A Visit from My Boyhood Self   Leave a comment

Caroline came to me at work yesterday with an apology, “I’m sorry I was hard on you yesterday.  I was slammed with a lot of issues I had to sort through and was feeling stressed.”  I said that I understood.  But she was not finished with her apology which rather quickly worked around to her frustration at me, still evident in her look and tone of voice, because I was apparently inadequate at my job.  Tears had started pooling in my eyes when she finally finished her lecture and turned to leave.

Having no customers to attend, I had some space to reflect.  Why did this exchange feel so bad to me?  I was better than most at handling displeased customers and angry colleagues, able to be courteous and sympathetic without taking it personally.  I felt the powerful emotional tug and followed the shame back to my childhood fears. This dynamic was very familiar, the sense that I was fundamentally flawed because I was too slow or stupid or inattentive.  It was not simply that I had failed in this one thing as everyone does, but that I had failed in a way that others did not, at least not responsible ones.  As a boy I figured dad would be patient with average mistakes, the kind he too made, so his frustration proved some deeper flaw in me.  Children who paid more attention, who got it on the first explanation, who didn’t repeat the same mistake earned approval.  I just had to try harder… but I could never quite overcome that achievement deficit.  I was stuck in a permanent sense of inadequacy.

Now whether my dad was too impatient or I was too sensitive is beside the point… or rather it completely leads us down the wrong trail.  The point is not to identify blame, but to identify dynamics–this is what happened and this is how it made me feel.  And seeing that dynamic clearly, and being the melancholic that I am (tending to self-blame), I immediately noticed how I treat others in a similar way, especially those I supervise.  My mind flashed back to the previous night when I had given an exasperated look and tone to a new student I was training because she wasn’t getting it.  I could see her face fall, and realizing what I had done, I quickly changed into a non-judgmental re-explanation.  But it passed through my mind as a common interaction, not something that called for further examination, one of those things I see as a flaw in myself that I need to work on, but with such a minimal focus that I make only incremental changes.

Okay, that is unfair to myself.  I have actually grown a lot in this area.  I just have a lot farther to go. If I’d had a little boy when I was my father’s age, I might have been much harder on him than my father was on me.  It is nearly impossible to break out of family dynamics without a great deal of reflection and understanding… and grace to myself, not just to others.  Given my temperament, I could easily turn this insight into self-blame, castigating myself for being hard on others and trying to scold myself into being more patient.  But shaming myself just makes me feel even more inadequate, leading to further dysfunction in my life.

For me, this is where reflecting on my childhood becomes so powerful.  When I find a reason for a deep-rooted unhealthy tendency in myself, when I can locate the pain I felt that I’m passing on to others, I can see myself with compassionate eyes, as the wounded one.  I can grace myself into healthier interactions instead of criticizing myself into being better, a stick I used my whole life that simply drove me into deep, unremitting depression.  I find that grace must begin with myself before I can pass it on.  We live in a fallen world, we have all been wounded deeply, and tracing that injury back to its roots can give us the insight and self-compassion we need to finally begin healing under the gentle touch of God’s grace.

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Posted September 3, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

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