We’ve all seen a garden with a little gnome figurine hidden somewhere among the foliage. The garden gnome is rather an ubiquitous creature found in varying form across the globe but what is not largely known is that the gnome we all know comes from the hermiting that was once a popular career choice among introverts.
The Roman emperor Hadrian famously had a hermitage in at least one of his palaces available for religious men wishing to cloister themselves away from the world. Even Pope Pius IV had a hermitage, except that his hermitage was for his own particular use and devotion. For millennia, it was not uncommon for those who were of the mind to join a convent or monastery, or some other religious order, and taking a vow of silence at times in order to be able to have one’s needs met with the necessities of life and a like-minded social group while still meeting the need of quiet isolation. Over the centuries, the hermit gradually morphed from the religious devotee or philosopher requiring time alone to ponder the great questions of the world and to draw closer to God to the well to do gentry finding it fashionable to pay someone to be the spectral hermit living in the shack in their garden, wearing rags, speaking only very wise words or not at all, living simply, and usually not having very healthy hygienic practices. It was posh to show off to their friends and neighborhood that they could afford to pay someone to live simply and coarsely, as if they were doing some great service in “allowing” the poor to live in their shadow. At some point, the keeping of other humans for such entertainment and humble showing off of one’s status came out of vogue, but in the place of the hermit came to live the humble garden gnome:
An amusing throwback to a time when it was seen as admirable and elegant to withdraw from the world to seek solace in oneself, in nature, and in God but taking the form of a little man wearing a dunce cap, having a spectacular beard, and smoking a pipe or doing some other garden work.
Nowadays, the withdrawal from society thusly is often criticized and met with some amount of hostility despite the growing body of research touting the benefits of spending more time alone and unplugged from the constant emotional, social, and physical drain of too much work, too much social media, and too many activities simply because people find it strange that another human being would, in the absence of a mental illness or other concern, choose to shirk human interaction. People get offended when the introvert starts introverting, and they get even more upset when it is the extrovert who chooses to be alone. Regular readers here cannot be surprised for me to acknowledge that I’ve been at a loss for words in recent months and have largely kept to myself, indulging myself in every possible opportunity to introvert and retreating to my proverbial hermitage for time to consider, reflect, ponder, and decide.
I’ve found in my hermiting – for that is what I call this self selected semi isolation – that others find it very disconcerting that I am happily isolated from their words and influence and have chosen to continue to be so for a purpose:
To find and ground myself and to remove the ties that bind from others whose influence has at any point been unhealthy.
As a woman who has endured assault and abuse at the hands of those who should have been the most safe, I have been praised and celebrated for having survived, for having stepped away from the toxic cocktail that was once my life, and for seeking health and healing. I consider myself to be exceedingly blessed with the time and opportunity to work closely with those whose training and expertise could do more than help me address my wounded heart and soul by helping me to discover the roots of the decision making paradigm and helping me to learn how to identify and walk away from toxicity wherever it exists, even when I present it myself. So how could this pursuit of healing become such a sticking point for others?
It seemed perfectly acceptable to so many for there to be a single clear villain in my life.
As human beings we are predisposed to looking for the culprit and we are happy to identify one, whether we are accurate or whether we have simply selected a scapegoat. But the reality of life is that we all have varying degrees of light and dark qualities within us and we are all going through our lives, making choices and alliances, based on our experiences and on those qualities we choose to exhibit, whether consciously or not.
What comes from being happy to identify a single clear villain is healing from only the wounds incurred by just that one villain. When another person comes along who is similar to that villain, there may not be a recognition of those same qualities because the blame for all that went wrong is placed on the villain’s shoulders.
What comes from the purposeful dissection of one’s whole life, one’s entirety of relationships, and one’s entire decision making paradigm is healing from the wounds that caused one to choose the villain in the first place. This dissection doesn’t just impact how one views oneself but also how one views and approaches all others.
The truth is, while victims are never responsible for the choices of those who were their abuser or assailant, it does not mean that they are completely without any responsibility because whether they chose to run through the park alone, to drink too much, or to align themselves with a narcissistic person with a temper, they made choices that put themselves in the path of evil.
I realized at some point that while I did not choose the experiences I had, I chose the relationships that I had them in…
And I have to own those choices.
If I want to avoid the same kinds of experiences in the future I have to understand why I chose those relationships in the first place, why I chose, consciously or not, to put myself in the path of those who would harm me.
Recognizing my own broken patterns of behavior and unhealthy decision making doesn’t mean that I have taken away the wrongness of what I experienced, but it did take away the convenient single villain and it also took away the feeling of powerlessness and utter victimhood I was accustomed to feeling…
Powerlessness and victimhood.
It is profoundly amazing to me how easy it is to move from one form of powerlessness and victimhood to another. The truth is that once I was no longer in the thrall of those who harmed me, there were others waiting in the wings to help keep me in that place where I lacked power and would remain a victim forever.
We all have varying degrees of light and dark.
We all have varying degrees of healthy and toxic personality traits and behaviors.
One of the most unfortunate things I have learned is that while most were happy and supportive in seeing me escape from the clear villain they had identified, there were those who could not accept that I would not simply fall in obediently to what they felt was appropriate.
There was a time in this journey where I felt almost paralyzed to make decisions and take steps without approval of others on Team Gwen but there are those who felt that as I regained my strength I should still do what they said when they said it. When I declined to continue to trade the power of one master for the power of another, a master that was not myself, I found myself in the position of observing as those who had been my champions in leaving toxicity showed their own toxic darkness.
There was a time when I struggled greatly to lay responsibility where it belonged in believing myself to be completely to blame for my experiences rather than allowing myself to accept that others are the masters of their decisions and that I’m master of only mine. Nevertheless, I saw how quickly those who had repeated to me almost daily that everything was not my fault lay blame on me for other things when it was convenient within their attempt to illicit a particular choice or action to do so. I also saw how quickly the tables would turn yet again when my voice became too strong in reminding me that I had lost my power once, calling my using my own voice another example of my having lost my power again simply because I did not share their view on something.
The farther I have gotten from the experiences I’ve had, the more I find there are those who would bring up those experiences as if they were the only conversation worth having. It isn’t that these experiences don’t live in my memory, but they no longer drive my every step, thought, or action and there are those who would continue to remind me of them as if to constantly keep me down and remind me of them rather than letting me move on, grow, and heal. For some, it has seemed that our shared experiences of trauma are all that connected us and while I wish to leave mine in the rearview mirror, taking what I have learned and growing from it, there are others who cannot or will not leave theirs. If this is all that connects us, the relationship will naturally die because I refuse to spend the rest of my life living as a victim. For others, I cannot fathom what would motivate them to try so hard to remind me of where I’ve been rather than helping me move on to where I’m going but they try so hard to keep me in my past that they don’t realize they’re becoming a part of it.
The conscientious choice to pull away from every influence, from all but a select handful of relationships, in order to allow myself the time to heal and grow as the modern day hermit was done not to see relationships end but it has resulted in it because as I have grown and healed as an individual, I have found that there are relationships which belong as much a part of my past as the trauma that brought me to the place where I realized I needed to heal in the first place.
I cannot be full of life and moving forward to a future of my own making while still anchored in place by those who cannot or will not let me move on, by those whose own toxic and dark personality traits are left unchecked, and by those who would choose to continue to live in the cesspool of their own traumas rather than clawing their way out of the mire.
It isn’t that I have the audacity to think that others are not entitled to be in their own place in the journey of their lives as they change and grow as human beings. We all have our own injuries to heal from and demons to fight and I would not be so arrogant as to ask another to grow, change, and heal at my speed and say-so.
It is that I have the audacity to live my own life free of the constraints and demands of others, the audacity to fight my darkness, and the audacity refuse to live in my past and my trauma.