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Each night there’s a small, stray, white cat with grey spots that slinks past my fenced patio. She circles back around the bush stump and does a long stretch, pushing each paw into the dirt, one out further than the next until a maximum stretch is reached. 

I’ve been feeding her for almost two months now. She’s small for a cat. Emaciated, even, at first. I know she’s young because I remember seeing her as a kitten with her mom and dad and one other littermate. But she’s old enough now to be full-grown, at least a year. But still, she’s small. 

She’s always been friendlier than the rest. Unafraid to come right up to my patio on the other side of the fence. I’ve even seen her climb the fence and trot about the patio while I watch from the other side of my sliding glass door. One night she waited at the sliding door, staring inside, wondering where her food was. The other cats don’t do this.

That doesn’t mean she’s not skittish because she is. One false move from me and she scatters off, up and over the fence, and down the line of bushes. But I figure that if I keep feeding her maybe she’ll stick around a little longer each time and one day I’ll get to pet her. Or maybe, just maybe, she’ll want to stay forever and call my home her home. Wishful thinking? We’ll see.

Being Myself and Building Trust 

One thing she’s teaching me about is trust and staying true to myself. Specifically, how to build trust. You don’t just build trust with a stray cat overnight. She’s constantly in survival mode. Any creature could be her predator. And she’s already been pretty risky getting as close to me as she does. Building trust takes time.

A few times now she’s been so close to me, sharing the patio with me as she ate food and I sat in my chair watching her. I could have easily jumped up and picked her up real quick but I didn’t. I didn’t because it’s not my intention to have a cat who doesn’t want to have me to. This may be a bit idealistic but I’m learning something from the process.

A couple of nights ago she came the closest she’s ever been to me. I set a can of chopped up tuna at my feet. While I ate dinner at my patio table she ate dinner at my feet. Always trepidatious, she stuck her neck out real long to reach the can.

At that moment, like many other times when I’ve sat with her on the patio, I felt scared to move too quickly or to do anything as I normally would, for fear of her scurrying away and not finishing her food. As I bit into my juicy mango, I contemplated the same question I’ve contemplated several times before: what good would it be to have a cat who was constantly afraid of my natural movements? Each time I come to the same answer: it wouldn’t be any good. 

I want to have a cat, dog, friend, lover, or any relationship that knows and understands my natural movements. I want to be seen as I really am, not for how I manipulate myself to be in an attempt to get some other being to like me or to do what I want. 

It’s tempting to just stay as still as possible. If I just stayed as still as possible for a long enough time, then I could trap her. Trap her? Am I really wanting to trap her? No. Do I ever want to trap anybody? Never, although I used to. 

Whatever tactics are deployed to trap someone (animal or human) must then be continuously deployed in order to keep them. It’s fake. It’s manipulative. It’s controlling. It’s not who I am today. 

What I want is to experience her choosing to be near me because she trusts me, as I am naturally. What I want is any relationship to be unrestricted and free moving. I want the freedom to be who I am naturally, knowing full well that the being at the other end of the rope trusts me for me, sees me for me, not some manipulative facade I choose to display. 

So, as I finished eating my mango, I uncrossed my legs and she jolted to the corner of the patio where she normally climbs the fence. “It’s okay,” I thought. “She may scurry but at least I’m being myself.” 

What I’m teaching her instead is that it’s safe to be near me even when I make all these movements. She can trust me even when I talk to my dog or water my plants or put my feet up on the chair. I let her see me as I am naturally, not some manipulated version of myself. 

So let’s think about this. Why would I want to manipulate her? Because I want something. I want her to let me pet her or hold her or even to call her mine. But, without manipulation, I know it’s going to take longer to get it. Being my natural self (moving about my patio freely and talking) scares her. And it will take time for her to learn that this is normal for me. If I were to pretend to be a statue, then I could get what I wanted faster. 

My ego thinks, “I could get her real quick if I wanted to. All I have to do is stay as still as possible as though I weren’t here. Then she would come to the food and I would pick her up before she even realizes it.” My heart says, “Yea, and then she wouldn’t trust me anymore. I need to be who I am normally to build trust with her over time. I want her to allow me to pet her, hold her, or keep her.” (Which she may never do any of the above.) My ego responds, “Yea, but doing it your way is too slow.” My heart replies, “Yea, and it’s the best way. ”

If she’s ever going to feel comfortable around me, then it needs to be as I am naturally, not a warped version of me. She may never be fully comfortable around me. She may never become “my” cat. And yet, at least I get the honor of learning this beautiful dance of trust and being myself. 

Relationships on the Whole

My relationship with this cat has me reflecting on how this dance works in all relationships. Trust takes time to build. Learning to be my natural self in relationship is an art as well. It’s a dance between my ego and my true self. A constant striving on my ego’s part to put up a facade just to be liked. While my heart and soul encourage me to let it all go and be who I am at my core.

As I reveal who I am, naturally, all of me, without hiding, the other person may retract a little or a lot or leave altogether. That’s their prerogative. It goes both ways, too. I reserve the right to say no to certain people if we aren’t a good fit.

At the end of the day, I choose to believe that the right people for me will see me, all of me, and choose to be with me as I am naturally. This is what I want. 

In past romantic relationships, the beginning was always a game. It was about putting up a front, dressing nice, always wearing makeup, playing into stereotypes, and manipulating situations so I could get who and what I wanted. I pulled out all the stops, all the tricks. You know, make a good impression. 

In many ways, it made me feel powerful. It was a huge ego boost. And it was all unconscious, learned behavior from society. It’s what I was taught from the media about how people acquired relationships. It’s been a similar rodeo in friendships, too, albeit less overt. 

It had never occurred to me before how unsustainable this is. I couldn’t possibly keep up the whole schtick for the life of the relationship. It wasn’t who I truly was. It would take great effort and energy to maintain for life. And even then, it would be devoid of true authenticity, honesty, and integrity.

In my last partnership, as I came to know myself over the years, I learned of the various ways I was still holding up fronts and facades. It was difficult to face these because I had to decide whether I was going to keep using them or whether I wanted to risk letting them go and reveal my true self. Revealing my true self naturally comes with the risk of losing the other person’s interest.

Similarly, in my family relationships, as I’ve grown into who I am as my own person, outside of the family unit, I’ve had to face the same dilemma. I’m not who they always thought me to be. I’ve grown and changed and learned about who I really am. I’ve had to face the fear of revealing my true self and losing their love. It’s an ongoing process.

It’s scary choosing to opt-out of fronts, game playing, and manipulation in relationships because it means that maybe I won’t get what I want. Maybe I’ll lose the love I’ve worked so hard to get. It means that I have to let go of control. I have to learn to trust myself. I have to learn to trust that by being my natural self people who truly love me for me will be there. And yes, that may even mean losing few (or a lot) of relationships along the way. 

At the core of this is the fear of not being likable or loveable for who I am naturally. It probably stems from a moment in childhood when I was being my goofy, free, unrestrained self and someone nearby deemed my behavior inappropriate and criticized me. From that moment forward, I decided I needed to pretend to be someone else so I could be loved and liked. Clearly, being my natural self wasn’t lovable. But that’s an old script, and it’s time to let it go.

You know when you’re a young kid you  just want to be liked by your friends and family. You want to have friends. You want to belong. And you’ll do whatever it takes to stay a part of the group, a part of the family, even if it means changing who you are to fit in.

Well, that game doesn’t work me anymore as an adult. It’s becoming abundantly clear to me how it has been running all of my relationships. It’s not okay. It’s dishonest. It’s not what I want. And thanks to my small, stray, white cat with grey spots, I can see that what I want most are relationships built upon mutual trust and honesty. Nothing less.

I’ll place my human caveat here: I’m not perfect. In fact, I’m a work in progress. I’m deep in the unlearning process. Unlearning my manipulative behaviors. Unlearning unconscious habits to play the “like me” game. Unlearning hiding myself. While at the same time, I’m learning to allow myself to be as I am. I’m learning to be my own best friend first. I’m learning to be okay with who I am at my core, without any other person. As I unravel all these outmoded behaviors, I’m simultaneously taking steps to lay a new foundation.

It’s a scary process. It means confronting all the relationships in my life and slowly uprooting any false dynamics. It means revealing who I am truly and facing the repercussions. It means losing some relationships, changing others, and, the best part, gaining relationships with people who know me at my core and who love me as I am naturally.

Trust and the Courage to Love

Building trust in relationships means building trust with myself. I’m learning to trust my true self. I’m learning to trust that I am safe, loved, and liked by myself and those who really matter. I’m learning to trust that it’s okay for me to reveal who I really am. 

I can trust that by doing so only good will come my way, even if there are difficult and challenging times along the path as well. These difficulties are ultimately worth it because then I’ll be in a place of having authentic and real relationships with people based on honesty and integrity. 

It’s worth the slow, sometimes tedious, work of confronting my own fears, dismantling my facades and fronts, and revealing the truth of who I am, who I know myself to be. It’s all worth it because what I want more than anything are open, honest, authentic, conscious relationships with the people in my life, even if that means saying goodbye to some people along the way.

Not all relationships are meant to be. And manipulating myself to keep certain people in my life is harmful to myself and the other person. Why would I manipulate anyone else? Because I want something from them. I want them to love me. But when I stop manipulating, I give up trying to get other people to love me. Then others have the right to choose whether they want to love me or not. It’s their choice. I show them who I really am and they get to decide for themselves. It’s scary (but remember it goes both ways).

As a child, I took it personally. When someone didn’t like me I thought it meant that I wasn’t loveable. So I changed who I was so they would like me. Now I know that it’s not personal. I can be myself and not everyone will like me. Not everyone is meant to like me. And that’s okay. I can still be myself even if someone doesn’t like me. I don’t need to use facades or fronts. I don’t need to manipulate them to get them to like me. They have a right to not like me. As I have a right to not like them. It’s not personal. 

It takes courage to reach this point of personal development. It takes the courage to truly love myself for who I am and to trust that there are people out there who will like me for me, who will love me for me. I choose to trust that this is so. It’s a deep abiding trust that who I am at my core is loveable – just as I am. 

It’s scary to drop back into myself and face these fears. It’s scary to face the fear: what if no one likes or loves me? It’s scary because, at the bottom of that barrel, who’s left if no one else out there loves me? Me. Just me. 

At that moment, I get to choose whether I want to love myself. I’m the only one left. When no one else is around do I choose to be the one to give myself love? Do I know how to love myself? If I can’t love myself when no one is around, then how can I expect anyone else to love me, too? 

What all of this comes down to is my relationship with myself. I’m an adult now. I’m no longer a child. As a child, I did what I needed to do to survive. I depended on my family liking and loving me so that I could be fed and housed and clothed and tended to. I don’t rely on them anymore. I can now lay down my survival tactics and risk all relationships in my life for the one relationship that matters the most: my relationship with my self and the source of who I know myself to be. 

I can choose to trust my own lovability. I can choose to love myself first. I can choose to trust that as I do so it is safe for me to be who I am naturally in all of my relationships new and old. I choose to do this because I know no greater freedom than to truly be myself. 

How are you manipulating your behaviors, beliefs, responses, or actions to fit in, to be liked, or to be loved? How can you slowly become aware of these and lovingly and compassionately let go of these ways of being that aren’t you and step more fully into who you are naturally? 

May you be blessed with deep abiding trust in the Truth of the Truth of the Truth of Who You Are.

Photo by Gabriele Stravinskaite on Unsplash