When someone tells me ‘I love you’, I think they’re lying.
It’s not because they are. It’s mostly because I can make a list as long as this lockdown on all the reasons why they shouldn’t.
I don’t always understand what I’m feeling, so I don’t have an answer when you ask me if I’m okay. If you yell at me, I will cry. I complain at the smallest inconvenience. I push people away when they get too close. I tend to leave people before they ever leave me.
I could go on forever.
Unconditionally conditional love
Growing up, I had to earn my parents’ love. I had to make myself easy for them to love.
I had to listen to my father talk about himself over and over again without a falter in my smile. I had to agree with all my father’s opinions. Once, he told me that vaccines were the money-making ventures of opportunistic doctors. Back then, who was I to argue? Every mistake meant meeting the sinturon or the tsinelas.
My mother was a different story; she wasn’t the type to make compliments too freely. I had to get a perfect score on that English test. I had to join competitions so I could give her something to be proud of. I had to be sick so she’d have a reason to shower me with affection.
When abuse looks like love
In therapy, I learned about core beliefs. They are the thoughts that determine how a person sees themselves, others, and the world. The beliefs we believe are unquestionably true.
From a young age, the message I constantly received from my family was that I wasn’t enough. I would always be too loud, too emotional, too volatile, too much of everything. No matter how hard I tried to make them see my worth, I would always be less than their expectations regarding academics and extracurriculars.
Core beliefs are subtle motherfuckers. They start forming at a young age, and you may not notice how they affect your emotions and behaviors. I believed that I was unlovable, so I made myself hard to reach and difficult to love because I wanted to be right. It’s a toxic self-fulfilling prophecy where no one wins.
When I was younger, I was a major brat. I only spoke the cold hard truth, the kind that made people feel bad about themselves.
I remember an instance where my little sister asked me why I was so mean to her. I said something along the lines of ‘the outside world is worse, so I’m making sure you’re strong enough to endure it’, parroting the words of my brother when I asked him why he constantly called me stupid, echoing the voice of my father who justified his cruelty with parental authority, ‘ginagawa ko lang ‘to kasi mahal ko kayo.’
Being diagnosed with Depression and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder gave me more reasons why it would be difficult to love me. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is often experienced by war veterans and victims of accidents and natural disasters.
On the other hand, C-PTSD can happen in your own home, usually when your parents or someone close to you physically or emotionally abuses and neglects you.
On top of feeling like I was unlovable, I now had a mental illness. A psychologist told me that a lot of people suffer from bad and downright heartless parenting. When I’m knee-deep in a depressive episode, I can’t bring myself to talk to anyone or get out of bed, or even take a bath.
Who could want someone who barely has herself together?
Bottom line, it was never your fault
Our parents’ inability to love us in the way that we want them to is a reflection of their shortcomings, not yours. Their failure is most likely a byproduct of their parents’ own faults.
Both sets of my grandparents lived through World War Two, and their unprocessed trauma was passed on to their children. For my father, his father left them for another family. For my mother, her parents internalized all their emotions and silence was their only avenue for communication.
They weren’t taught how to deal with their feelings, they weren’t taught how to productively make sense of difficult experiences, they were only taught to endure and to survive. As long as you were physically okay, your emotions can jump off a cliff and die.
Years and countless hours of therapy have made me realize that I don’t want to live in this generational cycle of emotional constipation and loneliness. The way we see and talk to ourselves often comes from how our parents treat us. It’s difficult and painful, but part of healing is acknowledging that our parents may never give us the love that we deserve.
It becomes necessary to unlearn the ideas that have kept us on the quest of earning their love such as: if I was more agreeable, if I achieved more, or if I was a different person, I’m sure they will love me.
We can’t change people who don’t want to change. It’s not healthy to force ourselves to fit into their narrative.
Loving is never easy
However, you can learn how to support and love yourself in the way that you’ve always wanted. This process is called reparenting, where you notice the needs that weren’t met (boundaries, affirmation, validation, compassion, and so on) and slowly meet them yourself.
If you have a hard time managing your emotions, you can stop the shame and guilt for having negative feelings, and let them pass through you.
If you’re always too hard on yourself, you can create a mantra assuring that you’ve done your best. If you’re like me, and you believe that you’re unlovable, you can challenge this core belief by making a list of the people who do love you, unconditionally.
My mental illness is something that I have, not something that I am. I may have more issues than the daily tabloid. I have made many mistakes and I have hurt people too. I am trying to be kinder, to be more sensitive, to be more willing to see the good in others.
Loving myself may come with challenges, as with anybody. But I think I am beginning to learn that I am worth the effort.