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Mama Martyr

Updated: Aug 20, 2023

I used to think I was such a martyr, and that I could love people without anything in return. Then I got in touch with my feelings. Camille Johnson

I have been wresting with this blog for some time now. I don't like to force my writing.

I think it's because I'm still in the thick of it. Figuring out this whole belonging thing.

This deep longing in me to be accepted and feel loved, and even liked. At home and in this great big world, I felt invisible as a child. When I was noticed, I was in trouble, or I was too fat, rhythm-less, a teacher's pet, too emotional, not Black enough, not White enough--fill in the blank. You may have your own list.

In Rachel Hollis's book, Girl, Wash Your Face, she writes about an experience she had when a mentor, or speaker, asked the question, Whose love did you want most as a child? Now this is a loose recap because I listened to the audio book months ago, but you get the gist. While I would say I definitely desired love from both of my parents, I immediately thought of my dad. I think of our relationship, the short years I had with him. Then my dad passed away when I was nine years old. There wasn't enough time to win his affection. As I write this, I am hyper-aware of how complex this is. How does a young girl grieve such a layered loss? Gain closure? I am thirty-three now. I still don't know.

I doubt I need all the answers Earth-side. I just need to tend to that part of me. Hold space for her. Listen to her. Nurture her. Protect her. Respect her. Validate her. And, what I'm learning about belonging is: I need to choose people who will do the very same.

As children, we do not have control over the choices of our caretakers. They are vessels. We are vessels. They pour into us and fill up our tank with some mix of love and fear, joy and sorrow, and some generational trauma, too. I believe most of our parents did the best they knew how, and forgiving them is half the healing.

The other part of healing is unlearning the parts of us that have been conditioned to fight for people's love. The parts that consistently gravitate toward neglect and rejection because it feels so familiar. In other words: Your relationships consistently feel one-sided. You consistently choose people who consistently don't choose you. You consistently show up for people who consistently don't show up for you. Patterns.

What does choosing mean? What does showing up mean? You get to decide for you, and you need to find a way to let people know. The avoider and introvert in me wishes some people were mind readers, but alas, no one is.

People say no one ever teaches you about finances and other practicalities in school, but no one ever teaches you about belonging either. It's in the middle of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, but I would venture to say it should be at the foundation as part of our basic, physiological needs. I'm sure there's some super intelligent person who has already done this research and knows the science. Probably Brené Brown, who I will be seeing later this month! Eek!

In 2018, I took inventory. It's my responsibility to take stock of the state of my heart, to tend to this garden--no one else's. So after 32 years of life, I got real with myself. I realized I'm not Jesus! Go figure! Turns out I'm human, and I need people in my life who match my heart. And! It turns out there are people who do!

Once I started holding space for that part of me, listening, nurturing, protecting, respecting, validating--I got in touch with what I need, without feeling like I'm too much or not enough. I'm able to assess and see my relationships for what they are, and when and where I need to:

  • Till the land--

    • The process of preparing our own hearts to cultivate flourishing relationships; maintenance required

  • Uproot weeds--

    • A laborious process, worth clearing out space for your people

  • Prune--

    • A down and dirty, sometimes painstaking process, worth the growth of those relationships; should be done regularly, or as needed

  • Transplant--

    • A process that may happen naturally with time; a process some relationships won't survive—again worth clearing up space for your people; also potentially a process, when handled delicately, that may bring revival

  • Water and shine God's light--

    • Nurturing your people, deepening roots, growing, and receiving love

  • Sow--

    • Keep planting seeds, and know that pollination can spread that love far and wide; love is somewhere taking root, making life beautiful

I'm putting in the work. In 2019, it's time for the harvest of meaningful, mutual relationships. Mama Martyr's days are numbered!

Shush Your Shame

Jennifer Jackson

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