Must Be Seen As….

Centering and re-equilibrating

Centering and re-equilibrating

One of the reasons I started writing this blog is to make me talk about things that make me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable.  The vulnerability topic for today has to do with the need to be seen in a certain way.  Like most unconscious drivers, most of us at one point or another, feel we Must Be Seen As something – a terrific parent, sibling, son/daughter, husband/wife, employee, or attractive, smart, creative, sexy, competent, athletic, macho, responsible, logical, ethical, right, or perfect.  You name it.  Nothing wrong with this need, per se.  It’s very normal and can drive us to achieve.  Of course, problems may occur when someone or something threatens our self-perception.

How does this work?  So I have a need to be seen as a good mother and employee.  If someone criticizes my work performance or my kids, then my self-identity is threatened.  I have a choice to either cope constructively (see below) with my feelings of inadequacy, shame, embarrassment, or to go into denial and blame. If my self-image as a great mom is being threatened, I might blame or attack my kids or the messenger himself (you are stupid/unfair/unreasonable/bad), or maybe defend my kids (the other kid started it, she got what she deserved, he was just tired, there is an unreasonable amount of homework).  Conversely, I might just take it out on myself:  I’m a terrible person, I’m unworthy, no one will respect/love me, I’m a helpless victim, and so on.   If at work, I may use the same sort of self-justifications to protect my sacred self-image of the good employee, or merely indulge myself with a good round of self-hate and self pity.

So, does this behavior make me a better mom and employee?  Or worse?  Again, my fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

What Must You Be Seen As?  What happens when someone threatens to unravel your carefully protected self-image?  Do you go into self-hating mode or go into attack/blame mode?  How does it feel?  How do you act?

This awareness of our usual emotional and behavioral response is the first important step to managing our Must Be Seen As needs.  The Arbinger Institute refers to this dysfunctional reaction as going into, or being in, The Box.  Arbinger recommends we find out of Box space: a safe, calming person, place or thing that allows us to feel heard yet open to other perspectives and inputs. I have friends/loved ones that I go to who are supportive, honest and impartial, and who do not encourage my self-justifying behavior.  Even the memory of an aunt who showed me a great kindness when she didn’t have to is soothing.  I also treasure the time in my bathtub or at the river, or perhaps even just a quiet space where I can stop the chatter in my head as a means to restore me to my saner self.

Making a mistake does not make me a bad mom or employee.  It makes me human.  It makes me want to grow and improve.  It makes me realize that I used to make many more mistakes in the past and that I have improved over time.  It humbles me to realize that I have so much more to learn.   Reaching out to those I have mistreated because I’m in the Box is healing to us both.

I’m not saying it’s now easy to feel like a screw-up or failure.  I’m just saying that I’m less likely to go into or stay in that space for long if I own my need that I Must Be Seen As.   And that, my friends, is freeing.

I’m Rubber and You’re Glue…

What do you hate about yourself?

Me:  I hate that I will always have the little pot belly we all inherited from my Mom, that I can’t tell a joke to save my life, that I’m not detail-oriented, and I eat too much chocolate.

No, what do you REALLY hate about yourself?


How would you answer this question?  I know the way I would answer it now is extremely different from how I would’ve answered it 15 years ago.  Then, I would say that I hate having to take care of everyone with no one caring for me.  I hate feeling like life is out of control.  I hate feeling not good enough when someone says anything at all critical.  I hate feeling like I can never do a good enough job or do enough in general.  And I hate how everyone else is making me feel that way.

That would’ve been my honest answer if and when I allowed myself to feel and acknowledge those inner truths.  All you would’ve gotten from  me on most days was the first answer since it didn’t require me to face my inner demons or make me admit them aloud.   Both very scary endeavors for even the bravest of souls.

We all have this duality – who we present to the world (including ourselves) and who we are inside.   If there is a significant disparity between those two worlds, it means we are living without authenticity.  We might try to hide that inner world, but we’re not fooling anyone else. Those inner truths, whether they’re acknowledged or not, become self-fulfilling (or rather, self-(un)fulfilling) prophecies.  The more we are in denial about them, the greater the impact they are likely having on our lives.

The other irony about denial is how we then tend to blame others for our feelings or choices (“She is making me feel this way.  He is making me do this.”) The excellent ipledgeallegiance blog yesterday posted a story about how a judge escalated punishment each time a teenaged defendant showed disrespect.    The  judge, who also showed disrespect and even contempt for the sanctity of the judicial system, overreacted to the teenager’s disrespect.   This is a perfect example of projecting our self-hate onto someone else and then blaming them.  So, if I hate that I can’t show my vulnerability, then that trait in someone else might just set me off.  If I hate the need to feel in control, then I will criticize someone else for being controlling.  If I am feeling judged, it is my judgment of myself that hurts me, not someone else’s opinion of me.  By failing to acknowledge and forgive my own shortcomings and my feelings about my imperfection, I am giving power to my dark, hidden side.

So, the next time you get upset at someone or are tempted to judge them, look in the mirror.    You may be reacting to it because you’re guilty of the same thing and you have yet to accept or forgive yourself for your perceived weakness.

Then ask yourself:  Why not?  We are, after all, only human and the only one that can have a claim on perfection is God.  The rest of us are just messed up inside, no matter how much we may try to project otherwise.  Believe me, you’re in good company.  Present company included.

The other irony is that once you accept and forgive your human shortcomings, they lose their power over your life.  Instead, you give power to your authenticity, your light.

Finally, if you offer forgiveness and empathy to yourself for your struggle to accept your imperfection/humanity, you can forgive someone else for theirs.

It was a long, scary and difficult road before I was able to accept my imperfection/humanity.  There is much I want to work on, yes, but I don’t hate those parts of me.  How can I hate them?  My good cannot exist without my bad, my light cannot exist without my dark, my sweet cannot exist without my sour.  Who am I to judge any of that?  My journey is to find the wisdom to make the best of the hand I’ve been dealt and to try to “be the light that already resides in (me)”  (From Thank You Self ,The Other Side of Ugly blog).

“There is only one perpetrator of evil on the planet: human unconsciousness. That realization is true forgiveness. With forgiveness, your victim identity dissolves, and your true power emerges–the power of Presence. Instead of blaming the darkness, you bring in the light.”
― Eckhart Tolle,  A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

Struggle for authenticity

Struggle for authenticity

Holiday Reductionism: Scrooge-y or Sanity?

I love Christmas as much as the next gal.  OK, maybe I really don’t.  It’s not that I don’t like Christmas.  It’s just that I like other holidays more.  Am I the only one that doesn’t feel like Christmas is the End All-Be All holiday?  Just saying it makes me feel like I’m blaspheming.

Thanksgiving is a much better holiday in my opinion.  The focus of Thanksgiving is on loved ones and food, period.  What else matters?

Maybe Christmas is like Thanksgiving on steroids and with a different theme.  It’s family and food, but it’s also religion/spirituality, decorations, gifts, Christmas movies, dancing reindeer, plus-sized men with white beards.  With each of these additions, potentially comes time, effort, expense and worst of all, stress.

As a recovering perfectionist, in the past I had to do all of these things in spades.  My perfectionist tendencies were peaking around the time our kids were pretty young and career-building was in full swing.   The end result was adding one more straw to the proverbial Wise Men’s camel’s back.

In post-Perfectionland, I still love Christmas decorations and parties.  Other people’s.  I love the music, the embellished sweaters.  Ditto.

Don’t get me wrong, I do still participate in Christmas, but in a very scaled down way.  I don’t spend as much money on gifts as I used to, shopping may happen by mail.  The tree is smaller and simpler, so is the décor and gift wrap.  There aren’t as many parties to go to because of the economy, but if there were, I would say No to all except those involving the people I care most about.  Christmas cards?  What Christmas cards?

I don’t think our neighbors appreciate our minimalistic approach to exterior holiday decorating, which has pretty much been boiled down to a door wreath. We found some covertly-added holiday-themed ornaments in our yard a couple of years that I suspect was the work of a mischievous neighbor.  They’ve either gotten used to the minimalism, they decided we’re hopeless, or the home baked cookies assuaged their need to supplement.

The end result of Christmas down-sizing: I can actually relax during December and enjoy the spirit, the décor, the music, the craziness without getting caught up in it.  I look forward to the Salvation Army lady at the grocery store (where are they this year?).   I can enjoy the time with my family because I’ve had my work-out, some sleep, and time to write. I don’t feel guilty, resentful or stressed.  Does that make me Scrooge or Sane?