As an adult that is not very physically affectionate, I feel it’s time I explain my own personal experiences with affection and why I don’t feel like I need to try to change that anymore. Do I hug my friends and family when they offer? Absolutely – and that used to be a BIG source of discomfort for me. Years upon years went by where I’ve felt like I had a defect because I don’t want to hug and smooch all over everybody. Now I know it’s fine, and really it’s not that big of a deal. Does it affect those who tie love to affection, yes. The best I can do is explain where I come from, I can even explain a little of the psychology behind it – to people that will listen.
That’s all I’m going to do though, because I have actually been told, “If you loved me enough, you would change this.” Let me tell you, WORDS REALLY DO HURT. Try as I might, I could never do enough of it, and that just made me feel like a failure, every single day.
My formative years were hostile, sure we had good times and laughter in there but when it was bad….it was really really bad. I’ve seen my mother taken away in an ambulance because she tried to slit her wrists. I’ve seen her corner my step dad with a huge butcher knife while screaming at him, while I cried on the stairs. I’ve seen her physically fight with my grandmother, my older sister, and myself. I’ve seen her go to a mental facility for self care and come home with an equally mentally ill man who lived with us.
There was, and as far as I know still is, a meanness in her that she learned from her own childhood I suppose and was damaged enough that she couldn’t shake that habit. That was the physical. All the people in my immediate family are known for fighting dirty, by that I mean during arguments, they are known for saying hateful things that can be apologized for, but never forgotten. I left home permanently at 17, quite literally chased from home by my mother wielding a billy club, who now swears it never happened. While leaving home scared me out of my wits, I knew that day, no one would ever lay a hand on me in anger again more than once.
I also vowed to myself if I ever had children, I would never raise my hands in anger at them, after all, how do you hurt someone you love? I’ll never know the answer to that.
Growing up that way has lasting affects. It’s hard to reach out to people when you grow up with that kind of hostility. My mother is also bi-polar, and she had highs in both depression and manic attacks. She would get inspired and start projects around the house, sewing curtains, painting rooms, sanding and refinishing furniture and they would get halfway done as she would inevitably come out of a manic period and projects would sit unfinished, or lazily patched to look complete when they weren’t. When depression hit, she’d locked herself in her room when she wasn’t at work. My mother wouldn’t talk to us, or engage us in any way, when we tried to engage her, we’d get very basic responses – she always seemed too tired to be bothered. As an adult who has been through some hard times, I understand that compulsion, but that doesn’t always mean you give in to it.
The house was always in uproar, between projects and depression and men and her and our own lives.. things were crazy, and I mean that. This is the upheaval that made me, my dad was there in the background and he was a force of his own, and though he only angrily punished me once, I’ll never forget it as long as I live. As a little girl, your daddy’s boot to your back is not a fun feeling. I got the notion that I was unwanted when I was 10, when my mother, quite unceremoniously, told me that my father had signed away his rights to see me, etc. (there is a story there too) and that he didn’t want me. (I told you, fighting dirty.) As I got older and began to create my own life and made friends, I still always carried that feeling of being unwanted and every single rejection, added more to that gnarly bank account of hurt.
When I was 14, I went to visit my Dad for a weekend and on the way home, after several weeks of wanting to, I finally mustered the courage to ask him if I could move with him (stop it tears!). He told me no, and that he had no room for me…it absolutely broke my heart. I lost a little something for him that day. I shared bunk beds with my younger sister when I visited. I know at 14 I couldn’t possibly understand what motivated him to say no, but if he was aware of what happened in my daily life in any capacity, that makes the no even worse, to me.
My escape from it all was reading, and school, spending the weekends with friends at every opportunity, and eventually, working as many hours as I was scheduled. I had poor grades at best but I knew what to expect at school. There was no “walking on eggshells”, so being relaxed at school is likely the reason behind my poor grades, and my mother never cared too much as long as I was passing. I read voraciously, stayed up til all hours or til I was caught reading, as my escape from this world.
By high school I had suicidal thoughts every day, and even locked myself in my bathroom once with the intent of not coming out. But couldn’t bring myself to cut my own skin. (I hate the sight of blood) My answer was to stay as busy as I could and keep my little sister out playing with her friends to avoid the tension at home. We just didn’t hug in my family, when we did, it was strange and uncomfortable. Growing up this way, you develop a desire to keep your distance and observe people before you just outright trust them, so there’s a level of protection, i.e. my bubble (the logic there was, if the people that “love me” hurt me, strangers cannot be trusted). Those I care about can visit me in my bubble for a short time, but I’m the only one allowed to live in it. I need my space, it’s how I feel safe.
This is a very difficult thing to explain to people. My story is one of abuse and mistrust. But this is not the only reason for people to not be affectionate. Had my story no abuse and only standoffish affection, weirdness with hugs and general discomfort with that kind of public display of love, I believe I would be the same way, but likely much more trusting and much less sarcastic. It comes down to this folks, behavior is learned, and it takes GREAT LENGTHS to change our behaviors. That said, that person who told me before, “…if you loved me enough…” and even after explaining all that I just have, to you, refused to acknowledge that this is a legitimate and serious issue for me. I tried for him and my family would remark when they saw us together that they couldn’t believe how affectionate we were.
You see to him, the great strides I had made were invisible because they weren’t enough. But the people who’d known me since birth, were all quite aware of the changes in me and were astounded. This is where I’m going to tell you how important it is to listen to your significant other. I explained this a few times to him before no longer wasting my time trying to help him understand me better. I decided he must not have cared enough about me to try to relate to me and understand my painful history. I became resentful and angry, even more closed off than I had been and began to lose faith in our relationship, and trust and respect for him.
That is how you undo a relationship. Stand firm in your beliefs, don’t meet your partner half way and insist that you are right. You might get on ok for a while that way – but it will not last forever, of that you can be sure. I wasn’t long for the door once my respect for him was gone. I had decided that if someone loves me, they will make an effort to understand me, instead of calling this history an “excuse”.
What Brought This Story About
I have a friend that I care about deeply, whose husband is much like me in this regard, she tells me he’s like an oak. Doesn’t talk much, not affectionate and I can tell it’s really getting to her. They’ve been married for a decade and have a son, both of them work exceedingly hard and have lots to deal with on a daily basis. Seeing the pain in her face, and what I could tell she felt as rejection – I had to tell her about my issue with physical affection. It took a while, as it’s not easy to understand if this is a foreign concept to you. If you could count on a hug from your parents at any time – this is a notion that likely never occurred to you.
After she understood what I was telling her, and the things I suggested she do to learn the ways in which he shows his love, she was grateful that I’d told her this, I really believe it’ll help her to be more satisfied in the relationship and ultimately, her husband too. I tell you this story in the hopes that I can help more than just her with this issue, I can only imagine what it’s like from the other side based on my personal feelings about rejection – undoubtedly how this is perceived.
You see, at the root of it ALL, this is a story about pain and rejection and how to overcome those feelings. It’s important to actually see your partner and the way that they love you, in their way. You might also call this empathy.