A reminder: you are not a pretzel

Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez

What a relief! No really, it is, isn’t it? Very liberating. This realizing once and for all that you don’t have to twist yourself into a pretzel to be loved and treated well.

Some realize it early on. For others, it takes a bit of living to not only realize it intellectually, but also believe it. Unhelpful patterns in our thinking are sadly very persistent and defy logic. And sometimes it takes some random statement, such as “you are not a pretzel” to do what therapy and life experience didn’t fully manage. One moment of exposure to the sheer ridiculousness of our attempts to earn those things for ourselves that should be given as freely and generously as we give them to others.

Seriously…the acrobatics we sometimes go through to accommodate insane scenarios others create!

And then this persistent idea that when treated badly by someone we love, it means we are somehow not good enough, therefore we better step up with a constant, stellar performance to make ourselves worthy!

Meanwhile, we know how things actually work. At least for those with a modicum of self-awareness, emotional maturity, and basic human decency. Perhaps these prerequisites are too demanding these days, but let’s be kind and assume that more people meet them than not.

Ok then. When you love someone, you do pretty much anything for them. You find a way. You fight, fix, adjust, learn. You step out of your comfort zone, go to uncomfortable places to face uncomfortable things and tame them. You are motivated. You allow risk and trust.

To put it simply, you don’t look to fail. Or for ways in which you can make the other person fail.

And should you even reach the point of giving up, you only do so when you have, in all honesty, given your all. And not your superficial, half-measure all either. The other all, the real one. Which frankly, is not often given. But that’s another story.

Anyway, what most of us do for love is not an overstatement, it doesn’t make us ignorant, and it doesn’t imply perfection either. It’s simply what happens. Because that’s what love does. It inspires and opens us to at least some degree. It allows us to change and grow, exercise our empathy, authenticity. You don’t need to be an academic or poet to understand and experience this.

And what’s more, people will do just about anything to avoid pain. Losing someone you truly love brings enormous pain. Which is why all of us are inclined to do A LOT before we throw in the towel.

But all this wisdom seems to go out the window at different times in our lives when we end up loving someone who acts in ways that trigger and nurture all our insecurities, making us forget to hold them to the same standards we hold ourselves to. And this doesn’t mean expecting them to be like us, love like us. There’s plenty of room to give and take in so many different ways under the same standard.

It’s true that love is hard work. But only in terms of working on ourselves so that we can show up with intention and openness in a shared space. That hard work then allows for things to organically align, to flow. We can’t flow, alone or together, if we’re pushing a boulder of baggage, toxic patterns, and stubbornness up a hill. Yet somehow, this destructive resistance doesn’t strike people as hard work. But this too is another story.

Our forgetfulness of the basic fact that we deserve love and respect partly comes from those issues with self-image, insecurity and abandonment we all have. And that’s fine, because we’re all works in progress over a lifetime. And just as having issues doesn’t mean we’re excused from working to heal them so as not to fully project them onto others, it also doesn’t mean we’re to blame for someone treating us badly. It’s an important point to remember, because self-blame for another’s bad behavior plays into the being a pretzel thing.

I’ve asked, and I hear it asked all the time: but what can I do? How do I know what I receive isn’t a reaction to my failing to try hard enough, to my flaws?

The answer may not be easy to accept, but it’s simple. Are you treated well, with compassion and consistency? Is your person kind, willing to communicate and show up for you? Is there honesty, reciprocity, shared vulnerability and support? Is your person holding space for you, supporting you to feel safe and protected? And not just on occasion. Even when you argue and slam doors. Even when you’re both angry, frustrated, exhausted.

There are many more questions to ask, but if you’re acting like a pretzel, the answer to all of the above is no. Because even though we can’t ultimately always predict what someone else will decide to do, and sometimes we can’t even trust ourselves to see reality for what it is, the moment you start twisting yourself into a pretzel to accommodate and hopefully earn what you yourself give the other, you know. And you have to stop, step back, and look to heal whatever convinced and conditioned you to believe you are not good enough.

I know too well how tempting it is to imagine that if we were more beautiful, younger, smarter, more loving somehow, better behaved or whatever else better, we could finally earn the admiration, love and respect we want and need…the things we were apparently offered but never received. If only we could make that special someone we invested in and love see our true value, and have them act accordingly.

But there is nothing, NOTHING we can do, be, say, offer or manifest, in a pretzel like fashion, that’s going to earn us those things which are not meant to be earned, but offered freely, generously and joyfully. So, it’s good to be reminded to not go down that self-destructive rabbit hole. And also remember that people who love don’t look to unlove, but to love more, and better – themselves and others.

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