Ever have that feeling where someone you care about has given you a gift and is so excited for your reaction, because they *just know* you’ll love it and be so trilled to have it. Only you don’t really like it. You stopped liking that thing years ago and haven’t even spoken about it in so long you don’t remember the last time. And now this person you care for is looking at you with glowing eyes, a huge smile and sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for you to explode with joy and gratitude. Ever have that feeling?

It feels like being trapped.

You don’t want to hurt or disappoint them. After all, they love you and went out of their way for you, perhaps spent money on you, and are excited to make you happy.

Only you aren’t happy with that gift, or thought, or gesture, or whatever it is they’re physically or mentally or emotionally holding out to you so hopefully. It doesn’t fit you, your life, your personality, your identity. It is dissonant, awkward, out if joint. Broken.

If you said any of that to this loving hopeful, it would no doubt hurt them. Maybe even crush them, depending on the subject of the ‘gift’. And because you love them, you avoid doing hurtful, crushing things.

Of course, when its a cow print pin cushion, or a Brittany Spears CD, you can pretty easily smile and say thank you for their thoughtfulness and find a new home for it as quick as you can. With something relatively trivial, you might even risk letting them know, tactfully, that its not to your taste.

But what about when its something more significant? What about when the ‘gift’ of this person is more fundamental, esoteric, yet deeply important? What about when their constant companionship and care becomes a burden, rather than a boon? When that presence, which you’ve relied on as a fortress of belonging, suddenly feels like a prison?

What a miserable choice: (a) continue as is, swallowing your own preferences, wants and needs; (b) live a double life and risk hurting them all the more when it inevitably is discovered; or (c) let them know how you feel and risk destroying the beautiful, loving relationship you still value.

I’ve heard it said, and witnessed myself, that all change is disruptive to one degree or another. That’s its fundamental nature. People learn to adapt to the change or they don’t. I get that. What I’m struggling with is the piercing pain of knowing that the change I intentionally bring about, this disruption that I cause, is the source of intense pain and discomfort to the people I love the most.

Again, if its something that can be compromised, discussed, negotiated, approached logically or formulaically, I can handle it. This restaurant or that one? No problem. Spend thousands of dollars to replace windows in the house, or wait until next year? Easy discussion. Sell the house and move to Bosnia? Sure, lets chat.

All of those things affect not just me, but also those I live with or who are otherwise part of the discussion. When the decision is about balancing risks, weighing the competing interests of multiple players and finding a reasonable compromise is right in my wheel house. I put the ol’ lawyer hat on and go to town sorting the problem.

But when the change is all about me, my feelings, my preferences, my needs, its much harder to deal with. That guilt I’ve written about in prior posts rears its head again. When I begin to think about making changes that are really all about me, the guilt jumps up and does a happy dance in my head. That’s when my inner saboteur starts shouting: “How selfish!” “It’s always all about you, isn’t it?” “What makes you think you deserve that?” “How dare you put yourself, your selfish desires, over everyone else.”

I fight this inner battle between being the selfless, responsible, conscientious person I was raised to be and the selfish, hedonistic, lazy person I was raised to believe myself to be if I walked any path other than the narrow, binary, societally-defined path set before me at an early age.

The weird thing is that I can easily refute the charges of hedonistic and lazy. I have no delusions that my work ethic and sense of solemn responsibility are in tact and functioning well. The saboteur’s tricks in that regard are wasted.

But selfishness, in all it’s myriad forms, is a stab to my heart. I have worked so hard all my life to live up to a standard of excellence defined, in large part, by how well I serve others’ needs. Love measured in service is a core tenet of the faith in which I was raised. And loving, honoring family above all others was at the heart of my parents’ every lesson. So, I have grown to equate selfishness as a sin above nearly all other possible sins.

So, on days when this journey of self discovery and the path out of the closet lead me to the brink of a decision or choice between my personal preferences, wants and needs, and those of my family and close friends, the dissonance spikes and I tend to retreat into my head a bit. I can find every reason under the sun (some reasonable and based in logic and fact, some wildly speculative) for not carrying on with this process, every argument that leads me away from the direction I’ve chosen. But the white noise of fear, uncertainty, doubt and dread in my brain seems to screen out the reasons, the arguments that support my chosen direction.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a nice, neat bow to wrap this post up in, leaving me and all of you with a warm, fuzzy feeling of happy ever after. Instead, I’m left feeling stuck, mired in doubt and hemmed in by the demands and expectations of my family and closest friends.


9 comments so far

  1. Femmi on

    Aw babe! I’m so sorry that you feel like this. These feeling of fear, doubt and guilt are so normal. Feeling trapped is part of the journey.

    No one can make these decisions for you, and no one can judge you for the path you choose.

    As your friend I can offer you a shoulder to cry on, I can be your sounding board and whatever other support you need, whenever you need it.

    It will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

    • Searching4Self2013 on

      The full-hearted, unrestrained support you shower on me is both humbling and inspiring. Thank you, my dear friend. I am quite certain I’d never have gotten as far as fast without your friendship.

      “If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” A light in the gloom. Thanks, Femmi.

  2. Amy on

    The decision to come out is not just about you and your wants, though. It’s about the good of a society that has told us lies – you are an agent of change for your own life as well as for those around you and those who will come after you. Some days that fact actually makes the process harder and more painful, but some days it can bring relief – it’s not just about you. It is deeply important that folks who think they can get away with living in a box defined by old prejudices, come face to face with the truth.

    It is, now and forever, your decision. But it alters the lives of those around you and of society as a whole, and entirely for the better, when you decide to be as true as you can be in each and every moment. And you are absolutely not alone. In the theater we say that old theaters contain the ghosts of everyone who has ever performed there – the ghosts of every show. In coming out, I firmly believe that we are surrounded by all those who have gone before us. Everyone who has come out is with us when we take our first steps, and all along the way. And I can tell you from experience that there are so many people that you can’t even believe it, who are just WAITING for you. You are family, and the family reunion is awesome when it happens.

    Michelle Cho says this (about celebrity outings, but this is great stuff, very rich – read article and watch video both):

    Also, the potlucks are awesome. SFS, you got this. You got this.

    • Searching4Self2013 on

      Amy, thanks. You always give me something to think about. Thank you, my friend. I’ll check out that article & video.

      Agent of change…spirits of the family…pot lucks. Compelling imagery all of it. That sense if not being alone helps a lot.

      • Amy on

        I remember when I was TERRIFIED to come out. One person to whom I had outed myself said, about the effects on my family, “This will liberate you all.” It still took me a few years after that to come out, and I didn’t believe her – at all – until it happened. But dang if she wasn’t right.

        Totally agree with Femmi that it’s your decision. But once you’re uncomfortable enough inside the closet that it hurts to be there, I suspect a coming out is already in process.

        And I can’t say it enough, you are not alone. You are not alone. You are sooo very much not alone.

  3. LillianC on

    For me, the person you describe in those first few paragraphs is my mother. She is notorious throughout the family for her ill-chosen, well-intentioned gifts. She cannot separate the item itself with her own identity, so if I reject the gift, I reject her. After I got married and converted to my husband’s religion, my mother gave me all kinds of grief, saying I’d “lost my sense of humor” and other less pleasant remarks. She didn’t understand me anymore, not that she ever had, but that was all my fault. Sucks to be us, doesn’t it? In solidarity, I offer you a virtual hug.

    • Searching4Self2013 on

      Hi, Lillian. Thanks for reading & commenting. The feeling sucks, definitely. But I hope for both of us that the work we do to improve our circumstances and address these triggers makes life wondrous again. Best of luck to you.

  4. FemOutLoud on

    So come back and read your post again, friend, this time as your loving, objective,fair-minded lawyer-self. Read it as if it were written by someone else. How would you answer her?

    Yep, thought so.


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