Saturday, March 7, 2015

Emotional road map

Subtitle: Caution - Rough Terrain Ahead

My favorite class in all of my college career was called Ethics and Values. I had the best instructor - a man who introduced topics each week like abortion and euthanasia and then asked us to write an essay on what our opinion was. He never once - until the very last day of class - told us what his stand on any topic was (which I think was so brilliant of him. No one could cozy up to him to get brownie points by following his lead.). I came out of the class knowing where I stood on some things that surprised me, but were authentic to me.

One of the big ideas in the class was intentions versus consequences. Let's say I make my neighbor dinner. No matter what my intentions, the consequences are that she and her family eat for a night. But, I can make her dinner with the following intentions, depending on the situation:

  • So that she will have a meal and not feel stressed about her new baby (or her sickness, or whatever situation requires her to have a meal.)
  • So that I can stop feeling guilty for all of the times that she made me dinner
  • So that my other neighbors can see me taking her dinner and they will think I am fabulous
  • So that I can hope that later, when I am in need, I can hope that she would make me dinner
  • So that she can know that I am much more generous than her, because she didn't make me dinner when I ______.
  • And so on.
Now, I'm not really talking about making my neighbor dinner. I like to think I only make dinners for the first reason, but not the other reasons. It's easy for me, the star in my own story, to say that my intentions are always good. But I'm sure that they aren't. I'm sure that other people would read into my actions and judge and critique.

Recent events have me looking at intentions and consequences in a very serious way. I'm evaluating myself on why I've done what I've done for people. I'm also looking at what motivates me. I find that guilt is one of my most frequent motivator.

Conversely, I see some people around me and they have these emotional holes that they are filling. Some fill it with substances. Others fill it with food. Some fill it with a sheer will to pretend that their holes don't exist, or avoidance, or running away.

I know that I have my own holes. I sort of know what my holes are, and I know what I use to fill them. Some are healthy things, like running and yoga and meditation. But others aren't so healthy, like running to the gas station for a soda, or Starbucks for my favorite hot chocolate. I'll admit that trips like this to reward or cheer myself are frequent.Wow, I visited this person - gotta hit Starbucks. Wow, I had a bad day - I should stop at McDonald's for a $1 drink. It seems like a small thing, but if I look at it for what it is - it's a destructive behavior. Yes, it doesn't have the same effect that shooting heroin would, but it's doing the same thing: filling an emotional void, or pain, that I obviously have.

So, I want this post to come out to say that I want to be different. I have some goals that I want to document. They are all wrapped up in what has been going on around and inside of me for the past 2 months. Call it manifesto or whatever you will.

  • Stop doing things out of guilt.
  • Have better intentions for doing things for other people. I don't want to have the feeling that others are looking over my shoulder and keeping a tally of what I do so that it looks like I am a good mother, friend, daughter, sister, wife, neighbor. I hate that I just had to write that sentence, because it means that I've been doing this. But maybe others around me already know it and I'm just saying what is obvious to them. Regardless, I want my intentions to be more authentic.
  • I don't want to panic anymore when I get into a situation that causes me stress, where someone is asking something of me that I am uncomfortable about or that will not be a possibility. I get into trouble because all of my "training" tells me that I have to do what the person is needing me to do, exactly as they need me to do it. I don't have the security in myself to say the part I can do without torturing myself over not being able to do everything. I worry so much about hurting others feelings when they are already hurting mine. I can't keep doing this. 
  • Learn how to say my honest feelings. I don't trust that others can "handle my truth," which gets me into trouble. At the very least, it degrades my feelings. It also insults them, because I'm not treating them like the grown-up that they are (or should be.) I think it's deep-seated, irrational fears that do this to me. I've applied this in my life in some ways over the past few years, but there are others that I am still "protecting" in this way. I have to stop this.
  • Stop allowing people to make me feel guilty. If I'm doing something out of guilt, it's not authentic to me. If I'm not doing something out of guilt, it's not authentic to me. With a realization that I have people that depend on me, I have to realize my limitations and put them first, and then do what I can for the others around me. Those others are very important and I want to do what I can for them. 
  • I want to find my "holes" and try to not fill them with things or activities that will never satisfy. 

I've been reading a book that has helped me find a road map for to do some of these things. Here are the bullet points:

  • I need to give up on meaningless (guilt-induced, or "checking off the box") attempts to satisfy others
  • I need to stop power struggles
  • I need to avoid situations that put me in conflict with other (there are topics with family members that immediately cause strife. Some of that is my fault, and some of it isn't. It is a situation of intentions verses consequences, and trying to change the outcome regarding certain topics is like beating my head against a wall.) I need to pick my battles and find ways of spending time with those people in less conflictual activities. 
  • I need to make it clear what I can and cannot do in a constructive and non-threatening way, and with the right timing.
  • (This one is my own) I need to stop trying to do certain things to try to anticipate others needs, because of feelings of guilt that I'm not doing enough. I also need to let those people deal with the problems that will come up from their choices, instead of trying to head them off for them. It's impossible, it frustrates me and them, and - ultimately - it's never enough, anyway.
  • (Another one that is my own) I need to realize that I cannot ever repay some people for what they have done for me in my life. I can be grateful, but I can never do enough to satisfy their emotional needs (because, again, it will never be enough.) My enough has to be good enough for me, and I can't change the fact that it isn't enough for them. That isn't my problem, it's theirs.

How strange that I feel that I have to write a blog post to say all of this. If only I could just already have learned all of these lesson. I'm almost 40 years old, for crying out loud. But maybe this is what it means to turn 40. I know when I turned 30, I found I naturally dropped some unhelpful personality traits and picked up others. It might just be another step towards finally being a grown up. And if writing these things helps me remember them better, commit to them better, practice and apply them better, then it's a step in the right direction.


Britt said...

I would love an ethics and values class! Except I think I would have a hard time choosing my position on a lot of issues. I'm undecided on a lot of things because I can see both sides of the issue. Or maybe I'm just afraid to choose a side because I don't want people to disagree with me. Who knows.

I need to try and be more aware of my intentions as well. I have realized lately that the reasons I do a lot of the things I do are not noble reasons. Pride is one of my biggest motivators, and I think if I were able to tally how many things I do based on pride (is there an app for that?) I would be really disappointed in myself. Guilt is a motivator, too, but not as much as pride is for me.

This was a great post!

Feisty Harriet said...

This is such a wonderful, honest, and raw post; and of course it makes me love you all the more.

I feel like I need to go back and re-read about a half-dozen times to get everything out of this that I want to.

But, I think 40 and the pieces that come with it will look good on you. :)