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  • marlienligtenberg

How to come back when it was you who choose to leave

I have a talent for breaking up with groups. The first group I left was the community in my birthplace. I notice that when I am back there, visiting my relatives, I tend to focus on the reasons why I left. I feel confirmed in my choice. At the same time, the fact that I left makes me feel guilty towards my family. I feel the wish to connect more with them. Now, being back in The Netherlands for the Holidays feels like a good time to experiment with a different approach.

I grew up in Rijssen, in the East of The Netherlands. The culture there is very friendly and down to earth. Stick with what feels familiar and don't rise above the average. I have a big extended family and the family bond is very strong and vital to them. Family is everything. They visit each other on every occasion. Every single anniversary, birthday, graduation, new home, driver's license, swimming diploma, and a good grade of each nephew, niece, aunt, and uncle are celebrated by a big family gathering (okay, I exaggerate a little bit. You get my point).

When I was in high school it started to itch. I wanted to go away. Explore what's out there. I left to study and didn't identify with my roots more and more. I choose to change the accent, the way I used to dress, the way I used to live, my idea of religion. And I started to feel different about the approach of my relatives and the community in Rijssen. I felt as if the connection for them was simply in being together. For me, I discovered, it is important that I experience (what is my idea of) depth in relationships.

But in quantity, I could not deliver anymore. I lived further away and could not attend all the events of the extended family. And honestly, I didn't want to visit them all. A few per year, okay. But if I am there, I find it difficult to make a good connection. I feel a defensive reaction when I get an "Ah you're back for once, it's been a long time" comment. I feel irritated. A reaction like "Yeah, you have a phone as well, call me if you want to know how I am" is burning on the tip of my tongue. And at the same time, I feel guilty because I know I am the one who chose to leave. Am I the one to blame?

I feel guilty because I know I am the one who chose to leave. Am I the one to blame?

Leaving this community of relatives was the start of a pattern. Later on, I joined different groups. A church youth group, a students association, the student's board of the faculty, another church group, a political party, my first employer. Looking back, I didn't stay long. And I never felt totally part of the group. I mingled, observed, formed my own opinion, concluded that didn't match with my terms anymore, and left.

It helped in my development: not to stick around when it is not a fit. Exploring new opportunities. Expand my worldview. But it also has a different side. Sometimes I think, "How do I feel comfortable in a larger group? Am I that disconnected? Wouldn't it be chill to just fit in and stay for a longer time? To have some peace of mind? Why do I do it like this?" From most groups, I have some great individual friendships left. And I don't miss the group settings.

But with my relatives and my roots, of course, it is a bit more complicated. They are my origin. It defines me. And I would love to feel more connected. And hear a different comment than: "Ah you're back for once, it's been a long time". I would love to hear: "Welcome back! Good to see you. We know you have your own path out there. But we are happy to have you now with us. We missed you."

I started realizing that I can't force a different attitude from them. I have to welcome that in myself. To welcome the parts in me that want to belong. Fit in. Keep it simple. Not always be focussed on improving and growing. Stand still instead of moving forward. Be happy with how it is. Just be together because of the sake of being together. Enjoying the company. Stay a little bit longer.

Tomorrow, I will be back in Rijssen. I am going to see some of my relatives and will be back at my roots. I want to try something different. I am going to focus on the similarities between my roots, my family, and me. Where we meet each other and can connect. What they taught me. Which values we have in common. Invite myself back.

This place was the birth of my own path. I am going to step off the train, on the same platform I once left off to my own life. I am going to take a deep breath and say: "Welcome back! Good to see you. I know you have your own path here. But I am happy to have you here at this moment with me. I missed you".

What did you choose to leave and do you want to welcome back in yourself?
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