Belonging

I’m reading a new book, written by a friend: Belonging: Feeling Loved, Comfortable, and Safe, by Paul Carlo, PhD. Dr. Carlo challenges his readers to examine the nature, importance, and history of key relationships—with family, friends, community, and all of life. He writes about being mindful of the reality that we are all connected. We share life with others, and with this world we live in. Acting from that awareness contributes to our physical and emotional wellbeing. The very survival of our planet may depend on consciousness of our interdependence.

We need each other more than we know. I often challenge ADHD clients to suspend certainty in their presumptions about others, and their notions of what others presume about them. We may share more similarities than differences within our ADHD tribe, and some of our challenges may be universal, but we are also unique. Our personal stories are not the same. ADHD grows up in different families, marries different individuals, has different careers and different life experiences.

I had a good start in life, growing up with parents who loved and protected me. I didn’t choose them; I was just lucky. Among my fondest memories are these snapshots of each parent. 

My father’s protection: When I was a toddler, one of my father’s customers invited us to attend a social event at their home in Nashville. We dined outdoors in candlelight under a covered picnic area, downhill from the family’s home in the woods near Radnor Lake. After dinner, thunderbolts suddenly bombed us and dispersed the guests. My dad quickly put me on his back and jogged up the path to our car through the rain. His little passenger’s arms were around his neck, face pressed against the side of his father’s head. Dad was a giant that night, stronger than the thunderstorm. 

My mother’s encouragement: Mom played piano by ear. Hearing melodies from the forties and fifties, my brother and I learned to harmonize as toddlers. Mom had us performing for guests, at talent shows, and one night in front of a large audience at the Ryman. We were not gifted, just precocious harmonizers. Mom convinced me that I could do anything I wanted to do. If I ever complained that I couldn’t do something, she would say, “Can’t never did nothin’.” Her encouragement inspired confidence. She once told me I had a good voice and could be a radio announcer. I believed her then. Her voice is the reason I got a broadcast license while in college and found jobs in radio for extra income. 

My connections to peers and teachers were healthy in the early school years. That changed when I started high school. A traumatizing event made me fearful of others for the first time in my life. I masked my fear by appearing aloof. I began to underachieve academically. I acted out and sometimes tried to appear tougher than I was. I was expelled from high school two months before graduation. I seldom had a second date with any one girl in high school. I didn’t let them see that I felt intimidated. I went out with interesting women in college, but I did not know how to relate to them. Showing interest seemed to backfire, but acting disinterested protected me from rejection. I would head for the exit at the first sign that a loss appeared to be on the horizon. Occasionally, I would learn later that I had broken someone’s heart. I had no idea because mine was already broken due to my distorted perceptions. 

There was nothing called ADHD when I was a young adult, but I know that rejection sensitivity is common in the ADHD family. When faced with perceived rejection, we may act defensively or attack. We disconnect rather than remain connected. We avoid or escape uncomfortable feelings instead of holding our place. We deny responsibility for hurting others by defending our good intentions. But denying our capacity to cause pain is denying the reality that we are all capable of it. To believe we are beyond causing pain is like believing we are beyond aging and death! 

We are capable of acting mindlessly or mindfully. Mindful awareness, acceptance of self and others, and mutual effort bind us together. We all belong. 

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