Emotional Modesty: Minimizing Emotional Needs to Avoid Conflict

Emotional Modesty: Minimizing Emotional Needs to Avoid Conflict

Reading Time: 8 minutes

As a child, what was your sense of emotional needs versus your parent’s reactions?

One afternoon Karla, my therapist, asked me this question.

I immediately launched into how my mom was a single parent and was always making sure us kids got to our activities on time, were fed, looked presentable and got our homework done. It was especially with the word reaction though, that I noted how my dad had a short temper, and was one relationship in my life which I would classify as an eggshell relationship – being careful and mindful about what you say or do when around them so as to not set them off, as they are usually set off easily – walking on eggshells. It was in the midst of chattering away about these aspects of life that I realized sometime in my childhood, in an effort to minimize the conflict potentially bubbling up from my dad and to keep things easy for my mom, I began to make myself emotionally smaller, by minimizing my emotional wants and needs.

To lessen my chances of “being a burden” while minimizing conflict, I think I reduced my own emotional needs in an attempt to minimize my parent’s reactions. This is not to suggest mom wasn’t attentive, or an open ear. I also wasn’t actively not talking to my mom about my problems – I was always very vocal about my concerns, worries and troubles. But I knew deep down, she was doing twice the work because she was the primary caregiver. She often says nowadays when she reflects on that time period, she was dancing as fast as she could, in an effort to keep up with the demands of being a single parent to two kids. It’s possible I downplayed my emotional needs so she wouldn’t have to dance faster.

When I first started working with Karla, I made it clear that it was my romantic relationships, more specifically, my thinking, my actions, reactions and my being when in romantic relationships, which were what I needed to work on. However, as she pointed out to me, aspects which concern us in one type of relationship, often tend to manifest themselves in other types of relationships.

I exist with a few (okay, more than a few) dysfunctional tendencies when in relationships, especially in terms of how I approach conflict within a relationship as well as my emotional maturity (or immaturity I guess) when handling said conflict. At first I thought a similar pattern of downplaying my emotional needs was taking place in my romantic relationships. Now, I wonder if it’s an internal struggle of repeating these old patterns, while at the same time, trying to make up for the extent to which I minimized these needs when I was younger. How do I usually do that? Bring up conflict when no conflict exists.

I tend to bring up little things that bug me, when in the grand scheme of the relationship, they’re not a big deal. So what if he didn’t know I wanted him to reach over to hold my hand during a movie? Was it really worth bringing up and making a big stink of it, and inevitably ruining the evening?

One tendency is that i’ll often attempt to put square pegs into round holes when dating. In other words, I try to conform to, and place the wants and needs of my partner on a pedestal just for the sake of keeping the peace. I will minimize my own emotional wants and needs, in order to avoid conflict. to make things fit when they are not fitting. We see this internal struggle, now becoming a struggle which affects my actions and behaviors.

I also tend to believe that if I bring up a point of conflict, my partner will break up with me. This stems from recognizing within myself that if I bring up enough insignificant points of conflict continuously and consistently, I have the potential to create unrest within the relationship. I’ve never been with a man who does this, it’s simply a byproduct of my internal dialogue and my actions. I know that this is connected to feeling insecure when I am with the person I care about (something I have touched upon in previous posts), as well as a lack of security and confidence within my own feelings and emotions.

The third point is that usually after I have brought up a point of conflict, I will feel guilty for having done so, to the point that I chastise myself for having brought it up. It’s like I can’t stop myself from addressing these points when they bubble up. When discussing my points of conflict within past relationships with friends, a few have said to me well if you brought it up then obviously it was something which bothered you, which makes it valid. I disagree though – if you bring up enough small things that are not a big deal, you become a nag, and no one wants to be in a relationship with their mother. I don’t think anyone actively seeks out a relationship with someone who creates conflict – hell, I wouldn’t want to be with someone like that, it sounds exhausting.

It eventually turns into a cycle – I get upset over something small, my partner and I resolve the argument, then I usually end up apologizing profusely, feeling guilty, asking for reassurance, worrying about it for days on end and questioning if the relationship will survive. This is all in addition to how much better things would have been had I not just kept my mouth shut (I know – I’m super hard on myself). It’s complete garbage on my mental health, I expose my insecurities and lack of confidence, and my partner turns into my therapist.

A few solutions I see in working to curve these patterns is learning to pick my battles and developing the ability to think critically as to if what I am about to address is really worth bringing up. Alternatively, stopping to ask myself if there is something within my own power, which I could do to improve the situation or fix the “little thing” which is bothering me. As I’ve said before, it takes two to tango in a relationship.

Another point is working to heal my inner child – consciously granting myself permission to heal by writing about these topics as well as attending therapy is helping. I’ve also realized that little points of conflict I tend to bring up, are more a reflection of how I view myself – for example do I stir up conflict as a means to avoid the conflict that lies within me? As an unhealthy means to release the suppressed emotional wants and needs from my younger self?

It actually took for someone to point it out to me to realize that I’ve never had an example of a healthy relationship. For the most part, learning how to be in a healthy relationship has been a real trial and error process – I think for a lot of people it is. It’s almost as if I allow my inner child to be the part of me which handles and controls how I respond to external conflict. While I’m not one to argue or shout at my partner (getting loud and aggressive is not my “argument style”), it’s very nit-picky and childish behavior on my part. This inner child extends to how I react as well. I let my inner child go off the rails, instead of being accountable for my actions as a grown ass woman. Learning to heal my inner child, work in tandem with it and taking back control of my responses to conflict is key.

One last point is developing my ability to respond before reacting to something which I deem “conflict” – this is why meditation has really proven beneficial, as it allows me to stay grounded in the present, and slow time down. Especially when my judgement is clouded, I sometimes have a hard time thinking clearly prior to blurting something out. It’s part of my responsibility as a caring, present, communicative partner, to do my part, whether that means recognizing and confronting legitimate points of conflict, or talking myself down from the ledge of addressing “little things” which seem like points of conflict but really are not.

Thank you for reading as always. If you liked what you read, give my post a like, hit the Follow button on the top right-hand corner of this post, and turn on post-notifications, so you never miss an LE blog post! Don’t forget to join my monthly email list by signing up below, for updates, bonus content, and recommendations from yours truly!

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My Mother: 10 Lessons at 60

My Mother: 10 Lessons at 60

[TW: ED]

Reading Time: 10 Minutes

Today my mom turns 60. This past weekend, I asked her to reflect on life as she turns the big 6-0 – looking back on lessons learned, what she’d go back and tell her younger self if she could, and what she plans to do moving forward.

I’ve focused a lot of my energy recently on writing about my dad, about his absence and inconsistency throughout my childhood, and (in the works at the moment) his alcoholism. But throughout this writing, I’ve often thought “What about mom? Why focus so much energy on the invisible parent when the other was so present. She was the real hero of these stories”. She understands that my writing is a way to work through what I’ve lived through, but I thought it was about time that I focus on her – what a perfect week/day to do so.

In the past, she’d put her own needs aside to raise us offspring, while at the same time, putting up with an immense amount of bullshit from my dad. She’s pushed past the societal stigmas of raising 2 kids as a single parent and the criticism that’s been dished out to her that kids from broken homes end up troubled. My brother and I have not let this stigma define us, shape us, or take hold of us – speak to past teachers, speak to family friends, speak to our places of employment and you will find praise of 2 hardworking, caring individuals. That’s not meant to boost us up, in fact I take it very humbly. What i’m saying is we owe that praise to her.

She often makes enough food to feed a small army and at 60, still hasn’t figured out the correct quota of person to pasta ratio. She found love again at 52, after choosing to stay single for 15 years so she could raise us kids (meanwhile i’m over here lamenting about being single at 30). She has shared her appreciation for older music and movies with my brother and I (a la impromptu Milli Vanilli boogie sessions in the kitchen). She is strong, she is kind and not afraid to speak her opinion. She is helpful and she is loving – happy 60th birthday to my momma. Without further ado, here are 10 lessons at 60 from my mother and 2 lessons she hopes to adapt moving forward.

Accept your partner as they are

“If you find yourself in a relationship, especially when you are younger, accept your partner as they are – do not try to change them. If you find yourself trying and struggling to change aspects of your partner, it may be wise to take a step back, reconsider who you are with and whether that’s the person you’re meant to be with. Reflecting upon my first marriage before your dad, my ex and I grew apart in different ways. I was naggy and didn’t speak for long periods of time (when upset). Looking back now, I recognize he was perfectly fine the way he was – it’s crazy now that I reflect on it.”

I asked her what she thought she was trying to change in him, and she said “all those dumb guy things – the things young guys don’t think about, but you expect them to. Especially when you are younger you think they can read your mind, you don’t communicate. That’s another thing – you should never not speak – even if you fight and yell at each other, it’s better to do that then not talk. Eric (her current partner) says he has nothing to work with when I shut down.”

Your friends can be your family

“My friends are more like my family. I have friends that I connect with more than family members. Just because you’re related to someone doesn’t mean you are automatically close with them. It also doesn’t mean you have to be friends with them. Some people have that (connection with their siblings), but just because you are related, it doesn’t mean you have to work at a relationship that is hard, or try to the point where it’s disturbing in your life – you can give up on it.”

Struggles are what make you stronger

“Every struggle led me to where I am now, which is a very positive place (I commented that it was probably the healthiest place she has ever been). Eric and I allow each other to just be ourselves. Every hurdle that you jump through and come out the other side, leads you to a better place.”

Wisdom with Money

“I would have been way wiser with money way earlier. But it was all about the party. You made the money and you spent the money, and you tried to save it but then took it out of places you shouldn’t have. I often think of Whistler Blackcombe, I could have bought a place for $8,000. Why were we so stupid with money? Why are you so smart?”

I proposed I thought it was because the economy was okay back then (in the 80’s), and the cost of living was cheaper, so there wasn’t as great of a need to save. As I pointed out to her now, I can’t afford to buy a house. “There were also jobs you could get without schooling, which may have also meant more disposable income when I was younger. I was also somewhat behind in money from raising your brother and you. So I would say just be wiser with money.”

Traveling lighter makes for a happier trip.

“Every trip I take I learn to take less with me because the less baggage you take with you, the happier your trip will be. Travel is so much easier with less and you usually don’t end up wearing half of what you take.”

Have Patience.

“Patience is something I have learned. Having patience has benefited me in that I don’t get agitated about little things. Patience also requires me to …”

Slow Down.

“If your pace is slower you have more patience. I’m in no hurry to get things done any longer. Sometimes things irritate me, but very little does anymore. I used to be the Queen of Rushing when I was younger, but I don’t rush anymore, I allow myself down time now. Some people might say it’s wrong, that you should live in the moment, but I don’t live in the moment. I know what I am eating a week and a half from now – that’s who I am. I have always had to be one date ahead, but that’s not something I think I have learned (a lesson from) – that’s something I see as a good thing for me, it’s what I do. It’s not something I would want to change ever.”

I asked her if she wished she lived more in the present over the years – “It was not a possibility as a single parent of 2 kids. But I look back to the summer holidays, that one summer we went to Drumheller – we put Sun In in our hair and you kids went back to school looking healthy and tanned. I look back at those times and I was present. I still knew what we were having for dinner and still knew what we were doing the next day, but I enjoyed it, I was with you kids. At home, when working full time and running from one activity to the next, I always had to be ahead of it. Now, I don’t have to do or be that way (both of us kids have flown the coop) but it’s an organizational thing for me, it’s part of who I am. I would rather be the way I am than at 4:00pm in the afternoon go “hmm what am I going to have for dinner?”. Speeding up to slow down, as I put it, and she agreed.

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

“I have learned how to laugh at myself. If something is funny, and little things just happen, I don’t take it home with me. I don’t come home and say “oh my god, oh my god”. Instead of beating myself up about things, I can laugh at myself which is important. You don’t care as much about what people think as you get older.”

I told her I looked forward to growing older for that reason.

Eat Healthy, Everything in Moderation

“I think that a diet, like a really restrictive diet is not healthy – I think that the strive to be thin can be all-consuming. I did all kinds of stupid stuff. I took laxatives when I was in my 20’s, I made these muffins that were held together by bran and nothing else. I’ve always had a weight problem. I do love Weight Watchers, I don’t know if you can pump them up on your blog. My mother had me on this diet when I was 8 that was grapefruit, boiled eggs, and Swiss cheese and that’s all I ate for like a week. Those kinds of weird things – doing things to your body that are destructive. I just think healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle are the way to go, but also to live a little once in a while – have that doughnut if you want to, everything in moderation.”

As I pointed out to her, with that sort of diet when you are 8, you are reinforcing the belief that your body is not what it should be, you reinforce the idea of an “other”, like it should be something that it’s not. The second point is that creates such disordered eating when you start so young, in women especially, which is probably why she ended up making bran muffins with nothing to them.

“I would say enjoy life – if people relaxed a little bit more about diets, they would find their weight wouldn’t fluctuate so much and would probably be happier.”

Walk Away From DramaEspecially Workplace Drama

When talking about her previous workplace: “I was seen as not very social or friendly because I wanted to avoid the drama that filled my workplace. When I was younger I may have made more of an effort to be social but as I got older, and especially at the specific location of where I worked, my intent was to come to work, do my job and leave. Nobody there liked their job. They got stuck there because of the money, they were grumpy and hated what they were doing. They were trying to create something out of nothing and trying to make other people unhappy because they were not happy. It’s toxic – they were not happy in their own lives and there was so much talking about everyone else behind their backs. You don’t need it – stay away from it.”

2 Things To Work Towards

Become a Better Listener

“I would like to, in the future, between 60 and 70, to not, while someone is talking, have my brain going in a million different directions in how i’m going to respond to them. To stop my brain and actually listen to somebody. That’s one thing, it’s a big one. It’s always going – when you’re talking to me, I’m thinking of what i’m going to say or something else. And it’s not you, it’s just who I am and my brain has had to do that for years. That’s something I’m going to work on. It’s back to the point earlier about slowing down.”

Express Gratitude on a Daily Basis

“I would like to wake up every morning and think of something I’m grateful for, to take a page from your book. Because sometimes you forget, all the good you have and you need to remind yourself every day.”

Thank you for reading as always. If you liked what you read, give my post a like, hit the Follow button on the top right-hand corner of this post, and turn on post-notifications, so you never miss an LE blog post! Don’t forget to join my monthly email list by signing up below, for updates, bonus content, and recommendations from yours truly!

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