Addicted to Effort   1 comment

The strange path to freedom.

I have many coping mechanisms to protect me from the prickly world, a combination of defenses unique to myself.  I was a compliant child, a trait sometimes mistakenly referred to as “good” or “obedient,” so I responded to my insecurites by trying to make the grade (measured by my approval ratings).   This was my basis for self-worth: scoring a 10 on my performance.  When I was judged as inadequate, my deeply ingrained, almost instinctive reaction was to rachet up the effort.  I proved my value as a person by doing more, better, faster, by never repeating failures or mistakes, by meeting or exceeding every expectation that appeared worthy.

CHASING SUCCESS

Perhaps the hardest coping mechanisms to overcome are those which are inescapably tied to the necessities of living.  Every addiction has its unique power of control.  Bulimics, unlike alcoholics, literally cannot live without the substance to which they are addicted, and that significantly complicates their deliverance.  In the same way, I cannot live without doing.  I cannot abandon all tasks in order to break free from my addiction to effort–I am forced to keep succeeding at a job, at finances, at relationships, and all the other tasks essential to life.  They say success breeds success, but in my case, success breeds bondage (and unfortunately so does failure). 

For me, at a subconscious level, every task accomplished inevitably feeds my sense of worth and every task unfinished feeds my shame.  I don’t knowingly tell myself, “See what I have done. I am a good person after all.”  The telltale sign of this malady may only be a sense of satisfaction, which is natural enough, but the reason for my satisfaction is largely a sense of worth based on my work. 

In short: I have an addiction to effort as a means to gain worth, I cannot live without doing, but each time I do something and feel better as a person, I subconsciously strengthen my addiction.

Let me give an example.  I have said something that has hurt my colleague Mike.  I am afraid of what he now thinks of me, especially because his evaluation of me feeds my doubts of my own worth.  Since love is the best motivation, I tell myself to reach out to him in love and concern for his well-being. These are my conscious thoughts, but underneath, my very value as a person depends on his renewed approval of me.  My fear escalates as I ask for a minute of his time.  Why fear?  Because my worth is at stake.  If he is reconciled by my apology, my fear turns to pleasure.  “See,” I tell myself, “love works!” when in fact I have just succeeded in strengthening a false basis for my worth as a person–I am worthy because of what I do, in this case reconciliation. 

The motivation for what I do is the key.  I can act out of a place of grace or a place of should and shame, though that makes it sound dichotomous when really my motives are always mixed to some degree.  If I complete a chore more out of fear than of grace, I strengthen my doubt in God’s love.  If I act more from grace, I strengthen my faith in God’s love.  But if I am pressured by ‘should,’ how can I respond out of grace?  For me at least, operating out of a sense of should is really responding from a doubt of God’s acceptance, from a sense that his love depends on my behavior, from a fear of being unworthy.  I find that if I do not first challenge the should, face it down, call out its lies of conditional love, then I feed my doubt and insecurity with each task I complete.  I feel better, but am worse for it.

Back to Mike.  If he is unwelcoming, I become defensive–I try to “explain” more clearly, I express my hurt at his response, I point out his matching faults.  Unlike my successful attempt, my failure to win him over suddenly reveals my real motivation.  It was not love, but insecurity. Insecurity will always be present, but if it predominates as my motivation, it will harm me and my relationships.  It may feel better to both of us  if it “works,” but it is a sugar high that eventually leads to diabetes.  I am most aware of my insecurities when my coping mechanism fails, when my “right” actions for self-redemption flounder. If at first I don’t go to Mike, but sit with my insecurity long enough to find saving grace, to believe my worth has no basis in what I do, then I can go to Mike in a way that leads to wholeness for us both.

In certain situations, this time of processing is effective, but often, the longer I delay acting, the more anxious I become.  I am constantly being pressured by a “should,” and this crowds out the emotional space I need to find grace.  In the past I often had to go ahead and complete the task (and so remove the pressure), and then try to deal with the shame-based motivation.   My grasp of grace was not firm enough to escape self-condemnation if I failed to act, but at least being aware of my true motivations was a fundamental step to addressing them.  

To be continued…

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Posted March 26, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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One response to “Addicted to Effort

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  1. Pingback: The Strange Turn « Janathan Grace Reflections

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