Friday, January 3, 2014

The Beginning of Something Different

I've been thinking over the past little while what I would like to say regarding the beginning of a new year.  I could go into great detail about my marriage, honeymoon, subsequent legal marriage when discrimination in my state was struck down (woo!), or just talk about my life.  But some things that have stuck out to me recently have made me focus on one thing: me.

Ha!  I'm sure some of you got a smile out of that one.  I act fairly conceited at times.  Honestly, it's something that I used to do to help my self-confidence, and I've sort of adapted it into my personality!  I love to joke about how awesome I am, or things of that nature.  Well, I don't have to joke...I am awesome.

I've recently began my internship as a therapist and there's one thing that I notice in myself, as well as my clients almost on a daily basis.  We care about those around us.  I'm almost certain that anyone who is actually a complete narcissist has no cares whatsoever about the people around them!  And some of the reasons people get hurt the most is because of the actions/reactions of others.

I know that for me, if there's a situation where a friendship is at stake, I do almost everything in my power to fix the issue.  Now this can sometimes come at a cost to my own feelings and well-being.  This happened again recently, and instead of doing my regular thing where I would grovel, or apologize incessantly for things that were out of my control, I stopped.  I don't need to do that.  I don't need to take responsibility for the actions of others, and I ESPECIALLY don't have to take responsibility for how others react to me.

Now, I do have to add a little caveat to that last part of that last paragraph.  I'll try to explain it to make it a little clearer.  Obviously, if I'm acting inappropriately or being a complete wretch, I do have to take some responsibility for how those around me react.  But for an example, let's say that I'm having a really rough day.  I could go about dropping hints (more about this later) to my bad mood and hope that someone comes and rescues me.  Or I could simply tell a friend that I'm having a rough day and ask them if they wouldn't mind coming over and keeping me company.  

How they choose to react to that request is their business.  Whenever you pose a question, the other person ALWAYS has the choice to say no.  So if you really don't want someone to have that choice, don't turn what you're saying into a question... 

Now if I was having a rough day because of something that friend said or did, and I chose to express that to them, I still have no control over their reaction.  I would hope that in order to preserve our friendship, we could work together to clear up any misunderstanding that may have occurred from either of us.  But that friend still has the choice of getting upset and refusing to listen to anything further I have to say, or getting defensive and turning it into a fight.

I've seen conversations go both ways.  And this is where myself and a lot of my clients come in.  We keep things to ourselves.  We hold hurt feelings deep inside, and we don't let them go.  They fester, they grow, and pretty soon, our emotions are completely blown out of proportion to the incident.  It's difficult to take that first step in discussing emotions with someone you trust, because you know there's a chance it could get out of hand!  Not to mention that we live in a culture that glorifies fixing things (and not talking about them), getting things done alone, and not seeming emotionally vulnerable.  It all leads to a boiling mess!

So sometimes we try and drop hints.  I hate to break it to everyone, and this includes myself, but human beings are just awful when it comes to getting hints.  We don't get them.  As much as I wish I could, I'm still not a mind-reader.  Even with studying human behavior, there is no way you can sit and go through all the possibilities that someone is trying to get at with their dropped hints.  Plus we just don't have the time.  So stop trying to drop hints!  It doesn't work.  No, for real.  There are studies.

People like my clients and myself can go through life not wanting to ruffle feathers.  We don't want anyone to think we're a burden, or to see us weak, or to drag someone's mood down.  We come up with plenty of excuses to not talk to people when we're hurting.  And I don't much care for that.

That's why I'm beginning to focus on me.  I like to give this analogy to clients who choose to put their own needs aside: imagine you're viewing a cliff.  Someone you care about is at the bottom of the cliff.  There is no way for them to get up that rock face by themselves.  Would you rather be at the top of that cliff, or the bottom to help them?

I would rather be at the top, and here's why: there's so much more I can do for them at the top of the cliff!  I can throw down a rope, I can coach them up, I can tell them about another path, I can encourage them to keep trying, or so many other things.  If I'm at the bottom, I could try and lift them on my shoulders but if that cliff is more than 12 feet high, that's not going to work.  I couldn't give them advice because I'm stuck there too.  In order for me to help others, I have to be taking care of myself first.

Oh man, did you feel that guilt just creep in?  Our culture places so many demands on us.  I know that here, it is pretty much expected that you drop what you're doing to help others.  If not, you may be seen quite negatively.  But here's where my resolution kicks in.  I don't have to take responsibility for how I am seen by others.  How they view me is really none of my business!  If I've been doing things to put myself in a centered place, and I stumble upon someone who could use a helping hand, of course I'll help.  But if someone's in a deep hole, and I have no reserves left to give out, I may not be any help to them.  I may end up getting pulled in, and then we're both just stuck together.  That isn't to say that I don't want to give company to those who are feeling lost or stuck.  That's part of empathy: sitting in those crappy feelings together!  But if I have no reserves left, we'll both end up trapped.  And rather than me being up at the top, I'm lost at the bottom.

Do you see where I'm going with this?  It's not selfish to take care of yourself.  I've seen people time and time again suffer because they put the needs of others in front of their own.  Just to be clear, I'm not implying that we should all take on a view of hedonism.  We are much better prepared to help those around us, if we are in a good place.

So I summarized my New Year's resolution into one phrase: I'm going to be more active and less reactive.

If I need to, I will make my needs known, I will take better care of myself (in whatever form that may be in the moment), I will fill my life with what I know makes me happy, and I will cut out what is toxic.

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