Bearing Up

Teaching yourself not to want what you know that you need but know that you cannot get is very, very hard work.

The way to do it, though, is to have your heart broken so many times that the feeling of denial is better, easier and more comfortable than the feelings of need and desire.

It is what we need and want from other people, the engagement, the mirroring, the encouragement, the love that is most difficult to live without.

Transferring our desire for love to the desire for stuff is the preferred way to handle this heartbreak, at least in the minds of marketers.   Using disappointment and the quest for a magic bullet to eliminate it is a major force in driving the volitional economy.   “Buy me!” they say, “and you will get all your needs met!”

For those of us who were raised with a stoic streak, though, bearing the pain of life and still coming through for those we love is the mark of a great warrior.   It is a virtue that we hold on to as a pillar of our identity.

Learning not to be seduced by what we have learned so painfully that we cannot have, which is usually having other people heal on our schedule and in our preferred way, and not to give into the temptation of self medicating with the pursuit of stuff that we hope will fill the empty place, well, it can leave us kind of brittle.

“What do you want?” people ask us and we defer the answer, often saying that we want whatever they want.

Our survival, our functioning, we have learned, depends on bearing up with the reality of loss, knowing that what we want, the loving embrace that we need, is just not going to be there for us.   Instead, we have learned to give rather than take, learned this after years and years, decades and decades of asking for the warmth we need and not getting it.

Others so often promise that they will be there, that they will change, that they just want us to be happy, but we have had to be pragmatic and tough; we see them for who they are, understand them for the limits of their compassion, awareness and sacrifice.

For so many moms, what we did to defer our own needs in order to give the ones we love what they needed was just the right choice, no matter how much it cost us.   We cared so much that we knew letting our own desires go unfulfilled in order to be there for others was absolutely the right thing.

Did we hope that someday it would be our turn again, that someone would see us, understand us, value us and treat our needs tenderly?   Sure we did, but after long enough, denial becomes a habit since hope for what seems impossible is just too, too painful.

The offers of presence that we do get, well it is easy to see how symbolic and perfunctory they are in intention, lovely ideas of others who want to see us happy but who mostly lack the discipline and toughness that we had to have to do the work we did for them, putting our own needs aside to be there fully.

If they really had the fire to be there for us, they would be, pushing through our deferrals, focusing on the presence which would let them enter our world, let them see through our eyes, let them understand our deepest needs, the same kind of presence that we have always had to have for them.

Most of us learned very early the joys and the costs of being a caretaker, starting training while we were very young.   It was our job to make sure others got what they needed, to help those who had promise, those who could get out with success.    We knew that if they put others ahead of their dreams, as we learned how to do, they wouldn’t go as far as they needed to go, as far as they could go.   We were there for them, even if they weren’t there for us.

We taught ourselves not to want what we knew that we needed but knew that we could not get.   Our stoic discipline was the way we learned to love in the world, learned to be there for those we love.

No one can directly change someone else.  Since we have been there, watching and helping as those we love have faced challenges, have learned and grown, we know that.   It has been easy for us to see their limits & challenges, to understand their blind spots, to know where they just don’t get it.   Trying to help someone get what they are not ready, able or willing to engage has left us with some blows, so we learned to fall back, to let them find their own way, even if we see the irony in their repeated missteps.

When they are ready, we know, nothing will stop them from achieving what they set their mind on.   Just saying what they want, though, doesn’t mean that they are ready, so we learn to wait, to have patience, to not get our hopes up.  They need to show us that they understand, not just tell us that they think that they should.

Bearing up, practising a stoic and disciplined kind of tough love where we know that we will face the same challenges and frustrations time and time again until those we love can move on, well that is just one of the requirements of someone who cares, who acts out of deep love.

And if we don’t get what we need back, don’t get our love reciprocated, don’t receive the blessing of being cared for in the same way, well, we have to learn to live with that.

Who cares for the caretakers?   Certainly not those who are so focused on their own challenges, on their own world, that they cannot tenderly enter the world of another, proving that they are safe, compassionate and committed enough to follow through with the words that pass their lips.

Teaching yourself not to want what you know that you need but know that you cannot get is very, very hard work.

We do it, though, for love.