Personal cleansing: identifying the stuff that gets you down

One of my very “with it” girlfriends recently told me that she thought I was “fierce,” and in a good way. Wow. I was shocked and flattered. As I’ve always thought of myself as fragile, I love it when I appear to be the exact opposite. I was one of those princess-loving girls who fantasized about being Wonder Woman.

Of course, when I look at the big picture, I think I’m pretty strong, given some of the things I’ve gone through. But at the micro level, on the day-to-day level, I’ve often thought of myself as fragile.

I’m sensitive – maybe too sensitive. By that I mean that I feel too much. Things don’t bounce off of me; they soak into me. Back-handed compliments, rude tones, dismissive attitudes…I give people too much power over how I feel about myself sometimes.

I’ve been kind of monitoring my moods of late, because I’m getting tired of the emotional see saw. I’m giving up on “Forget about it!” and “Don’t let it get to you!” because those instructions don’t come with instructions. Really, when someone does or says something that feels mean, how do I not let it get to me – me, who feels everything so keenly? Someone needs to tell me how.

Of course, I do make an effort to try and react from my head rather than my heart. It’s beyond difficult, since I am not wired this way, but I do make efforts. For example, if someone makes an off-handed remark that was meant to sting, I have to remember that it says more about the speaker than it does about me.

In the meantime, though, I do think that we need to arrange (or rearrange, if necessary) our lives in order to maximize healthy living and to minimize toxicity. I didn’t always do this, and out of either cluelessness or politeness chose to stick around situations that were not uplifting.

Years and years ago I was with a man who had no limit on how he could frustrate and torment me. At one particular party he’d spent half the time avoiding me (even though we were in a committed relationship) to talk to other women. I was crying and then trying to explain everything to a concerned girlfriend who turned around and said to me, “I don’t care what the reasons are. All I know is that you shouldn’t be crying.” That pretty much sums it all up. Now, of course, if you cry at everything, then that’s a problem. But assuming you are a normal, warm-blooded human being, you really do have to question situations and people that constantly leave you crying.

And the following are things that make me cry, or at least figuratively speaking (and the things I need to pare down on or do something about):

Facebook

So ridiculous, isn’t it, that something so trivial can actually dictate what mood underlies my days. My FB friends would never believe it given how active I was on it (I am using the past tense, effective 18 hours ago), but I actually don’t feel good on FB a lot of the times. And it’s not because of envy, the most commonly cited issue that people have with FB. Most of my friends (bless them) do not brag or flaunt, and I don’t take very seriously the two that do.

However, I do find it too easy to feel rejected on FB. It reflects my insecurities in general. If I were to psychoanalyze myself I can trace this flicker of fear back to the time I was 14 when my best girlfriend decided to suddenly leave me out of things she was doing with our mutual friends. It is easy to put something out there and feel ignored, whether the gesture is real or imagined, and to wonder if you have just made a fool of yourself or written something that offended someone or are being judged. FB is poison for those who crave interaction but who also think and worry and analyze too much.

People in Friend Disguises

Especially with the advent of Facebook we really need to find a new word for “friend.” I have whittled my real life pack of friends down to the people who really deserve the title. Sometimes it’s not easy, because there are people in friend disguises. They blow their cover when they make off-handed remarks about the fact that you have no children, or have only have one child, or that you work outside of the home, or that you stay at home, or that you formula feed. They tell you you can tell them anything and then freak out or avoid you when you actually do. Or they take up more and more of you and make you feel guilty for taking a step back.

Family

This is so hard, when the people who love you most are also the ones who make you cry. I love my mother and on many levels I am in awe of her, and I know I can never live up to many of the things she has accomplished as a mother and as a woman. But she can be hard on me, still, all these years since I’ve learned impeccable manners and brought home good report cards and earned my university degrees with honors. And as a parent my life is just rife with fodder for criticism right now.

But I can’t just avoid her or cut her out of my life. I do understand that there are daughters and sons out there who have no choice but to. So in my case I am fortunate, fortunate because it is not like that. I know there is more to us than these particular bad feelings, and I know that in a perverse way the criticisms stem from worry which stems from love that is too strong to be rational and objective. I can drift apart from people in friend disguises, but family doesn’t let me off the hook quite as easily. There is a lot at stake here, so I need to speak up.

Clutter

This sounds trite but it’s as big as the piles of books and papers that surround me. Serenity starts with order. I can clear out the toxic people from my life but still drown in my own clutter and disorganization. So 15 minutes a day, even 60 seconds. Today while waiting for my computer to boot up I tidied up a small pile of books on my desk and threw a few things into the waste basket.

Guilt and Self-Criticism

This is the Headquarters where all the toxicity originates. So many self-reprimands (often very quiet and very subtle) when I fail to do something, including accidentally getting on Facebook this morning. There’s no point in trying to rid yourself of mean or unhealthy people when you are your #1 toxic friend in disguise. Why is it so hard to be kind to ourselves? To talk to ourselves the way we would talk to others? Last month when I spoke to a therapist she told me it was my internal voice that was sinking me into that hole I couldn’t seem to get myself out of.

Part two of this de-cleansing would be to surround myself with all the good stuff, but for now this is my list of things to cut down on or moderate or do something about. What’s on your list? What eats into how you feel about yourself?

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23 thoughts on “Personal cleansing: identifying the stuff that gets you down

  1. Hi, Cecilia, I started to laugh when I read this, because it sounded a lot like me, but then I went on and felt more serious about it. I don’t have any toxic FB friends, but then I don’t post a lot. It sounds like you need to unfriend a few people, but also that you’re doing that. I, too, tend to be oversensitive at times. It’s rough. I try to deal with it by remembering that other people aren’t really thinking about me as much as I think they are. If that makes sense. They’re thinking about themselves. It sounds counter-intuitive, but maybe it isn’t.

    • I totally agree – I think that people don’t think nearly as much about us as we fear they do, and certainly they are not as critical. Most of my FB friends are great people. I run into my little issues when I make comments on posts by people whom I’m not super close to, and then sometimes I feel like I had walked unwelcome into a private discussion (but then, why did they friend me in the first place?). Some time ago I had pared down my list of friends and made a separate one for them; I should just refer to that one whenever I log on.

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m happy to know you can relate!

  2. Great Post Cecilia! I do not do fakey friends or toxic relationships; build each other up not break each other down. I get so tired of the “girl drama” at times too! I am learning to reign in my emotionally charged self too and it is hard because like you I am not wired that way. Wishing You the Best – Take Care:)

    • Thank you! I love that you are like-minded as well. I think that our sensitive nature can be a huge strength most of the time but it takes some discipline to moderate it.

      • Happy to Share:) I have to agree with your comment in that it does take some discipline to moderate it. I think it is perfectly okay to be fierce, to be passionate and to have a little moxie!!!

  3. What a great detox list! I’d suggest blocking posts or people you don’t want to see from your newsfeed (no need to unfriend, which can cause drama) — no one will ever know, and you’ll feel better!

    I started making my bed every day a few years ago (I know, I know — embarrassing), and that makes me feel great. There’s always at least one clean, uncluttered surface to look at in the house.

    Also, I was reflecting the other day that I don’t have “frenemies” in my life at all. It wasn’t a conscious decision I made, and the more I think about it, the more I think that perhaps it’s because I’m a person of size, or, in less politically correct terms, overweight. My friends see me for me, not what I look like, and I think that cuts down on that kind of problem.

    As always, a lovely and insightful post.

    • Thank you, Carolyn!

      You are one step ahead of me if you are making your bed every day! I do occasionally make my bed 1 hour before I get into it (!), and it makes a huge difference. Someone said that wiping down the bathroom and kitchen counters works wonders too, and it’s true.

      I’m sure you have good friends too because you’re a lovely person and you attract like-minded people. One of the nice things about getting older for me has been that friends who don’t fit have somehow automatically filtered out. I used to spend too much time maintaining relationships in the name of politeness.

      Thanks always for your thoughtful comments!

  4. I think you and I are kindred spirits. I can relate to all of this all too well. I have especially struggled with Facebook over the last six months or so. You described my problem with it perfectly. I have started to unfriend those who really aren’t and I’ve blocked certain people. I also try to avoid it and don’t post anything too personal. Anyway, this post really speaks to me in more ways than just that section. Well done.

    • I really appreciate this comment, Emily, as I was quite nervous about writing it, to be honest. I was afraid I was going to open myself up as this totally vulnerable person. I’m so happy to know that you can relate well. I do feel less alone.

  5. Cecilia,

    So much of this post resonates with me. For years I would feel bad if I could not decipher a “friend” who made a slight or criticism about my career or parenting choices. I’d somehow try to deflect by honing in on my flaws, instead of recognizing that certain people do not have the common sense or social mores to keep their judgments to themselves. My rule is this: If I feel worse after interacting with a person either virtually or in-person, it is probably best I limit my contact with that person. I find that as I get older, this is becoming easier and easier.

    I admire your vulnerability in talking about your cleansing various areas in your life. I think I might take your lead and compose my own list (perhaps I will post about it). Thanks for the inspiration and insightful post.

    • I thought of you when I wrote this post, Rudri, because I know that you and I have posted variations of this theme in the past. I would very much love to read your list as well.

      I absolutely love this and agree completely: “My rule is this: If I feel worse after interacting with a person either virtually or in-person, it is probably best I limit my contact with that person. I find that as I get older, this is becoming easier and easier.” I’ve been trying to take note of this recently, to really notice who and what triggers that deflation in spirit. It is cliched, but life really is too short!

      I appreciate so much all your comments on my various posts today and yesterday, which I’ve read and haven’t yet responded to. Thanks for slogging through all my verbose posts, ha ha. I think I have a couple to catch up on your blog. See you there soon!

  6. Cecilia,

    I’ve been thinking a lot about my friendships lately, so this post really resonated with me. I used to think that I could be friends with anyone, and I would invest tons of energy even if the friendship frequently upset me. Recently, I meet so few women in professional contexts that I feel awful when a friendship with another woman doesn’t work out. But I think it’s such a good rule of thumb to say that you will invest in relationships that make you feel better, not worse. My best friendships aren’t perfect; I don’t always achieve perfect understanding with any friend. But lately I’ve been realizing how happy I am with certain friends–free to “be myself,” bonding over similar passions, encouraging each other, being *honest*, or laughing over silly things. Women can have a sense of solidarity by complaining about the patriarchy together, but I need friendships that are ultimately uplifting and full of joy, where we can build real trust between each other. I never blame another woman for being insecure, since I have a lot of insecurities, but I don’t want to deal with women who project their insecurities onto me. Just seeing that has made me more determined not to treat people badly because of my personal issues.

    Sorry about the rant mode! >_< (I almost feel like I have said something similar in response to another post of yours, but maybe it's just that I've been thinking about these issues so much…) Currently trying to figure out how to navigate certain social networks in Tokyo, but I'm terrible at dealing with grey areas in terms of people. In any case, I am glad to hear from you & other readers that it is normal to want to set boundaries. Thanks for posting and sharing such personal details about yourself.

    • Hi Grace, Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I hear you. I was thinking a lot about what you wrote after I read your comment yesterday. It got me wondering if there is a natural life cycle that female friendships go through. You are spot on on what you said about insecurities, and boy do I remember those years well. That is what made friendships so hard. Then I realized that now, at my age, not that I don’t still have some sticky friendship moments, but for the most part things are happy. I feel more assertive about not having to invest in relationships with women who don’t suit me. The other thing is that, after all these years, I think most (?) women grow out of their insecurities and have found a place in their lives where they feel content and secure. This makes friendships easier, smoother, and less hurtful.

      I struggled a lot with friendships in my 20s and a bit in my 30s, when my girlfriends and I started going off in different directions at different times. I am referring specifically to marriage and motherhood. Those shifts can impact friendships a lot. It took years before things came to an equilibrium, and I am friends again with women I had drifted apart from 10 or 15 years ago.

      I think it is smart to walk away a little if you don’t feel you can truly be yourself around a friend, and if that friend ends up making you feel worse more often than good. I know you’re navigating new terrain again now that you’re in a different country. You should write about this! (unless it is too delicate to discuss in a public space…)

      • Thank you, Cecilia. I feel pathetic, but my late 20s have been the most difficult time so far in terms of friendships. I can’t even walk away most of the time because my personal/professional social networks are so entangled, but I also have a hard time pretending to be comfortable with people when I’m not. Once someone loses my trust, usually it’s like a door shuts, and I can’t act bubbly or open around that person. At least back in kindergarten, kids would reject you openly/swiftly? I am not thick-skinned/savvy enough to handle more complicated interaction most of the time. I also wonder what happens if you never get married or have a child–what sort of community can you possibly have? I will definitely think about trying to incorporate some of these thoughts in a post–just need to figure out how first. 🙂 First, off to find a therapist instead of crowding up your blog… 😉 (half-joking!)

        • You can talk to me any time – off-line too! You know, my original plan coming out of W. was to become a psychologist…But I analyzed too much and ended up not pursuing it.

          Anyway, don’t feel pathetic at all, Grace. What you’re going through is so completely normal and I doubt there is a woman who can’t relate. I really think you are at the peak of relationship difficulty. Women at this age are struggling to find themselves, feel connected and yet stay authentic at the same time. I think it is also hard when so many of us have been socialized to blur loyalty with politeness with authenticity. I’ve found that men have less complicated relationships. It is also fascinating to watch my son navigate this terrain. While he has had bumps, I hear some scary stories from some friends of girls.

          I was relieved to have a baby because I knew I could regain entry into my old friendships. It’s sad to think that. It seems that the number of women who don’t marry and/or don’t have children is growing, and I imagine there is a strong community of those women. One of my good friends has been a woman who was never sure if she wanted children. She finally did, in her late 30s. A real friend will value you regardless of what life choices you make (I know, the question is finding them…).

          I don’t know if you saw this post but I wrote this maybe a month back…it is a slightly different topic but under the same umbrella. I wrote it after I got invited by a W. alum to attend a brunch get-together and I realized I didn’t have it in me to go….http://onlyoublog.com/2013/08/25/caring-about-what-others-think/

          • Thanks again, Cecilia. It’s so sweet of you to offer to talk to me about this, too! And I appreciate your honesty about having experienced these issues. I reread your other post, which I really enjoyed the first time around, too. By the way, I actually thought about becoming a mental health counselor before! We can talk more about this some other time maybe. 🙂 Haha.

  7. So much here to talk about, Ceci. But I think the most important is, how I wish the world was full of more people who took stock. We’d be a better nation, with more conscientious living. I love you dearly. (also: clutter is no trite matter. It affects how I feel and go about my day. Just getting rid of things makes me feel productive and like I can breathe)

  8. I love how honest you are with your readers, and most importantly, yourself, in this post Cecilia. I, too, am in a more-hate-than-love relationship with Facebook these days, so I can understand why you mentioned it here. Sometimes it becomes a validation tool that we frankly don’t need in our lives, because why are we still yearning for acceptance (in the form of “likes”) so many years after high school? I made a quite a few fake friends on Facebook too, and it irks me that I allow it to bother me so much. Anyway, I know these aren’t the only reasons why Facebook can be toxic, but I have a post brewing in my head just for this topic in the last week. I’m going to borrow some of your courage here and eventually get it out there. Brava for opening up to us, for whittling down your FB friends list, and for doing what you set out to do – none of which is easy by any means.

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