I am not gracious when it comes to being loved. I do not trust intent, I feel solicited into an impossible tit-for-tat that I did not intend to enter. My brain tells me to ask them why or what they’re gunning for. I am suspicious, uncomfortable, and resistant.
It is not that there isn’t an underlying appreciation. I have been told that the saddest thing about me is that when people are kind to me, I cry. For a large period of my life, I could not be hugged without crying. I do feel it, but in a way I cannot explain, those gestures feel much more like pain.
There was no hugging in my household, growing up. Emotions were bottled until they burst, we shared underlying fears but did not talk about them. I was the sensitive one, as if the moniker would invalidate the somber reality that we all shared– the one I tried to suppress until I was sick, but it still managed to find its way through every crack.
As I grew up, I held that moniker close. Sensitive, in a way that implied that I was needlessly emotional. Needlessly upset, reactive, even happy at times. I was the “you were just a happy little girl, what happened?” child, the one who was held responsble for the way her parents smothered her in order to encourage silence.
I stayed in that world for too long, sitting a table that served only silence over a defeaning abuse that we all tolerated.
By the time I started to shift my attention to other relationships, it felt like pushing my chair back and hearing it screech against the floor. A listening ear would hear the collapse of my sense of self, hugs felt agonizing and I pulled my shoulders up. I was hyper aware of the sensation of other people against my skin, averting eye contact and either saying too much or two little.
I learned how to move past the people who worked to keep me strapped in my chair, I learned how to survive the sound well enough to leave in that moment. In me, I know, is the dueling of the love I was taught and the new ways I’m learning to be with other people.
But in truth, escaping that world has largely felt more like a physical move than an emotional one. I am free, but I am still there. They sit content, while I try to change my understanding of love. They are comfortable enough, while I still hear the chair screeching when the affection starts and I recoil from it.
So much of what we learn about love is taught by people who never really loved us – r.h. Sin
I have been asked if I grew up in a house where I felt I was loved. The further I go, the more my answer transitions into the honesty I could not offer as a child, the naive girl who lived in a neverending cycle of harm. No. I do not feel that I was loved. This is not a question of whether they meant to love me or whether they had tried– I did not feel it. There was no physical, emotional, no nothing.
I remember being left behind in the house when my mother walked out, when she took my siblings.
I remember being yelled at for not telling my mother that the boy she let my sister babysit was harassing me. She didn’t do anything about it.
I remember when I was assaulted and my mother made it about her, my father ignored it, and my sisters thought “it wasn’t that bad.”
I remember the sound of my father when he was angry, the silence when he ignored us for months.
I remember when I decided that this was not love, was not enough. I remember when I finally made the decision to leave and I felt like my entire world had changed. I was afraid to see them, but I came to find that I could own my space, start to see with clarity what went wrong.
But these are all pieces to a world you could not truly understand, fractions of my life that made me the person who cries at kindness. Even in the distance, I have all those years that cannot be unlearned as easily as blocking phone numbers.
I learned the wrong things. You might have too. You might not know that you can be loved even if you weren’t before, that you can restrain the voices that tell you to question affection and kindness. Maybe we can be the ones who learn how to love the people who love us.