Pushed out into the cold air and blinding lights of existence, my first breath on earth was a cry for help. At one-second old, I already understood the profound human need for connection and protection. My very survival depended on it.
It did then, and it does now.
But children most especially need to feel safe, seen, soothed, and secure to know they matter, they have value, and they are worthy of love. When my family became a source of intermittent disconnection and abuse, I knew I wasn’t safe. I didn’t have the words for it or understand it on a cognitive level, but I felt it in my bones.
Connection and Protection
The unhealthy distance of disconnection from the people who were supposed to love me fostered an anxious craving for connection.
This unmet need became the wellspring of codependency, love addiction, shame, and a prevailing sense of never being good enough. It was the reason I tolerated being treated like shit. I desperately wanted connection.
This is the wounded child that lives inside me.
The unhealthy closeness of abuse from the people who were supposed to love me fostered an anxious craving for protection.
This unmet need became the wellspring of fear, distrust, avoidance, and walls. It became the armor that I wore as I learned how to not need, want, or expect anything from anyone. I desperately wanted protection.
This is the pissed-off teenager that lives inside me.
So neglect and abandonment create an anxious attachment style, while enmeshment and abuse create an avoidant attachment style. And children who experience both unhealthy distance and unhealthy closeness often end up with a disorganized attachment style — craving connection but also fearing it.
When the places we can go to get our needs met are also sources of terror, there’s nothing left but to conclude that life sucks and we had better get used to it.
Fisher-Price My First Nihilistic Depression
The timeline of my childhood isn’t entirely clear, but I vividly recall the moments I was burned, stabbed, held down, tied up, ridiculed, shamed, and literally pissed on. As a young boy, I had a stuffed animal named Glo Worm that I slept with. I loved him mostly because he wasn’t actively trying to kill me. He felt safe, soothing, and secure. I could trust him.
One night before going to sleep, I discovered Glo Worm had been abducted from my bed. My older brothers had taken him for ransom. I imagine I was six years old or so. I don’t really know. But this was the moment I knew for sure that being alive was completely and utterly fucked. Nothing at last is sacred, and no one will ever protect me from this unrelenting shit-hole of existence. It’s not even safe to own things or to love because all that can be snatched away in an instant while the world gloats at your pathetic helplessness.
I probably cried and told my mom. She probably got him back for me. I don’t remember that part.
Nothing mattered anymore.
Committed to Suffering
It’s hard to say if it happened the same night Glo Worm died, but at some point during my formative years, I decided that my best defense against suffering was to get really good at it — to truly embrace it as a way of life. If I make a personal commitment to self-abandonment, self-loathing, and self-destruction, that should effectively preempt any harm that could come of me.
Someone tells me I’m trash? Already did that a dozen times before breakfast. You’re gonna have to come harder than that.
Somebody takes something that rightfully belongs to me? Well, I don’t really believe that I deserve anything, so that’s a non-issue.
Physical or emotional abuse? I’ll eat that. What else you got?
You gonna leave me? Joke’s on you, motherfucker. I abandoned myself a long time ago.
You can’t hurt me.
Be honest, is this not a brilliant defense mechanism? It works flawlessly. The only drawback is being dead on the inside and suffering all the time.
Committed to Changing
I’ve been in recovery for over a decade now — removing toxic people, behaviors, and substances from my life, one at a time. My life has improved significantly, for obvious reasons. However, when all my peers began buying houses, getting married, having children, and experiencing tremendous material success, I had to wonder why I was still single, driving a twenty-year-old hoopty, living in a rented bedroom, and eating dino nuggets for dinner. What gives?
It turns out that I had changed quite a few things about my life, but the beating heart of my whole operating system was still a core-belief that suffering is my best bet. It’s easy, reliable, safe, and frankly comfortable at this point. I’m really good at it!
I can get connection through self-sacrifice for others and protection through tactical nihilism. It works. But… is this it for me? Is this all I’ll ever do?
The question burns. Most people never ask, and many who do wince and turn away as if they accidentally looked into the sun.
I have decided that I don’t want to suffer anymore. Not as a choice, not as a default, not as a trauma-response. I can say thank you to my suffering for its services rendered. And then I can say goodbye.
Connection and Protection Revisited
Habits can’t be stopped; habits must be replaced. Instead of sacrificing my authenticity for connection, numbing myself so I can tolerate toxic people or gambling with my wants and needs, I can learn the ins and outs of loving human relationships. Learn about boundaries and healthy communication. I can be vulnerable and discerning with whom I choose to share my time.
Self-abandonment will never be an effective strategy for genuine human connection.
Being entirely dependent on others to meet my needs is a hostage crisis. Being completely independent of others is a recipe for loneliness and despair. Trying to meet my needs by meeting your needs is codependent, and that shit doesn’t work either.
Interdependence is the healthy interplay of connection and protection achievable by anyone committed to healing and emotional maturity. A radical return to self-love, self-care, and self-acceptance. Meeting the needs of our wounded child and soothing the fears of our pissed-off teenager. It takes letting go of long-held beliefs. It takes personal responsibility, courage, and perseverance.
And if I can do it, there’s hope for you, too.