claw at the two glass doors at the front of her terrarium; she demanded to be let out of her cage almost daily. I had actually been told by the pet store employees that chameleons are more for display, and that you shouldn’t handle them very much. Melon had other plans, though. I listened to her instead. (She also didn’t like hunting for crickets in her cage. She eventually had me trained to the point that I would hold the crickets by their antennae and hold mealworms in my palms for her to fling her tongue at. She didn’t want them any other way.)

I’m glad I listened to her. She was like my miniature stern-faced queen with her own little built in crown. And I had never been more in tune with a pet. She was just like me: very particular, very cautious, assertive, had resting bitch face, was a natural observer, was also an explorer, was naturally petite, and thought of herself as fierce while everyone else just viewed her as cute. She never tried to be anything other than herself; it never occurred to her. And she hated going to the doctor. (She hissed at and bit the veterinarian, and I couldn’t help but think ‘that’s my girl.’)

So instead of adapting to her surroundings, I watched her unapologetically remain who she always was. Whether it was her colors or her general attitude toward this strange thing we call life, she actively resisted change. And I’ve carried that with me, because she greatly contributed to who I am in this ever-changing, anxiety-inducing world. She showed me that you can find power in communicating your feelings and trusting your instincts. And you can do it all without ever changing. Sometimes, you can make the world adapt to you. (She certainly made me adapt my world to her, and I was honored to do so.) I saw her true colors, and that’s why I loved her.

 

*Here’s that list I promised earlier*

Veiled chameleons need:

– A large, well-ventilated terrarium (because chameleons don’t stay small forever)
– A UV lamp
      – (Part of the tank needs to be a cool area, 70 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit)
      – (The other part needs to be a warm area, 90 – 100 degrees Fahrenheit)
– A 12-hour light/dark cycle
– Thermometers for monitoring these temperatures
– Calcium-dusted crickets, waxworms, and mealworms
      – (If you’re feeding with crickets, you must get a cricket-keeper as well)
      – (Mealworms/waxworms just need to be stored in your fridge)
– Daily fresh collard or mustard greens
– Branches to climb on (I always collected them from my front/back yard) 
– A hygrometer, or humidity gauge
      – The humidity in their terrarium must always be between 65% – 80%
– Consistent misting with distilled water by way of a spray bottle and/or a mist/drip
system

– Moisture-retaining substrate for the bottom of the terrarium