It is almost Christmas again. For many people, this is a time of good cheer, love and togetherness. For others, not so much.
I am not talking about the homeless or the non-Christian or those incarcerated or locked away in mental institutions. I am not talking about the poor, those who can barely afford to eat, let alone waste money on a tree and gifts that are not strict necessities. I am not even talking about the Scrooges and Grinches among us. I am talking about the unloved.
Unloved people fit into every niche and category of human being you can name. They are atheists and devout followers of a faith, they are Christian and non-Christian. They are rich and they are bone-chillingly poor. They live in palatial mansions and in cardboard boxes. They wear castoffs from dumpsters and they wear designer labels. They surround us, they are our co-workers and our neighbours, the strangers in the street, the acquaintance at the park, the cop on the corner, your hairdresser, your barber, your dental hygienist, your vet. They surround you on any given day, like strangers in a crowded elevator. And they are completely invisible to us.
Some of them react to their status with churlishness. “Happy Holidays!” you say, extending a greeting intended to include those who do not identify as Christian and their celebrations as well. “Don’t ‘Happy Holidays’ me,” they snarl back. “It’s ‘Merry Christmas’!” They don’t hold doors for those whose arms are too laden with packages to do it easily themselves, they don’t step aside so a child can see Santa at the mall, they don’t smile and return the love of the season because, feeling unloved, they have none to share.
Some react to their status with manipulation. They earned their status with it and they keep themselves in denial with it. Having driven love away with their manipulations and petty cruelties, they have cast a web of fear and obligation and guilt out to snare the unwary. They will draw you in to a nest of festivities planned to create an atmosphere they can pretend is love. Giving none, they receive none back, just the pandering of those who continue trying to squeeze love from a heart of stone and the obligatory appearance of those who fear repercussion for their failure to attend the command performance.
Others react to their status with fear and longing. Most of the year they keep it together but during the times perceived as “family togetherness” periods, they feel their isolation most acutely. Even the crumbs they receive, from last minute invitations to thoughtless gifts, from negative attention to being talked over and ignored, they believe that the little they receive is better than the nothing they would surely get if they were to demand the respect that was due them. They fear they are not loved and they will do anything they can in order to avoid confirming that fear.
The unloved are legion. They are the children who got socks and underwear under the tree when the siblings got coveted toys. They are the children who reaped lavish heaps of costly gifts but who are merely props in the dramatic script of the adults in their lives, fawned over for photo opportunities, badgered to bring home brag-worthy grades, valued only for what they can do, not simply for their existence.
They are the wives and husbands who endure abusive spouses rather than be alone, the mothers and fathers who vow to give their children better than they received but who simply go to the opposite extreme, giving their children what they need to give them, not what the children individually need. They are the people who don’t recognize love when it walks into their lives and sits down next to them because they don’t really know what it looks like. Their definitions of love were gleaned from their experiences of abuse and being ignored, of being engulfed and overwhelmed, of being prized for their performance but never for the simple fact of their existence.
The unloved suffer. Often in silence, occasionally dropping hints in the hope that someone will hear the echo of emptiness inside them. Afraid that others will feel threatened by their emptiness, they seldom speak of it and instead, silently hope for the miracle that is someone who can hear them. Their pain is smothered, expressed in a sigh or a wan smile, released only to run in the privacy of darkness. Sometimes it escapes, alarming witnesses, generating distance at a time that closeness is most needed. The pain lies buried, often forgotten, existing as an undercurrent of fear that permeates all aspects of life. Some allow the fear to control them, others rebel against it, but it shades life with its grey pallor.
The unloved are unloved by themselves. They have accepted their unacceptability. They live in the guilt of being flawed. They unlove themselves as much or more than others do. They are, in truth, their own worst enemies because as long as they do not love themselves, they validate those others who do not love them. And at no time of the year is this lack of love felt more than now, during the season in which we are reminded by heartless corporations and soulless sellers that this is the season of love, to give to show your love, view your gifts as an indicator of how much you are loved.
But when you don’t love yourself, nobody else can love you. You cannot feel the love of another if you cannot feel your own. You cannot rejoice in it, embrace it, revel in it when you cannot see it or feel it or touch it. No matter how much love another has for you, you cannot relate to it if you do not have self-love. If you do not value yourself, you do not respect the value others have for you. Love begins at home, within you, with you loving yourself and believing that you are worthy of being loved. It all starts with you.
So in this holiday season, remember that those who taught you that you are not worth loving, who viewed you as burdensome chattel rather than beloved child, those who gave you manipulation and control instead of love and understanding—they have earned their aloneness. Not only have they earned it, they have spent all of the years right up to this moment telling you that when it comes to love and respect for you, they are a dry well, an empty cup, a drained basin. They never had it for you, they don’t have it now, and the future cannot be any different. Hope will bring you back, again and again, but there will be nothing where there was never anything in the first place.
You didn’t cause this. It is not something you did when you were five months or five years or fifteen. It is them: they decided, from the moment you were a reality to them, the role you would play in their lives—not the role they would play in yours. Your role was created and cast with no consideration for you and your personality, sensitivities, wants, likes, fears, or desires. You were a lump of clay to be moulded to fit the role they created and forced to conform through any means acceptable to them. Depending on their own peculiarities, those means could have ranged from emotional privation, manipulating, shaming, guilt, gaslighting, untruths, and even physical attack. Their objective had nothing to do with helping you to develop into the best you that you could be, it was entirely about moulding you to be who and what they wanted to fit the role they created for you.
If you are still feeling unloved, it is because you are. It is because you bought into their bullshit and have not yet let it go. You are unlovable because you did not fulfil the roll to their expectations—and you have accepted and embraced that.
But the truth is, they are wrong. Their proper role was not to create a role for you and force you into it, their role was to discover you, and then your talents, and help you develop them, and to guide you, gently and lovingly, into the society in which you live. Their role was to focus on you and your needs and to adapt their lives to care for you and support you and assist you in becoming the best you that you can be. Instead, they sacrificed you on the altar of their own glorification. They were more important than you. You were a tool, a means to an end, a way to gain whatever they sought in the form of narcissistic supply. It is not your fault—it never was. They had a choice of who to put first and they chose themselves every single time.
This is the season of love, the perfect time to start loving yourself. The ideal time to stop measuring yourself against the yardstick of their perceptions and self-serving evaluations and to start creating your own. This is the time to stop self-sabotaging yourself because feeling guilty is more familiar than feeling self-pride. It is the perfect time to look to pleasing yourself rather than others. It is the ideal moment for you to learn and to practice the use of the most powerful word in the English language: NO.
When they disparage you, tell them no by walking away. Even if you are sitting on the floor surrounded by boxes and wrapping paper, even if you are sitting at the table with a half-eaten plate of turkey, even if you are standing in the kitchen with your hands full of hot food—now is the time to refuse to accept disparagement, belittling, scorn, and derision. This is not the time for words that can be twisted and turned back on you, this is the time to take their unloving behaviour and, rather than accepting and amplifying it, reject it. Reject it in the most powerful way you can: walk away.
On Christmas Day, 1990, my mother-in-law leaned across the dinner table in the middle of the meal, and told her son that, because he was refusing to sign legal papers without having an attorney read them first, he was stupid. And she repeated the word, shaking her dinner knife in his face, “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” He was dyslexic and had trouble reading, so this accusation cut deep. The hurt on his face was plain. I knew nothing of narcissists in those days, but I knew I was not obligated to tolerate her behaviour, her hurting my husband, who had grown up to be a fine man in spite of her. I got up from the table and went to the coat closet, took out our jackets and my handbag, got the car keys, and walked out the door. It took her eleven months to realize we weren’t going to call her and make nice. She never called him names again—she knew we would not accept it any longer.
The most powerful message you can give a person is with your actions, not your words. When people treat you badly and you accept it, you laugh it off, you choose to ignore it, you are giving them permission to continue. When you say something to them, you not only give them an opportunity to ridicule you or put you down, you give them an opportunity to tell you why you deserve to be treated badly.
But when your actions speak for you, they cannot ignore you or try to talk you around. I had a tenant who was abusive to me every time she called me on the phone. When I started hanging up on her, however, whenever she was rude, it didn’t take her long to realize that she had to civil to me if she wanted me to hear her. Your actions are your most power message: do not permit them to abuse you and, one way or another, they will stop.
Sometimes the way they stop is the way my mother did it: she disappeared me (and my children) from her life. We did not hear from her at all—no cards, no calls, no gifts. We ceased to exist until the day came that we were useful to her. When you determine to stop the unloving from abusing you, this could be your outcome. My daughter has done the same. I am no longer useful to her, so she no longer has anything to say to me.
Thinking about such an outcome can be very painful. Nobody likes rejection. But if you put it into perspective, it is the kindest thing they can do for you, albeit unwittingly so. It saves you years—even decades of repeated little rejections, back stabs, insults, and abuses. It gives you the truth in one huge bombshell: they don’t care about you, writ large. The truth, in all its ugly glory, finally in your hands.
So, what do you do with it? You first recognize that they are the ones who are flawed, not you. They cannot appreciate anything beyond their own narrowly defined, selfish and self-centred perceptions. They will take anyone who fits their mould: my daughter found herself a surrogate mother who would behave the way she wanted me to behave, who put no limits or restrictions on her, who wouldn’t make her go to school, who supplied her with drugs and alcohol and did not act like a parent. Your Ns may do the same: find a substitute for you who will play the role. My mother substituted my daughter for me—my daughter played the role where I insisted on being myself.
You find out who you really are and you embrace it. You find your real self, your real tastes, your real likes, dislikes, values and beliefs. Some of them may mirror your Ns and that is OK, some of them will be diametrically opposed—and that is OK, too.
You embrace your real self, the one who doesn’t share their ethics or tastes, the one who is different from what they have tried to shape you to be. You love what you learn about yourself even if it goes contrary to what you have been taught to believe—create your own beliefs, beliefs that feel right to you. Listen to information contrary to what you have been taught, think about it critically, accept what feels right to you and discard the rest. Let yourself become the real you and love that new person for no other reason than it is you, the real you, the you that you were always meant to be.
When you love yourself, you feel whole. Even if you are not truly whole yet, when you love yourself, you feel that way.
When you love yourself you open the door to others to love you. Not exploit or manipulate or control you—to love you. New people come into your life and love comes with them. Sometimes romantic love, sometimes platonic love, but it is all love.
The way for you to no longer be one of the unloved starts with loving yourself, wholly, completely, and unconditionally. It opens the door to a whole new world.