30 May Own It
There are wrinkles we have on our outsides that are caused by any number of things: years of sun exposure, gravity, free radicals, and of course, Father Time. And through my blogs, I hope to help you fight them with everything in your growing arsenal. But there are also “wrinkles” we have on our insides – things like misplaced emotions, negative feelings, and resentments we harbor. We carry this junk around with us and it subconsciously steers our behavior. And these “inside wrinkles” can be just as damaging to our skin, our health, and our life-span as external factors. Left untreated, they drastically accelerate our aging process. Until we get this crap figured out, our outsides are going to look just as fu*#ed up as our insides feel.
We need to look at ourselves in a different kind of mirror; not in order to examine our outsides, but rather to explore the internal workings that make us tick so that we can OWN our part of those “internal wrinkles.” You’ve all heard the saying, “It takes two to tango.” Well, let’s do a little self-examination and discover OUR OWN role in the dance.
I’m talking about a mindset that counterintuitively causes us to want to live in a negative space, in an “oh, poor me” world. It’s a subconscious desire to search for evidence – even if it’s self-destructive – that our theory about something is “right.” And, at times, we are so stubborn and pig-headed (myself included), that we would rather be right than happy. If that doesn’t resonate with you, let me tell you a little story about my own struggles that took me years to figure out.
When I first began to think about this “right” versus “happy” dynamic described above, my mind went straight to an area where I knew I was right – and unhappy: my relationship with my mom. My negative theory about which I’ve needed to be right went something like this: “I can never do enough to please my mother.” I have felt this way since I packed up my bags and left my home town when I was in my early 20’s. I’m the only one of my mother’s 5 children to move away, and if you read my bio you will see I’ve often lived as far away as one could imagine. For years, I’ve felt that my mother punished me for living too far away from the rest of my family, by making me feel guilty. Which I do! And nobody gives me the guilt-trip like my mother! (Two to tango. We’ve got the dance down pat.) And, because I need to be right – even if it causes me to be unhappy – I’m always searching for ways to support this negative theory. That is, whenever I talk to my mom, I’m always waiting for her to drop the bomb: “When are you coming to visit?” Or, “Why can’t you stay longer?” I wait for it, and it inevitably comes, as does my knee-jerk reaction to get defensive. Because, after all, I’m right. So I get to say (to myself): “See, Darnell… no matter what you do, it’s never enough.”
But… what if I am wrong? Because there is another way of looking at my mom’s behavior. What if my mom loves me so much that she actually wants to see me more than I am able? That would be lovely, wouldn’t it? What if my mom is not coming up with daily ambushes, trying to figure out ways to make me feel guilty? What if all of that is on ME? What if my mom is just being honest and clear in her desire to see me more because she loves me. What a beautiful theory! If I accept this new theory, however, I’d be wrong about everything I’d held onto for over 25 years.! Uggh! But… I’d feel loved. And I’d be happier. On the other hand, if I hold onto the negative theory, the one that says “I can never do enough to please my mom,” I get to blame my mother for MY guilty feelings. It’s so much easier to point the finger at someone else than be accountable for my own behavior and feelings. And who cares if I’m unhappy and unloved? At least I’m right, right? Yes. Right and unhappy.
This story, though, has a happy ending: one day before calling my mother, I decided to change my steps in the tango. Instead of waiting for her to confirm my assumptions that I could never do enough to please her, I made a choice. I chose to be wrong. I chose happy. And so my mother, in that conversation, affirmed my new theory – that she loves me very much and can’t wait to see me again. (End of dance.)
I’m pretty sure that we ALL have hidden “truths” to explore. Very few of us (if any) are so emotionally evolved and self-aware that we have insight into every negative behavior or feeling we have. If my personal story didn’t cause a few “lightbulbs” to go off for you, perhaps the examples below will. These are a few of the negative theories about which many of us would rather be proven right, even at the expense of our own happiness.
Example #1- Eeyore. Do any of you have one of those Facebook friends that posts the most depressing shit everyday? The posts are always some version of “My life sucks,” punctuated with an occasional “Well, I guess it can’t get much worse.” This inevitably elicits the sympathetic, and sometimes motivating, response from “friends” who try to cheer up the depressed Facebook-er by saying, “Tomorrow is a new day.” However, tomorrow, for these types of people, is usually more of the same: another 24 hours of tragedy, broken hearts, and injustice. They love to live in that bleak, hopeless world so that other people will feel sorry for them. It’s very Eeyore (thank you, A.A. Milne and Winnie the Pooh). These folks believe their lives suck and nothing ever goes their way. And because they have this theory about their life, they are on a mission each day to prove that theory is true. That they are right. (And, yes, unhappy.) They may have had dozens of great things happen to them on any one day, but they will wait for a shred of evidence that proves the theory that indeed, their life does suck. Out of everything else that might occur on a certain day, THAT will be the one thing they focus on. Without it, they might be wrong. (And happy.) But with that one tiny incident of negativity, they get to exclaim: “Ah-ha! See!… I am right! My life DOES suck!”
Example #2: I will NEVER find Mr. Right. I’ve heard this theory a lot- “There are no good men left out there.” If this is your theory, trust me, you are most likely (although unintentionally) either dating the worst possible matches for you, or you are focusing on any negatives you can find in a guy, just so that you can prove your theory. You are right. You get to say, “See! I told you. There really aren’t any good men left.” NEWS FLASH: You could trip over a good man and you probably wouldn’t see him. Because if you did, that would mean your theory was wrong. But what if you abandoned your need to be right? Or, better yet, what if your new theory went like this: “There IS a good man out there for me. One that is kind and loving and loves me for me.” If you really internalized that theory, I ‘d bet the type of guy you are “cyber-winking” at would change. What if you interpreted every bad date you went on as simply one less guy to go through, before you found your perfect match? (After all, it only takes one.) Think of how this might change your entire outlook on dating. However… Until you can change your theory, or until you are ready to be proven wrong, maybe let your best girlfriend or your sister or your mom pick your dates. They, unlike you, have only your best interest at heart. They want to be right about their theory, which is how deserving you are. You, on the other hand, are still sabotaging your happiness in order to be right.
WARNING: We have all been guilty of this next example, some of us on a more regular basis. (Note: This is me, holding up my hand, guilty as charged.) This is the mindset that keeps us wallowing in our bad moods for longer than we should.
Example #3: I deserve to cheat. Have you ever had one of those shitty days where nothing goes right, and you come home and throw yourself a pity party? Come on… We all have. Which leads to the moment when we give ourselves permission to sit down with a spoon and a tube of raw Nestle Toll House cookie dough or, for some of us, a bottle of wine (which will usually lead to spoonfuls of raw cookie dough). We tell ourselves, “It’s been a shitty day. I deserve this.” And we cry to ourselves, eat like a pig (or drink ourselves into a hangover), and wallow in those feelings of negativity. The wallowing in those negative “oh, poor me” feelings is vital for this process. (See “Eeyore” above.) After all, those are the very feelings that give us permission to behave poorly.
But stop and think for a minute. Isn’t it possible that we are subconsciously seeking out, focusing on, or exaggerating those negative experiences and/or feelings so that we have permission to eat that quart of Rocky Road ice-cream? (Or drink that bottle of cabernet.) If every time you had a shitty day, you had to come home and eat plain, raw vegetables (no Ranch dressing or hummus allowed) until your mood lifted, I’ll bet you wouldn’t stay in that self-pitying state of mind for very long. You would somehow manage to pull yourself out of your funk.
Think about it. It’s totally true! We occasionally seek a visit to the Land of Misery in order to give ourselves permission to behave badly. (Which, by the way, is only going to make us feel even worse about ourselves tomorrow, thanks to the bottle of wine or the cookie dough that has settled on our hips overnight.) And we are so vested in getting the reward for having had a shitty day, that we sabotage or ignore any good news, because that would deny us the pint of Ben & Jerry’s or the 3 vodka tonics.
Okay. So that’s just three examples. Maybe you’re not an Eeyore. Maybe you have a good man, or know that you deserve one. And maybe you are so incredibly self-evolved that you drown your sorrows in a stalks of celery. (I don’t know one single person this advanced, but if you are… bravo.) As to the rest of us? Take a moment. Look at yourself. The first step is to OWN it. Own your part of the dance. Own your role in sabotaging your own happiness for the sake of being right. Try to look deeper into that metaphorical mirror. It’s easier said than done. I know first-hand. But, it’s only by knowing yourself that you can begin to make changes.
If we really want a wonderful life, a life lived to its fullest potential, a life in which our emotional insides feel so blessed and we feel so known that happiness oozes through our pores and shines like a ray of light from the inside out, making us beautiful human beings… Well, that, my friends, takes a lifetime of examination and adjustments. (And as for the wrinkles on the outside, that’s another blog!)