Many of us grew up with unreliable support figures in our lives. We learned to rely on ourselves alone – it felt like the only option. When you can’t depend on the help of others, even immediate family, you learn to do without.
Soon, accepting support feels like a sign of weakness. I know that I myself felt betrayed so often at a young age that I eventually trusted no one. I believed that even if someone offered help, they either wouldn’t follow through at all or disappear when I needed them most. That was all I’d experienced. Constantly relying on oneself is lonely, but at least I knew exactly where I stood. It was predictable and felt safer than the alternative.
Throughout my adulthood, I kept myself rather aloof from others when it came to asking for any kind of assistance. It didn’t help that I dated several men who shamed me whenever I needed something from them. In hindsight, I see that had nothing to do with me – but at the time, it only perpetuated my belief that no one found me worthy of support. I was unconsciously choosing partners who reinforced damaging patterns from my childhood.
If any of this resonates for you, I’m willing to bet you’ve also been labeled “strong” fairly often. Damn, that is my biggest pet peeve. For a long time, I wasn’t sure why I hated it. We are taught that strength is a good thing, but I felt a deep resistance to the supposed compliment. Eventually I realized that it seemed like a cop-out. If I am so strong, then people don’t have to be there for me, right? I’ve already got it under control. I hated it because more than anything, I wanted to feel safe enough to let my guard down. I wanted to trust someone so much that I could show my softness and vulnerability without fearing rejection. I wanted someone to see through my strength to the trauma that necessitated it, and accept me anyway.
Having said all that, though, I realized recently that I will always feel alone if I don’t start taking a chance on people. My solitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy – I protect myself so much that I don’t give anyone the chance to help me. If I don’t give them a chance, of course I will never be supported. Not only do I lose out, I’m actually rejecting them when they want to be there for me and I won’t allow it.
My stubborn commitment to independence is not strength. It’s a defense mechanism carefully built up over decades that I think is protecting me, but which actually hurts me. The irony is that I don’t feel confident and grounded in who I am at all. That’s why it’s easier to keep everyone around me at a distance, because then they can’t affect me.
In the last couple of months, I’ve begun experimenting with letting myself accept support from my friends. I don’t want to feel alone anymore. I want to cultivate a strong, loving network with the knowledge that asking for help does not mean I am weak. If the tables are turned, I am delighted to support the people I love – and yet it’s so difficult for me to believe that I am worth the same.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the incredible amount of love and support I’ve gotten now that I choose to allow it. It almost brings me to tears every time I think about it, honestly. I feel beyond lucky to be surrounded by such lovely humans who shower me with kindness. I wonder sometimes, was this there all along? Was it always just me, blocking out all the good so I could protect myself from the possibility of bad? I’m just glad that I am learning to let myself accept support now.
I’m not saying that you’ll never be disappointed if you take a chance and allow yourself to receive support. There’s always risk involved when you open up to vulnerability. I’m saying that a life without risk is a life half-lived. I’m done shutting out all the joy along with the pain. Are you?
It feels scary at first to allow yourself to receive, but it gets easier as you go. The rewards are worth it. You can do this. Sending you courage, hope and strength. I love you.