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Your worth is not defined by others

A member of LSLCS staff has contributed this piece to the blog, about the feelings and thoughts that this time of year can bring to the surface, and the strength they see in people.

I wish I had an answer, but I don’t. What I can offer here is genuine empathy and care, so you know you are not alone.

December can be an incredibly difficult and lonely time for many people, for many reasons. It’s easy to feel completely isolated; we know other people are struggling, but our struggle can feel so cut off from anyone around us.

There can be a lot of pressure for Christmas to feel perfect. We may want those we care about to have a lovely, memorable time, and it can be beautiful and soul-warming to share food, gratitude, and laughter with those we love.

But what if we aren’t surrounded by people who love us, or if that “love” is conditional, lukewarm, or abusive? What if our familial interactions are imbued with trauma and distrust?

I wish I had an answer, but I don’t. What I can offer here is genuine empathy and care, so you know you are not alone.

I was abused and neglected as a young child, and again as an adult in various contexts. Although I’m no longer living in or exposed to abusive situations, I still endure lukewarm “love” and acceptance from unbending parents who, time and again, choose their faith over their child. It never gets easier.

I’ve learned to pick my battles. I still deeply love my parents and visit them when energy and health permits, though never now on Christmas day – I reserve that for people who do accept me. This absence can feel heavy, especially when contrasted with my partner’s accepting and reflective mum.

Spending time with my biological family around the Christmas period does, whether I like to admit it or not, chip, chip, chip away at my self-worth. I can leave feeling empty. Even if we have a pleasant-ish time, I’ll cry on the journey home, knowing I’ll never hear the words I need to heal – “we love and accept you as you are”, “your relationship is a beautiful thing; we couldn’t be happier for you”, or simply, “we’re sorry”.

When I came out as LGBTQ+ to my mum in a letter, she wrote back with bullet points of biblical verses condemning homosexuality. It’s a unique kind of headfuck to be told in one sentence you are loved, then to be told you are sinful, unclean, and impure in the next. She doesn’t remember sending me this soul-destroying letter. Layers of denial, piled upon layers of abuse – it’s a wonder I’m still here. But I am here… and so are you.

What I keep coming back to on these dark winter nights, is how much I value and admire folks who use Leeds Survivor-Led Crisis Service. I see the pain and the struggles you face. I also see your strength, softness, tenacity, compassion, sensitivity, resistance, resilience, kindness, intelligence, love, empathy, wonderment, uniqueness. I see your deep unbearable, unseen and unvalidated pain, and I see everything in you that helps you to stay a while longer.

I can struggle to see this in myself, but I see it in those we support.

Perhaps we can start to consider that how we perceive ourselves is not how others perceive us. However unloved and unworthy we feel, this does not eradicate the possibility of other people loving us. Sending endless love to all those struggling, especially at this time of year.

We’re here. We’re not going anywhere.