When J asked where we’d like to start, I said that I would because I wanted some feedback. So I started to explain some context about my selves – about how I have a conflict between the Adult and the Child selves. I also talked about something that I’ve found too embarrassing and even shameful to say – that I feel like I should be entitled to getting help from people, that I think that this world is so unfair, and that because I’ve had many traumas in my life, and that my life has been so difficult and painful, that I deserve to get help, that I deserve people to cut me some slack, and that I deserve a better life. I talked about how financial strain has caused me to reflect on how angry and bitter I am at my life – to be left with a $10K credit card debt, to not have money to do anything I need to do (and now that I don’t have any shifts at the restaurant, to feel like I’m going to be homeless as soon as I run out of my savings), to not be able to focus all that well in school because I had other adult responsibilities, and so on. I told the group how ashamed I feel and how guilty I feel for saying that I want attention. That I sometimes do things to get attention or to elicit sympathy and empathy.
A couple of the group members chimed in and told me that I shouldn’t feel ashamed for being who I am. That I shouldn’t be ashamed to feel like I deserve the things that I’ve mentioned. Brandon talked about how his life had been similar and how he could relate because of how horrible his life has been as well. Then he said that he got over it by learning to love himself better – that he was able to come up with reasons why he does deserve to be treated fairly, that he does deserve to be loved, and that he should never have to be ashamed of himself.
One of the new girls, let’s call her Kayla, told me that she’s a realist and that the way she sees it, that I shouldn’t expect so much from people because then I set myself up for disappointment. She also said that no one is entitled to anything except to be accepted as a human being. Beyond that, we are to make our own life. That we are not to expect help from anyone. She said that she will admit that she comes from a supportive middle-class well-off family and have never suffered from anything traumatic in her life so she didn’t know if her views are just her being a realist, or if it’s her privilege talking. I didn’t feel mad at her though I did feel a slight pull to argue, and to point out that she isn’t even trying to empathize. I refrained myself because I didn’t want to derail our current conversation and get into that. I wanted to get to the bottom of my issue first. I was being selfish.
About 45 minutes into the session, we were still analyzing my situation, analyzing my thoughts and emotion. J, the lead facilitator, chimed in and said, “I don’t know about you guys but I’m currently feeling like you’re not present. Like the things that you’re talking about are not here in this room but rather somewhere out there… Correct me if I’m wrong but does anyone else feel that way?”
I nodded because I realized that I had been distancing myself from the subject. That the way I had expressed my issue and how I’d asked for feedback had been devoid of emotion. I didn’t have any emotion in my voice except for one where I was playing an analytical scientist role. At that point, I knew that I was consciously doing it. I didn’t want to go near the emotions that was related to me feeling like I’m entitled to some attention, care, love, and help from others. Those emotions were messy because aside from the shame (which in itself is already a huge beast to slay), I also had feelings of guilt, anger, bitterness, betrayal, sadness, and confusion all mixed in.
I admitted that I didn’t want to feel any emotion.
Kyle, the guy that I had had a conflict with a while ago, offered his opinion. He said that the group had been dancing around the issue, and no one is really going to the root of things – that people are content to hear my issues, and then just analyze them and find out what they can do to help fix things. He talked about how he’s noticed this happening a lot more with group lately. That we are no longer willing to do the hard work of feeling the emotions we need to feel.
J asked, “How are you feeling towards Jules right now?”
I prepared myself to feel angry at Kyle because of how in the past, he’s never been willing to connect to me. I thought about how I knew what he would feel – that for sure, he would just dismiss my feelings the way he’s always done.
He didn’t. Instead he said, “I can see why you would feel like it’s a shameful thing. I mean… As you were talking, I realized that I do this too… That I also don’t want to feel that. That I wish people would just see my situation as well. How I’m just trying so hard and nobody realizes what I struggle with… I do it too…”
J encouraged Kyle to explain what ‘that’ was.
“Admitting that I want care and concern. That I want that too…” He said, after some hesitation.
I felt my heart fill with emotions. I started to cry because as I’d explained it to the group moments later, “My emotions are catching up and I’ve been keeping them at bay. But what Kyle said has unleashed them…”
I told the group that I felt the connection that Kyle was trying to make. That although I appreciate hearing the more philosophical, and more analytical arguments/suggestions from the others because I am myself so analytical, that I really did appreciate Kyle’s empathy. I didn’t expect it. I felt a warmth emanating from him.
J then offered how she felt that Kyle had come such a long way. That initially when group had started, he had seemed very stand offish, and that he didn’t care about emotions. That he wasn’t at group because he wanted to feel anything. She then pointed out how much he’s grown and how different he is now.
I then agreed with J because I was going to tell Kyle the same exact thing too – that I see a difference in him. He definitely has changed his perspective. I felt a little tug of anger, and jealousy as I said so. I didn’t like that J always paid him compliments like that. I wanted some of that too.
A little later, Kyle took over the topic because we had beaten the dead horse with mine. He talked about how he feels like he’s not cared for, that his friends don’t understand him, or try to empathize. He said that his friends just give him quick answers. And that he recently had been having a pull to feeling like he needs to get back together with his ex. As I listened to him, I realized that what he was saying isn’t too far from what I feel. I wanted to blurt out, “You’re going through something very similar to me!” but didn’t.
J then told Kyle how she felt like Kyle had a good way of bringing the group back to the processing piece of group. That somehow every week, he was just so good at doing that. It was interesting that J had mentioned that.
I said, “I agree with you, J!! I was just going to say that. That he’s the last person I expected to do this. I mean, judging from how he was in the beginning, I really didn’t think he would be the one who would be bringing everyone back on track every week. I think it’s so awesome!” I said. I started feeling empty. That what I was saying was just so forced. That I was trying to find some positivity instead of showing my grudge and bitterness towards him. “Although, a part of me does feel jealous. I mean, not jealous in a bad way, but envious I guess… I’m envious and I wish I could be good at that too”
“What’s that?” J asked me.
“Um, to be good at bringing the group back to processing. To be able to process and to know what that’s like…” I said. I felt myself burn with envy. And how I wished that J had told me something so powerful too – that I play a pivotal role in creating a positive time for group. “You know, Kyle, I feel like we are both going through so much that are similar. As you were talking, I thought to myself, ‘You know… You’re not that much different from me at all…’ and I realized that we really aren’t… I guess that’s why in the past, when we had that conflict, I felt so upset because I felt like you were just constantly pushing me away. I was trying to connect but you weren’t letting me. So I felt like I was getting the impression that you just didn’t want either of us to be the same. Like there’s something wrong with us being the same…”
Kyle reacted in a surprised manner. He looked like he was going to disagree.
The new girl, Kayla, interrupted.
“Can I just say just how much I loved that? That interaction was amazing! It was so sweet to see that. Wow… That was so cool how you were able to tell him all those things!” she’d said.
As she spoke, I felt a huge tug in my gut. I realized that I needed to recant my words. I needed to be truthful and I felt that it was time. I had been carrying the anger and bitterness around for 3 semesters now. It’s time for me to let it go. So I mustered up all the courage I had, and threw caution to the wind.
I said, interjecting Kayla as soon as she stopped, “Actually Matt… I want to take back what I said. I just realized, as Kayla was talking, that I want to take it back… The part I want to take back is the part where I said that I felt like you were constantly pushing me away because you don’t want to be like me” I hesitated. I was trying to find the right words but couldn’t. I didn’t want him to be mad at me. But then the other part of me said to myself, Just go for it. The worst that could happen is that he’ll stop talking to you.
So I did. “Kyle, I realize now that the reason why I said that is not because you were trying to push me away, but it’s because I was. I didn’t like you. I mean, not 100% didn’t like you because we do have good interactions, but I think in general, I just didn’t like you. I felt that your point of view was different than mine and how you approached empathy was so jarring for me that I felt like you were attacking me. I was wrong to say that and to put it on you because I realize now that it’s on me. I was projecting all these things on you because I didn’t want to change my views to look at yours. I wanted you to conform to me but since you didn’t, I was angry and bitter. I have been holding a secret grudge against you since we’ve met. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but I have. And I know that it hasn’t been overt but I want to apologize. It wasn’t right. And now I feel differently towards you. Today, when you reached out to me, I felt a connection. I felt like you were really trying to feel how I felt. I realize now that I had been bitter for no reason. I didn’t want to tell you this because I was afraid too. I was afraid that now that I’m being real with you, and telling you exactly how I’ve always felt, that since this is the beginning of a better relationship, that it would end because you’d be mad at me for saying all these things. I’m afraid of potentially losing this relationship because now I actually like you. And I realize that we’re not that different after all. I think the reason why I had not liked you before was because of how I realize that we are not actually pretty alike. And I hated that because I don’t like myself. So seeing how you are just like me, I hated you because I hated myself. I get that now. I’m expecting you to be mad at me…”
Kyle looked extremely shocked. J gave me the impression that she was smiling on the inside, and that she had not expected that either.
“How do you feel, Kyle? To hear that from Jules?”
Kyle was flabbergasted. He couldn’t speak for a few moments. When he finally did he said, “I feel… A happiness in me. I feel happy that she said that to me. I never knew she had a grudge on me. I feel happy… This is what I’ve been wanting all along. I want people to be this way…”
“To be brutally honest?” J asked.
“Yeah! To just tell me how I really am. How they perceive me. I am happy because she told me exactly how she’s been perceiving me. I mean, I don’t know how to react to it yet… I’d have to think about it… But yeah… Wow… I didn’t know that at all. I’d rather someone tell me something like this than to pretend to like me!” Kyle said.
“How did it feel to hear that, Jules?”
“I’m glad that you didn’t take it badly, Kyle. It wasn’t my intention to start a conflict. I just felt a strong pull to say that. To let you know that… I also feel relieved because I’d been holding on to that for so long. That being real makes me feel better. I no longer feel the anger, and grudge the way I used to. And I hope that we can now be real friends. But I understand if you wouldn’t want that because I did say some horrible things…”
“You don’t seem to trust Kyle’s words…” J said.
“Well, not fully. I mean, part of me is hopeful that going forward things will be better, but at the same time, another part of me thinks that he’ll be angry. I mean, if someone told me something like that, maybe I’d be angry at them…” I said.
Then our attention turned to Brandon. I don’t know how we’d transitioned but we did. I wiped up all my tears, felt so much relief. It felt like I had let go of a heavy burden and now I’m able to walk better.
We started to talk about Brandon. He kept talking about the presidency issues, the civil right issues that are going on right now, and about how the world and society is just messed up. How he wishes he could just fix everything. He talked about how angry he is at the idiots who support Trump, and how paranoid he feels of his life now because of his LGBTQ+ status. I empathized. I knew how he felt. It’s painful. He also talked about how misanthropic he feels – how he just wants to withdraw and stop connecting with anyone. He also talked about how depressed, hopeless, confused, and desperate he was. He told us that he just doesn’t think that he can ever find such a vulnerability. He said that he was jealous of the vulnerability that both Kyle and I had showed each other. “I’m like an outsider looking in on that interaction, and here I am wishing that I could have that too… I don’t feel like I can feel that way. I’m just so unable to feel any kind of vulnerability…”
Kayla interjected and told him that she doesn’t believe that such a thing could ever be lost. Brandon snapped back at her and told her that he’s hard a difficult traumatic life. That his vulnerabilities had been beaten away by his rageful alcoholic father. That he just can’t feel anything a normal person can. I felt his pain. I realized where he was coming from. Brandon was standing in his own little island – wanting desperately to connect with people but also at the same time, vehemently denying that he wants anyone to care for him. He was concerned for humanity and the way we’re headed. He talked about his philosophies of life and how there are just so many simple solutions that if man were smart enough, they would realize how to fix our shitty lives. He started to float back into the upper strata of philosophizing this life, and society, etc. It was a good intellectual discussion topic, but J insisted that we stay down on Earth where all the feelings were.
Brandon was angry that J kept asking him how he felt and made him reconnect back to his emotions every time he floated up into the world of philosophy. I felt so bad for him. I see how hard he is working – how much of his passion is expended on trying to make people see the truth. How disappointed, and disillusioned he is with life, and with people. I get it because I used to be the same exact way. I felt a tug to tell him how I really felt about him though.
“I have something to say. And I wasn’t going to tell you at first but I figured since I’ve already been negative and said such horrible things to Kyle, why the heck not?”
Jenny sighed loudly and said, “Oh no…”
“Well as you were talking, I thought about something. And this might make you really mad but uh… I was thinking about how you sound like all those preachers who come to campus and tell people they’re going to hell. But instead of those things, you’re telling people they need to be vegan, and that they need to be awake to the political things that are happening… You’re out there screaming at people and no one gives you any care. And all you want is some recognition that you’ve worked hard. That you’ve done so much. It’s so lonely being there by yourself screaming at people who don’t care. It’s so painful… I totally see where you are and feel how you feel. It really really sucks…” I said.
“How did you hear that, Brandon?” J asked.
Brandon looked angry.
“It was painful. It was painful to hear that because I now have a similarity with the people I hate. The preachers I hate so much. I don’t like that. It’s definitely so painful…” Brandon said. Then as he mused some more, he started to philosophize again.
Kayla and Jenny jumped in to try and fix things for Brandon. I felt like it was too soon for them to do so. I felt like no one was pointing out the obvious.
“Okay, I have something else to add. It’s another bad thing. I mean, I hope not… But it kinda is, I think…” I said. I started to tremble.
“You seem like you’re having a hard time, Jules” J said.
“Yes I am! I’m shaking!” I said. I took a deep breath and just said it. “You know, it definitely sucks being there by yourself. To see others and to see the whole picture but no one else does. When no one else agrees with you. Yeah, it’s super hard… But… Uh… But…. Have you ever… I mean… What would it be like if you stepped down from the pedestal? I mean, yeah, I know it’s scary. It’s super scary because you don’t know what’s down here. But what if you tried? If you step down from the pedestal, then you can stop seeing everyone from just the perspective of someone really high up, but rather, face-to-face. Right now, all you see are everyone’s heads. How is that connecting to anyone?”
“That’s vulnerability!” J exclaimed as I said what I said.
Tears sprang to my eyes again and I started sobbing in my seat. I was terrified of saying that – to tell Brandon to get off his high horse and join us down here.
“Yeah!” I exclaimed too. I was afraid that this was the last time I’d speak to Brandon again.
“Well, it’s painful to hear that. And I don’t know if I can do that anyway. If I were to go to an activism group, no one would know me. I make things awkward for others. I don’t have any social skills. What if my friends don’t want to go with me? Yeah, I’ve also been doing meditation. You know, trying out some self-love because I know that will help…”
I was a little disappointed that Brandon didn’t catch my meaning – or perhaps he did and was trying even more to not feel it. To not feel my hand reaching out to him.
Jenny tried to help. She told Brandon that it seems like he’s just speeding off somewhere and that he’s not stopping to see the signs even though both Kyle, and I have been trying to reach him. That he’s not willing to pull over and get the help he needs.
Brandon’s anger flared up and he snapped, “What would you have me do?! I’m stressed, shut down, angry, depressed, not feeling anything… How can I do what you’re asking me to do? I told you I can’t!”
J said, “I want to take this opportunity to bring it all back to the beginning when Jules said, ‘You just want some recognition that you’re working your asses off’ and you are!”
I took a deep breath and spoke again, “Yeah. I see you, Brandon. I see you working hard. I see that you’re standing there yelling at people and you’re working so hard to have people look at you, and stop to listen. You are working so hard. I recognize that. And I know how hard it is to take that first step. I know it feels unreacheable right now. But at the same time, I can’t help but ask you if you could take the hand that I’m offering you. I’m reaching out to you. Let me help you take that first step. Let me help you get down from the pedestal so that you can see my face, and reconnect with people… I see you, Brandon…”
“I think instead of asking Brandon that he just needs to do this and that, that maybe we need to be on Brandon’s speed. I mean, it takes both sides to do something. And we’re all just telling him what to do. Maybe one of us needs to get up on the pedestal with him. And then help him down. We need to meet each other halfway.” Kayla interrupted.
I didn’t completely agree with her because I felt like I wasn’t trying to tell Brandon to do anything. I am already offering my help. I am already offering my love and care for him. All I wanted him to do was to hold the hand that I was offering. I could sense a reluctance.
“I have a lot I definitely need to think about. I want to get there. I do… I just don’t know how…” He said.
J then had to wrap up the session because we had gone 5 minutes over.
“You all did hard work today. But unfortunately we have to stop here because we’ve already gone over time…” J said regretfully. “We’ll meet same time next week though, right?”
We all nodded our assent.
I felt light as I stood up and collected my coat. Sure, I still was recovering from all the crying I was doing but I was definitely feeling a lot better than I have. Lately, I’ve been disconnected from my feelings and it felt good to feel them again. There were a lot of uncomfortable feelings today but at least, I had embraced them instead of pushing them away as I’ve been doing a lot lately.
I felt a lot more love for my group members than I’ve ever had. I realized that this was more evidence that just because you’re real with someone, or that if you call them out, or say something negative, that the relationship not only can continue, but will continue in a better, and stronger way because it means that we are all being brutally honest with each other.
I felt so proud of myself as I walked out of group today. It was incredible how I was able to stick through the uncomfortable, and terrifying feelings as I spoke my mind (something that I rarely do). I realized that this is how it feels to stop protecting people – to stop making excuses for them, or to just shield them from pain. It means to say tough things, and hope that the other person doesn’t blow up on you, and that you’ll be better friends/partners/colleagues/family/etc in the future.
I learned so much today in just an hour and a half. It was such an incredible session!