Having two parents that worked for NASA, you’d think I know all about space. However, sometimes in my personal life, my emotions guide my actions like a bunny chasing a carrot on a stick so when someone says they need space, I give them the equivalent space of a NYC studio flat that a 20-something right out of college has just moved into.
Recently, I let my emotions and my mind get the best of me, and I made a hasty decision to cut things off with someone I deeply cared about. While I wanted to contact him the next day to cure my severe text hangover, I knew any new contact would completely contradict my previous messages and he wouldn’t be able to take anything else I say seriously (and haven’t we all had enough of flip-floppers after the last presidential election?).
I knew that my words had suffocated him in a way, and he was unable to respond. All I could do was sit and wait for the dust to settle. Even a few days removed from the situation, so many more things about my actions, my emotions, and how I handled the events are illuminated. Had I only taken a snapshot of my feelings to revisit later, I could have given him time to process the uncertainties between us and I could have given time to myself to decide how his actions made me feel and how I’d choose to address it once the heat of the moment had cooled down.
When I was single, I was confident that I had let issues from past relationships go. It wasn’t until I was in a new relationship that old residue of trust issues, fears, and miscommunication seeped back in. I thought I was secure with my position in a relationship, but then, a series of events happened to trigger past memories of a previous fall-out I had with an ex from a few years back. Because of this ‘fight or flight’ flashback, I went into defensive mode. He pulled away, I pulled in closer. And so it became an unproductive emotional tug-of-war.
My biggest fear, that this person I liked so much had a sudden change of heart, became a self-fulfilling prophecy as I began to frantically test his commitment to me through communication pleas to see if he would drop everything to make it right. When he was, understandably, rattled by my behavior, he pulled away even more, which made me feel like my fear was indeed coming true. Taking his silence as a sign that he did not care, I ended things with him. I initially felt proud of sticking up for my self-worth and walking away instead of sticking around to convince him that I was worth it, which is something I had done for far too often and too long in past relationships.
People who are more closed-off or introverted will find this approach very abrasive, and will end up shutting down and pushing away in order to shield themselves from the slew of emotions and questions being tossed at them. They might compartmentalize it to deal with it later, which drives an extrovert like me crazy, as my initial gut reaction is “if you cared, you’d say something and fix this right now!!!” Of course, this approach doesn’t give the wound time to heal, but rather makes the gash bigger and more prone to infection. Though things might be fated to end eventually anyhow, I learned that by clasping a new seed too tight, I probably kept it from ever growing to its true potential.
As a yoga instructor, I tell people to breathe into the discomfort head on, so they can face the pain and find more space. “Release to receive,” I like to say. However, I need to remind myself to do this more in life. While I undoubtedly don’t shy away from addressing the discomfort, I sometimes do it in a way that can be hurtful in the long run. In yoga, you never want to force yourself into a pose that you aren’t warmed up for or you haven’t been working up to previously. If you try to jam yourself into a new and challenging pose, you may injure yourself and hinder yourself from comfortably getting back into that pose again. You have to work into it and trust that you’ll get it in time, even if some days you feel more stiff and inflexible than others. If you give it time, and keep breathing into it slowly, you’ll open up gradually and relax into the pose with only slight discomfort and tension along the way. Similarly, if you slowly relax into a relationship and face difficulties with ease and trust that you will work them out in the long run, it gives the relationship room to breathe and grow, with an unshakeable trust that you will pay attention to and address discomfort as it arises.
Through this all, I’ve learned that I should always be proud of sticking up for myself, but it doesn’t always have to be done with words. If you’re in tune with your value and what makes you feel good, you won’t surround yourself with people or energies that make you feel anything less. As soon as you get a bad feeling from someone, you can re-direct the time and attention you were putting into them into someone or something else that will feed your soul. And if someone isn’t responding to your outpour of emotions, you’re only exhausting yourself. By walking away, they may realize in time that whatever issue you both had is worth fighting for (from both ends), or, perhaps they didn’t appreciate what love or time you had to give them, in which case, it was better that you reinvested it elsewhere.
Though retrospective vision always appears to be 20/20, I don’t regret how I’ve handled situations in the past when I have said what I felt in the heat of the moment. There is something beautifully raw about being completely vulnerable and honest, and in the end, we are all human. Who knows? Maybe the space created by your past words will end up bringing the other person back when the time is right. If not, you now have the luxury of both time and space to strengthen your relationship with yourself, so that in the future, you feel grounded and secure enough so you don’t need the immediate and external validation of someone else to put your emotions at ease.