Archive for the ‘self-care’ Tag

She Done Me Wrong   5 comments

When I last shared about Kimberly and me, I left an important point untouched.  Are there not certain responsibilities that are moral in nature?  Is my wife not required to be monogamous?  Is it ever right for me to hit her?  For the relationship to work (any relationship), do we not need some moral standards on which we can insist, a moral code of conduct?

Let me begin by saying that I believe all intentional acts are moral.  Everything we do and how we do it is affected by our faith, love, humility, and the like.  Even things we do with no apparent moral content are choices to do this and not something “better.”   So perhaps the question is rather: are some moral choices “beyond the pale,” so significant that the relationship cannot simply absorb the behavior and continue on more or less as it was but must be addressed and worked through.  To reorient the question in this way, however, moves it from a legal question of right and wrong and rather asks what will hurt or benefit our relationship.  Relationship becomes central, and law becomes its servant (as Jesus said).  Instead of saying, “You must stop this because it is against the law,” or even, “You must stop this because it hurts me,” we simply say, “When you do this it hurts me,” because if we force or manipulate them to change, it will undermine the genuineness of our connection.  For important relationships, this step is just the beginning of an ongoing discussion and a doorway into deeper mutual and self understanding, acceptance, and trust.  That is not to suggest I have no recourse if I am  being hurt, but if relationship is primary, the solution does not lie in controlling the other person.

I am ultimately not accountable for their choices, but for my own.  I am responsible to see that my own needs are met in a healthy way, whether my friend supports me or not.  My needs determine where I draw the boundary line in our relationship, and my friend’s needs determine where he draws the line.  If he cannot respect my boundaries, then I will  take measures to protect my boundaries because I must respect myself and my needs whether he does or not.  This is not a judgment of my friend’s inadequacies or of my inadequacies (as though he doesn’t care enough or I am too needy).  We may both be doing the best we can, but not have the capacity to make the relationship work.

This was the huge distinction between my (former) perspective and Kimberly’s.  I thought the only legitimate basis for boundaries was the law.  If you lie to me, you are wrong; you must stop it, end of story.  If you cheat me, you are wrong and must stop it.  If you hurt me,  you must stop it.  I would use my relationship to blackmail their compliance, communicating with my behavior, “If you want to feel good with me again, you must change.”  With this approach, determining who was at fault was fundamental to resolving relational conflict. 

Basing such boundaries on my own personal needs was just selfishness.  But when Kimberly did, I could very clearly see she was not selfish.  She cared very much for my needs, whether she could accomodate them or not, and this confused me.  Every selfish person I know subtly or blatantly shows disregard for my needs.  Kimberly was saying in essence, “I do not have the emotional resources to care for all my own needs and all yours as well.  If any of your needs go unmet, it is very unfortunate, and we will try to find the resources of support you need, but I can only give from what I have.  You cannot ask me to go into debt in order to pay off your debt.  I cannot ultimately take responsibility for your unmet needs.”

Of course, this was not one straightforward, simple talk we had.  We both agonized over the emotional turmoil that sprang from our conflicting needs.  Let me give an example that plagued us for years… in the next post.

 

Stop Doing That!   Leave a comment

At last we come to this.  Kimberly and I have needs that conflict–satisfying her need exacerbates mine and vice versa.  I could fill a book with examples, literally.  Promptness is a high value of mine and we are going to be late, so I am driving fast, but safety is a high value for Kimberly.  Whose need gets trumped?   She needs to talk and I need to think.  She needs a clean car and I need a functional one.  She needs us to be more tactful with folks and I need us to be more straightforward.  She needs to spend more money and I need to spend less (in certain categories).  She may need more together time and I may need more alone time.  She’s freezing and I’m burning up.

I was raised to 1) evaluate if this is a true need or just a want 2) if it is just a want (and almost everything was), then sacrifice your desires for the other person 3) if this is not adequately reciprocated and I feel resentment for the “unfairness,” then I hint with my eyes, tone of voice, sighs, coolness, a “joke,” etc. 4) if this does not fix the injustice, then we “talk” about it (which means I tell you in so many words that you are wrong, you apologize and change).  This was my understanding of fairness and compromise–in my family we manipulated each other to get the other to meet our needs–and it generally worked, at least for us younger siblings.  We made demands of one another, taking responsibility for each others needs instead of taking responsibility for our own.  In this environment, personal boundaries were significantly infringed, but the incursions were roughly equivalent, so it was workable.  Of course, this only functions in a context where the expectations are set, determined by an authority (our parents).  Someone has to settle what is fair if fairness is to be the default standard for behavior.  Pushing or choosing for one’s own wants and needs was generally seen as selfish.

I quickly discovered this approach did not work with Kimberly.   My system was reciprocation and her system was freely giving with no expectations.  She insisted that my expectations did not determine her obligation.  If I had a need, it did not mean she had to meet it, because she also had needs and she did not insist that I meet them.  She explained the value of healthy boundaries in relationship.  She would listen and empathize with my need if I cared to talk about it; she would offer suggestions for how my needs could be met; but if I then pushed her with an “ought,” it would stifle her free love, it would not only wound her, but hurt our relationship, setting it on legalistic grounds rather than on grace.  I have needs, my needs are legitimate, she loves me and cares about my needs, but caring about my needs is quite different from caring for my needs.  I cannot demand that she neglect herself to serve me (even if I neglected my needs to serve her).  My resentment towards her “unfairness” suggested that I was not giving out of love and grace (which expects no reciprocity), but out of a fair-trade agreement.

She told me to only give to her (or compromise) freely, and if my gift had strings attached, I was not ready to give.  In that case, she would look out for her own needs.  If I say, “I don’t care where we eat,” “You choose where to dine,” “I’ll go where you want,” and this eventually leads to, “Why don’t we ever eat where I want to go?” then I am being dishonest with her and with myself.  We should tell one another plainly what we want, and then look for some solution that provides for both our needs (or at least does not block either of us from meeting our own needs).  I have learned to trust Kimberly to give me what she can in a healthy way, and whatever is still lacking I take responsibility for instead of placing on her.  She trusts me in the same way. 

This set things on a very different footing for me.  I always assumed my expectations were justified, were self-evident and obvious.  If so, then she should change to meet them.  Why did Kimberly disagree?  I began questioning whether my expectations were self-evident.   I always assumed I “needed” to be on time… the what was given and I only had to resolve the how, how can I get her on my schedule.  But suppose punctuality is not a necessity or even of high value.  Instead of asking what should be done, I started asking why do I feel this way.  Why did I have such a high level of anxiety about lateness?   I thought I did this out of care for the other person’s time, but in fact I was operating from a fear of what others would think of me.  My value depended on others seeing me as dependable, and punctuality was a big part of that evaluation.  I tried to control others’ views of me (and thereby my true worth) by being prompt.  My feelings cried out that I needed to be on time, but my true need was rather to feel worthy, and I could only satisfy this need by grounding it in something more firm than others’ opinions.  I had to learn to be okay with being sometimes tardy, it is human, and part of finding this path into freedom was allowing myself to actually be late.  Kimberly’s need for me to drive slower was an invitation to reconsider my own true need.

This was not a smooth, quick, or comfortable transition, and I still tend to drive with narrower safety margins than makes her comfortable.  I am a work in progress (as is she), and what matters to her most is not slower driving, but acceptance and support of her feelings (instead of poking fun at her caution or otherwise suggesting there is something wrong with her view).  Amazingly, once I was able to segregate my real needs from my false needs, I realized that my greatest need was what Kimberly was so great at giving–empathy and acceptance of my feelings rather than  help avoiding my feelings by “fixing” the situation.  If simple compromise works because neither of us feels very strongly about the matter, then we simply adjust for one another because we care.  But if either of us feels an ongoing discomfort with this solution, we bring it up for discussion, not to figure out a better solution (and so avoid the true issue), but to uncover the real unmet need that is agitating our feelings. 

BTW, Kimberly is a punctual person, she just is not driven to it as I am.

Posted September 26, 2011 by janathangrace in thoughts

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What Do I Really Need?   Leave a comment

HOLY PEOPLE WANT LESS!

By suggesting an alternative to wants-versus-needs thinking, which seems to pit rationality against emotions, I am not suggesting that no difference exists between needs.  Surely some needs are more important than others.  I want to challenge the notion that there is some simple objective way of determining my needs, and that, being objective, it’s evaluation requires no input from emotions.  (As a side note, we seem to have this odd notion that our emotions were badly damaged in the Fall, but that our intellect came through nearly unscathed, so that we can trust the latter more than the former).   There are things I clearly need, some for my body (food, water, shelter) and some for my soul (love, interaction, forgiveness).  Those things I need for my soul should never be forfeited for the sake of another, because I am foremost responsible for my own soul, and I never do well by another when I forfeit myself.  God is responsible for their needs.

I don’t mean that we never forgo some food for the soul as a benefit to another… just like skipping a meal, such choices are good for us if they are in the context of a steady, nutritional diet.  The key I think is my own health, for which I am responsible.  One can be spiritually glutinous or spiritually anorexic… in the first, the intake regularly exceeds the output and in the second the output regularly exceeds the intake.  Both are bad for the soul.  The first is characteristic of those we would call “selfish,” but is also characteristic of those who are starving (or feel as though they are starving).  The selfish individual has the emotional resources to do more for others, but chooses not to, while the starving has no such resources.  None of us knows another’s heart well enough to make this determination about them.

I Know What I Need!

My effort to bring false and true needs into the discussion fits here.  I believe the problem with those who are “selfish,” is not usually that they imbibe too much or more than their share, but that they fill up on Twinkies and Pringles, and since this does not meet their true need and they remain hungry, they continue to stuff more in to fill that gnawing hunger.  No one turns to alcohol to satisfy a need for alcohol.  They do it to reduce the pain from true needs that are languishing.  It is easy to make folks feel better by satisfying their false needs (it makes the giver feel better as well, so we are inclined to do it without thinking), and sometimes it is the best approach for many reasons, but I think it is good for us to realize we are not providing a remedy for their genuine needs.  Their unsatiated need will remain, stimulating their desire for another bag of popcorn.

 

Another Piece?

I could give a hundred examples in my own life of misunderstanding my needs and trying to satisfy my hunger with plastic pizzas and wooden fruit–the hungrier you are the harder you chew.  It has a profoundly disrupting spiritual effect in one’s life.  I have had a desparate need for acceptance all my life.  I felt unworthy as I was and thought I could not be loved unless I “got my act together.”  I could not trust any acceptance that came from someone who tried to overlook my faults, because such acceptance was undeserved.  My felt need was for holiness… greater and purer and more constant than I had so that I could be worthy, but no matter how much higher I climbed, my thirst for acceptance remained, driving me deeper into the desert.  My growth in “holiness” (as I undertsood it), instead of fulfilling me, was actually dragging me away from realizing and satisfying my real need, which was to discover and embrace God’s grace.  I’m glad my search was a cul-de-sac or I would still be climbing that mountain.

Posted September 22, 2011 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Am I Selfish?   Leave a comment

FEED ME SEYMOUR!

All of us are concerned that when we give others enough freedom, they will take advantage of us.  They will think only of themselves, and we will get left with too few resources–whether money, time, attention, benefits, or what have you.  It is a realistic concern–watch any playground with children (… or adults), but our desire for boundaries against the incursions of others seems to smack against the command to love, to be unselfish.  We have often tried to sort through this tension by making a distinction between “need” and “want.”  What we need is legitimate to fight for, but what we want should often go unfulfilled for the sake of another.

I think our distinction between need and want slowly worked itself into a spectrum represented at one end by absolute necessity (what we need to survive) and at the other end by mild wishes.  We tend to assign “needs” an objective value (actual need) and “wants” a subjective value (just a feeling) and to downplay our desires.  No matter how intense your feelings, I will judge them as only a “want” if they do not pass the objective test for “needs.”  My attitude will be “get a grip!”

With this approach I determine how much to give or support someone by making an objective comparison between their need and my own need.  When someone asks for money, I immediately consider whether they “need” this or just “want” it.  I compare their level of need to my own, and if their need is greater, I feel obligated to help out.  If I don’t give, I feel under a great deal of pressure to justify my decision (they don’t deserve it, they are not my responsibility, it would be bad for them, etc.).  But this rarely works to fully relieve my conscience, so I feel guilty of selfishness.  I tend to assume the equation: their (genuine) need + my ability = my obligation.

THIS IS NOT A NEED!

Given this perspective, I must constantly evaluate whether my desire is a “need” or a “want.”  But I find that nearly impossible to determine except for the extremes (physical survival and slight desire).  When I take this route, I find myself using “objective” evaluation of my need to constantly critique my subjective feelings, my wants.  The more it is tied to my feelings, the more likely I am to be dismissive so that my self-care is constantly under attack.  The more conscientious I am, the more I tend to minimize my own desires, downgrading them from needs to wants, interpreting self-care as selfishness (a lack of adequate concern for others).  But shushing our feelings is a pretty sure way of losing touch with our true heart.  God gave us emotions for a reason, so it seems to me ignoring them is going to get us into trouble (I know it has done a great deal of damage to me personally).

I think the “objective” distinction between needs and wants as I presented it here can be a dangerous interpretation of selfishness.  Leaving aside superficial desires that cost me little to miss, I’d like to propose an alternative distinction: true wants/needs versus false ones.  The stronger my desire, the more likely it is to have its roots in an important need, and it is vital for myself and my relationships–for health and growth–to satisfy that need.  Regardless of how trivial my desire looks from an “objective” view, my emotions are cluing me in to an important need.

The major problem I find with this perspective is that I often misconstrue my true needs.  I mistake applause for love, success for worth. I mistake conformity for community, popularity for acceptance… and the list goes on.  My main problem is not selfishness that results in satisfying my desires, but confusion that results in “satisfying” my false desires and neglecting my true ones.  If I am hungry for applause, it is a genuine and important hunger that is calling out, but the true need is not approval, so no amount of praise will satisfy my hunger (as no amount of dry leaves will satisfy my empty belly).  I may think the solution is to “humble” myself and stop seeking applause (to basically deny that I have a need).  I tried that all my life and my genuine hunger remained.  What finally worked for me was identifying my true need (that was tricky) and finding a means to satisfy it with God’s help.

I would like to suggest that it is never a good moral decision to sacrifice my true needs/desires.  I am ultimately responsible for my own health and growth, to receive the grace of God for my needs.  God, not I, is responsible to provide the grace for everyone’s individual needs.  I may or may not be a channel of his grace to others, but it would be morally wrong for me to choose to forgo meeting my own true needs so as to meet another’s needs.  That is not selflessness, it is self abuse, and it confounds God’s role with mine.  I suggested earlier that physical survival was an obvious case of objective need, but is it truly?  I believe I can sacrifice my life for another without injuring myself, but I may never choose to sacrifice my soul.  I believe we are best alerted to our deepest objective needs by our emotions rather than our logic, and through reflection in the context of true community we discover their true nature.

Posted September 15, 2011 by janathangrace in thoughts

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I Have to Clean WHAT?!   2 comments

HAPPY HAPPY, JOY JOY!!

I suppose an illustration at this point might help clarify our marital dance.  I have many to choose from!  Like most American women, Kimberly has a higher standard of cleanliness (or lower comfort level with dirt) than her husband.  So how do we determine what is “fair”?  Do we decide that her standard is “right,” and that I should do 50% of this?  Do we decide that my standard is right, and that if she wants it to be cleaner, the rest is up to her?  Or do we settle on something in between so that both of us are doing more than we feel is fair?  There are many other considerations–who has more time or energy, which tasks do each of us prefer or hate, how much emotional cost is involved, is resentment building up because either of us feels the other does not care enough about our feelings to do more?

We try to talk… or rather I try to negotiate and Kimberly tries to share (I’m a fixer, she’s a relater).  It seems to me completely useless to clean underneath or behind the sofa.  No one sees it, not even us!  But she feels it!  It bothers her.  Now here comes the rub.  When she tells me about her emotional needs, she is simply sharing.  She just wants me to understand, listen, empathize.  She’s not indirectly asking me to change, but that is what I hear: her expectations, what she thinks I should do.  That’s what “sharing needs” always meant in my family of origin if the person we were telling could actually do what we wanted.  So I argue against her unreasonable demands (as I see it), but she is not coming from a place of expectations, so my resistance to her sounds like I am rejecting her feelings, telling her that she should not be bothered by the dog hair under the loveseat.

She completely separates sharing about her needs from my obligations regarding her needs, but I instinctively unite them, so the only way I have of protecting myself from demands that seem unreasonable is to talk down her feelings (which are loaded with expectations as I suppose).  If I could separate empathy from obligation as she does, I could listen compassionately without feeling threatened that my needs are being shoved aside.  But my feelings are so deeply ingrained around this relational dynamic, that even after I intellectually grasp where she is coming from, even after believing she really is not imposing expectations (both of which took years for me), I still struggle with my deeply ingrained emotional reactions.

However, the more we talk, the more our mutual understanding and acceptance grows.  Since I am released from a sense of obligation, I have much more emotional space to empathize, and my love for her responds easily and gladly in this context of freedom, vulnerability, and trust.  Now I can choose to clean under the sofa and actually feel good about it, because I am motivated by love rather than obligation.  Still, we give each other the right to take care of our own needs, so if I feel burdened by the thought of vacuuming, I let it go, and Kimberly, because she genuinely has no expectations, is glad for me to do so.  This does not mean I love her less, I simply have a need just now that it would hurt me to neglect.  We have learned that if we do not honor our own needs, we not only suffer personally, but ultimately hurt our relationship as well.

Cleaning under the sofa might be a trite issue for many, and if the feelings it raises are slight, then resolution is easy.  It doesn’t really matter who cleans, and the issue of “fairness” is rather meaningless since nobody is asking the question.   The real conflict for us was not over a five minute cleaning job.  That was simply a porthole into the deep waters, the very fundamental question of every human heart, “Do you care?  Am I loved?  Do my needs matter to you?”   Emotions are surprisingly consistent and accurate in telling us what really does matter to us, though the “why” is often hard to interpret and is often best teased out in a supportive, accepting relationship.  I am so incredibly blessed to have such a relationship.

SORRY! IT'S ALL MY FAULT!

What Is Fair?   6 comments

Oh, the bumpy ride out of the marriage gate!  Kimberly and I both came from families that saw the world divided into right and wrong, but I bought into it and she didn’t.  She valued understanding and accepting each other as is.  I valued changing to meet one another’s expectations: decide what is right and do it.  But how would we decide what is “right”?  The only guideline that made sense to me was to let fairness determine basic expectations, and then each of us could feel free to be “more” than fair as an exercise of grace.  How could I even understand grace if I did not start with fair expectations?  If we agree that we both should do 50% of the dishes, then my doing 75% is an extra 25% of grace, but if fairness (all things considered) expects me to do 75%, then I have only done my duty and nothing more.  Have any of you married folks tried to decide what is fair?  What I thought was straightforward proved to be indecipherable.

A PRECISE CHART OF FAIRNESS

Consider our budget.  Take something as simple as grocery shopping.  How much should I buy of what I like and how much of what Kimberly likes?  50-50?  But being a good bit bigger than Berly and having a faster metabolism, I eat more than she does.  Should we factor in how much we each love, tolerate, or hate a certain item?  How do food allergies or dietary necessities weigh into the mix?  If one of us does the shopping and/or cooking, do they get an extra slice?  If one of us brings in more income, do they get more of a say in the spending (or is it based more on hours worked… only occupational time or household chores….)?  If 9 brownies are in the frig, how much can either of us eat before the other one feels cheated? (Yes, this has been an issue.)  Even I could see that my views of fairness smacked of legalism.

You may find all of this a bit silly, even childish.  Shouldn’t each of us simply choose for the sake of the other person?  This is the way I was raised, but you can imagine how poorly it works when I believe we are each responsible for the other’s needs and Kimberly believes we are each responsible for our own needs.  From my perspective, the only way to resolve unmet expectations is to “encourage” Kimberly to meet them (or live at a deficit).  But from Kimberly’s perspective that is imposing my wishes on her and making her take up what she feels is my responsibility.   From my viewpoint, we should focus on expectations, what ought to be done for the other.  From Berly’s viewpoint, we should focus on what each of us needs to do for ourselves.  For her, self-care must precede other-care just as a mother must put on her airplane oxygen mask before she puts one on her child.  I said, “I have expectations. They are reasonable.  If you don’t meet them, my needs will go unmet.  I will feel you don’t love me.  I will become hurt and resentful.”  She said, “I have no expectations for you to meet my needs.  I take full responsibility for my own needs, and I do not want you to neglect your own needs so that you can satisfy mine.  I want you to take care of yourself, to take care of your emotional needs as you do your physical ones.  I wish you would do the same towards me.  Your need does not establish my responsibility, nor mine yours.”

IT JUST LOOKS VERY DIFFERENT FROM MY ANGLE

I think my trouble has always been connecting expectations, reasonable expectations, with responsibility.  If my expectations are legitimate in a given relationship (clean up your own messes, repair what you break, do your fair share of the work) and you don’t meet those expectations, then you are simply wrong, and need correcting.  What else could it mean to be my brother’s keeper if not identifying the problem and urging the right path to take?  Only… the real reason I am pushing this is not for your sake, but for mine.  I feel inconvenienced, disrespected, hurt, unheard, overburdened, and it is because of your negligence.  I need you to change so I can feel better and our relationship can smooth out.

Clearly for relationships to work at all there must be some standardized expectations.  If my friend may respond to a dinner invitation by punching me or turning in circles three times or offering a breath mint, then I am at a loss to know how to relate.  His behavior does not make sense to me.  If he reacts in an unexpected way, I think him odd or worse (based on whether he seems to know or not know what is expected of him), and this starts us right off in the wrong direction since I believe he is the one who needs changing.  What we really need is mutual understanding, talking through our differences, but if either one of us assumes our own “rightness,” things are likely to go awry, and we may part ways with less clarity and an extra helping of acrimony.  I have understood him, and what I understand is that he is mistaken.  So I will do the “loving” thing and “forgive” him, which means I still think he is to blame for the tensions in our relationship.

Posted September 13, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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  Leave a comment

I may have been more confusing than clarifying in my Response #4.  So I want a re-do (wish I could do that in life!).

I had very little understanding of legitimate relational boundaries for most of my life.  If two of us had conflicting needs, I thought I was responsible to deny my own and “consider others as more important than myself.”  Anything less was selfishness.  I also believed I was given more resources by God than others (after all, I came from McQuilkin stock, a line of highly honored preachers, missionaries, and college presidents), so the greater burden should rest on me.  This was the scaffolding for serious self-neglect.

If I starved myself to feed the hungry, I would die quickly, but when I starved myself emotionally, there was no such forced resolution… I kept living, breathing, and relating.  No matter how much I gave, I felt I was not giving enough.  So I pushed myself further and further until I nearly killed myself in India.  Self preservation was not in my DNA.  After all, I subscribed to the motto, “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”

If I had the resources, and another had a need, I was obligated to meet that need.  I thought the only morally legitimate way to deny helping Bob was to help Bill instead.  To use my resources on myself was simply selfish.  It was not a true need of mine.  Christ was all I needed, and instead of receiving what he wished to give me, I became simply the channel for his giving to others, a teflon heart towards God’s grace.  I didn’t realize what harm I did myself and others by working out of a serious personal deficit.  I did not understand how healthy relationships worked.

Of course, the more I expected of myself, the more I expected of others… not as much as I would give, but still a fairly high standard.  When they did not give what they were “able” to give (in my estimate), I judged them as unspiritual, uncommitted, and selfish, and I resented having to make up for their slack.  Denying myself everything for others only worked if they denied things for me.

I was blind to the distinction between healthy and unhealthy giving.  That difference might best be illustrated with actual gifts, the kind with wrapping paper and bows.  There is quite a long list of unwritten, unspoken guidelines that must be followed in our society if we wish to be an acceptable member.  The one with more money may spend more; the amount of money or time spent is a reflection of how much the recipient is valued; gratitude must be expressed (whether or not the gift was a true expression of  love), often in writing; and the list goes on.  We speak of a  ‘gift exchange,’ a social arrangement which prescribes rules and follows social norms to avoid anyone giving too much or too little.  But the original meaning of “gift” (Charis in Greek) suggests something freely given out of love without thought of return.  Otherwise we are really talking about trading, a legitimate financial arrangement, but one that follows law, not love.

As long as everyone follows group expectations in an exchange, this arrangement works swimmingly, but once we try to move towards a gracious approach, one that does not include payback, the old rules do not apply.  If I must give everything to everyone without consideration for reciprocation, then I am in serious trouble if others do not do the same.  All my resources (whether time, money, emotional reserves, energy, etc.) will sooner or later be exhausted, and then I have nothing for myself or for others.  Without receiving adequate “reimbursement,” the system fails.  The path of grace seems unworkable unless everyone else is equally “gracious.”  Instead of being responsible for my own upkeep, they become responsible for me, and I for them.  I am at the mercy of the goodness of others… if they are not good enough, I cannot survive.  This sounds to me suspiciously like co-dependence rather than interdependence.  Am I not ultimately responsible for myself?

Does “Selfless” Mean Having No Self?   7 comments

After writing about my “Aha” moment, I found it was not such a new discovery after all, because I journaled about it months ago.  It was something I had started to learn and then forgot.  In the past I would have judged myself for this “neglect of the truth,” but I’ve discovered that this is how I learn… with fits and starts, do-overs and false leads.  Here is my entry, a more insightful “Aha” about forced compliance (slightly edited to make sense to others):

I realize why I have been feeling increasingly depressed, and it is a long term, pervasive problem.  Although it involves performance, it is not tied to “should” or “well done” (big issues for me).  It is rather anchored by a sheer “must,” tasks about which I feel I have no choice.  Although obligation may also be part of the driving force, it is not uppermost—failure to do what should be done results in guilt and shame, but failure to do what must be done results in anxiety.  It is a direct appeal to the will rather than the conscience.

In childhood when my parents told me to do something “Now!” in sharp anger, I reacted out of sheer compulsion.  I responded quickly in fear—well, not in conscious fear, since the idea of disobedience was too remote to have the consequences of that even occur to me.  It was a stronger and quicker motivator to compliance than an appeal to obligation or shame.  It completely bypassed my ability to think regarding the matter and was reflexive, like jerking the steering wheel to avoid a collision.  There is no consciousness of fear in such a situation—it is first react, and then feel—and if the danger and escape are both over in a flash, there may not even be an aftershock of fear, perhaps not even of relief.

Whenever authority figures take charge with an obvious and absolute expectation of compliance, I feel I have no choice.  The thing must be done without a single additional consideration.  Only in the case where the demand was to break a clear moral standard did I stop to consider and refuse, but this was simply because there was a higher authority still, namely God, the one of whom I was most afraid.  “Because I said so” was a common enough reason offered by mom to insist on obedience regardless of how we felt, what we wanted, or what opposing reasons we offered.

When an absolute is imposed on the will, the damage to self worth does not come through a sense of shame, but through a sense that someone else’s will and wish has priority over mine, that I am more or less a cog in the wheel of the accomplishment of their objectives.  It is the worth-denying position of a slave.  It is very depersonalizing to know that one’s feelings do not matter, and that is the real crux of the situation.  If something really must be done and I must do it out of personal necessity (in other words, I don’t want to suffer the consequences of it not being done) and I am acting out of that motivation, it does not feel as though my feelings are being scorned.

But naturally the same action can spring from different motivations, so I can perform the act out of a sense of powerlessness and disrespect leveraged against me, or out of my sense of what is best for my own needs.  Even if the pressure is there from an authority figure, or from someone whose opinion or valuation of me I feel a need, I can still learn to respond out of a different motivation, a motivation that validates my own feelings and chooses based on what is best for myself.  Of course, keeping that person’s good will or affection may seem paramount to me, but then the two different motivations appear to coalesce, and I am not free.  In such a situation I need to ponder the next lower level in my psyche—the co-dependence I am feeling—and work through that issue until I am free enough to respond without undermining my self worth.

The key for me is to bring these dynamics to consciousness and then try to support and affirm my desires and fears.  I think there are many ways I can do this.  I can adjust the time frame, the means to the goal, the goal itself, and in other ways try to accommodate my distresses and desires, but I especially need to work on understanding and redirecting the motivation out of which I choose and act.  I must always stop to understand what I am feeling and why, to validate and affirm those feelings, to allow myself the human right of choice, and to choose and act from this affirmation of myself.  It does not mean I will refuse to act in the best interest of others.  My soul needs its true feelings affirmed, not necessarily fulfilled in that moment.  I believe affirming my own longings is a cornerstone of self-care, not selfishness.

Posted July 9, 2011 by janathangrace in thoughts

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