I’m a homo sapien. I’m guessing that since you’re reading this, you’re human as well. According to pretty much any psychologist/psychiatrist/educated person, we have certain basic needs that have to be meet in order to reach our full potential as people in our lifetime. When Abraham Maslow wrote “A Theory of Human Motivation” in 1943, he outlined what became known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Anyone interested in prepping or working towards self-sufficiency is familiar with the first two levels of Maslow’s pyramid: the basic human necessities of shelter, food, water, ect. and to be safe from the elements and from harm. Right above that is where things start getting a little more complicated- the necessity of meaningful human interaction. This is where the lone human will run into issues, as they can’t provide these resources for themselves as they can the previous ones. They have to reach out to other people and, well… people can be unpredictable and befuddling as hell sometimes.
Six years ago, I lived in a bubble. A happy, safe little bubble created by the approval and affirmation of a number of people (both friends and family) who I counted among my closest confidantes. I valued their opinions very highly and found personal affirmation in their presence in my life. In my blind, brainless trust of these people I put WAY too high a value on their approval of my life, my family, of my existence. When that naive little bubble shattered into shrapnel, I felt like my heart had been ripped out. I felt betrayed beyond measure and physically sick with grief. The year that followed was such that it is still painful for me to think about.
When this occurred, the grid was up and running. Our local supermarket was well-stocked and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Gas was expensive but available, we had a roof over our heads and medical professionals a phone call away. While I was coming to grips with my entire support system coming apart at the seams, the world was in the ordinary- this time.
It took me awhile to see the flaws in my psyche that allowed this caliber of hurt to happen in the first place; I place that blame squarely on putting way too much power in the hands of the people around me. I allowed myself to invest so much in their opinions, their approval. I built my respect for myself as a person through respect from other people, especially those close to me. As a person, I was weak. I had very little love for myself. I tried to build a marvel of architecture on a foundation of sand; I tried to slather layers of fancy frosting onto a dog turd and call it a wedding cake. Despite these people’s actions, I really have no one to blame but myself. I might as well have handed them the hypothetical gun that they shot my hypothetical legs off with.
Little by little, I came to the realization that the monumental shit-pile I was trying so hard to crawl out of was completely preventable. Rather than finding another happy little bubble to wrap my sorry self in, I went on a self-improvement scavenger hunt of sorts. I decided not to look for recognition from people that I couldn’t implicitly trust, to find my worth in the places it was actually hiding instead of creating it from relationships that were as authentic as Donald Trump’s comb-over. I started seeing the necessity of being more than a little jaded, a little cynical, a little mistrusting. Steeling your emotional self from the elements is just as important as jumper cables in the trunk, bottled water in the basement, or (to some) pallets of MRE’s in the bunker. If you’re too fragile to withstand an emotional onslaught, what the eff are you going to do if the
zombies are approaching and you just got ordered out of the safehouse for some petty ‘difference in opinion?’
Some people just get off on making the unfortunate folks in their lives miserable. Some have an agenda that needs to be adhered to regardless of who gets squashed in their parade’s procession. Some are just toxic people who live toxic lives, and slowly poison the existence of everyone around them. These three can be easy to spot, and any that sneak in under my defenses promptly get the finger and the boot. No room for that bullcrap around here, pardner, so kindly GTFO. BUT… Sometimes good people do shitty things. People who might not be entirely boot-worthy, who might be bound by blood or other ties that warrant a more democratic approach before they get drop-kicked out of your line of vision. Should they be given free rein to offend again? Not unless you’re a masochist. Haul out the post-holer and get ready to mix some concrete, it’s fence building time.
I’ve watched a few episodes of Dr. Phil. Okay… more than a few. Its a double-X chromosome thing. Something that he’s mentioned repeatedly is a concept that I’ve run across in the past as well- building fences before you build walls. When you build a fence, you’re deciding just how much power you’re giving that particular person in which to wound you. You keep them at enough of a distance to spare yourself unnecessary hurt should they decide to go twat-waffle on you all over again. Should that person continue to cause unnecessary negativity in your life, the fence needs to go higher. Limit their role in your life even further and strengthen good relationships instead. If things still don’t improve, build a wall and move the hell on- there are very few relationships that are really worth the emotional mutilation some people are capable of serving up.
I’ve built a lot of fences in my life in the last six years. A few of my fences reach into the proverbial stratosphere, and for good reason. Built a few walls as well; it was never an easy decision to go that route, but for the sake of my sanity and to protect my kids from the pain these people caused us all as a family, I did it. I have no regrets. I’ve learned to look for Maslow’s level 3 from people who have given me reason to really trust them, and stopped looking for my self-affirmation through other people’s opinions. Our life on our farm is pretty isolated, and that’s as much by choice as it is by location and circumstance; the only person whose opinion I give a rat’s ass about anymore if my husband’s. Not to say there aren’t wonderful people in our lives, because there are: family, friends, the whole cannoli. Not to say I don’t care what those individuals think about me at all; of course I do. But none of their opinions are vital to my opinion of myself anymore. A mean-spirited comment from a family member that would’ve wrecked me six years ago doesn’t give me pause now; I roll my eyes and move on. I’m too busy raising kids, wrangling goats and trying to keep my husband’s sock drawer stocked to let the negativity have that much real estate in my brain anymore. Don’t like me? that’s fine. You’re welcome to kiss my butt on your way out.
Nothing about the homesteading life is easy. The physical demand is daunting all on its own. When you add in the emotional toll of being isolated, busy as hell, the inevitable frustrations and failures, sometimes ‘weird’ to the city-dwelling folk and possibly ‘crazy’ in the eyes of your loved ones for pursuing sufficiency in the first place, its your choice how much of an impact those things will have on you. For me, that’s no impact anymore. I feel like I’ve finally built myself up to where the acts of douchebaggery by the people on the other side of my fences have minimal initial impact and none lasting. I’m happy in spite of it. After we moved I let my guard down and put way too much faith in a few people; I was disoriented, scared, and grieving for what I’d left behind. I blame myself and have erected the appropriate fences. Life has gone on. Forgiveness is great, but forgetting requires a measure of trust in the person who hurt you in the first place. Call me an elephant, because I never forget. That’s one mistake I’ve never made again and never, ever will. You can’t expect to really know your own strength until you see it tested, and I’m glad mine got tested when there weren’t any mushroom clouds looming in the distance. That strength of character will come in handy if the proverbial shit ever does hit the fan.
The Jones’ can keep up with themselves. The gossip mill can turn, the soap opera can play itself out without my name in the credits. I’ve moved on from all of it. I don’t need any of it. I’m perfectly happy living like an island, letting a few trusted landlubbers canoe out and visit every now and then. I rebuilt myself to last, and I’m grateful to the people behind my fences (and even the ones behind the walls) for pushing me off the cliff and forcing me to find out what true peace feels like. I cherish it, because I cried a river and bled an ocean to find it.
Thumb- Thanks You For Hating Me (1998)