How easy it is to end up behaving the way I did when I was a child and a teenager.
It always amazes me that, no matter how old I am, one small thing happens or someone says something to me and I’m not my chronological age anymore. I’m 5 or 7 or 13 again. I hear or experience something that might or might not have been the same as what I heard or experienced as a child and, whether it’s the same or not, I’m not an adult anymore. I’m a child — only my responses are amplified by the filter of my many years of living. My responses are amplified by my frustration and feeling hot and sore and put upon.
And while all of this is going on, I stop doing the one thing that I know is a pattern interrupt and which can bring me out of my funk. I forget to breathe deeply and fully.
Children learn not to talk back to their parents or teachers or coaches.
There’s a biological imperative to want to be included in any group – safety in numbers and a sense of being acceptable and accepted. So children learn that they express what they think or how they feel to their elders at their peril. Talk back and I might get yelled at or spanked. Talk back and I might not have the chance to play in any game that’s in the offing. Talk back and I might be sent to my room or to the time out corner. Talk back and I might be punished for having the temerity for doing that by having to do a lot of chores or being sent to detention or enduring some other punishment. Talk back and something which would be a treat for me might be withheld.
And after experiencing these kinds of consequences over the years, we all end up policing ourselves. We develop an inner voice which natters and talks down to us and puts us down and shames us whenever we speak out what we are feeling and thinking.
Over the years, I’ve developed a myriad of coping mechanisms and strategies for when this happens to me. My major strategy has been to get away from whatever the presenting situation is. Just remove myself from it with whatever appropriate excuse will work given the nature of the situation – “I have another meeting I have to be at.” “I’ve got work that has to be done now.” Any excuse will do. And if it’s not possible for me to leave where I am [like my leaving will be noticed and only create problems for me later], then I will cross my arms over my chest, clench my jaw, and just shut up. All the while seething inside. All the while not saying what I need to say.
If, on the off chance, I might mutter something which someone else hears or if I begin to look like a thundercloud [I’m not good at masking my emotions at all], then I’ll try to excuse or minimize my muttering – sort of “Well you know how I get.” So the other person should please accept my words of explanation as a sort of apology.
And, of late (since I’ve retired and do not have to answer to any bosses anymore), I’ve taken to expressing my anger and frustration immediately. Oh I don’t swear but I do get beyond adamant and address the people who really can do nothing to fix the issue. And, after making myself abundantly clear, I end up doing two things – one is taking charge of the issue and acting in a way others would call rationally and two is feeling remarkably guilty for losing it in the first place all over people.
When I think about this much after the fact, I realize that, in the end, we all learn to lie not only to the outside world but also to ourselves. We minimize and marginalize ourselves and deny who we truly are. And we don’t learn how to stand up for ourselves in a way which feels okay during the event and after the fact.
I declare here that I’ve rarely owned my truth to anyone and, until lately, even to myself. I own that I’ve not been true to the me I really AM for most of my life. I’ve shut mySelf down and believed that I had to do that in order to be accepted by others. And, in doing that, I’ve put others’ wants and needs, others’ opinions and judgments way ahead of my own. I’ve relegated myself to the end of what feels like a very long line. I’ve made myself wait for permission to just be mySelf.
I own here that I’ve been embarrassed by my responses even as I feel like I’d do myself an emotional injury if I were to try and shut my responses down. And I also know that there is a part of me that wants to be self-righteous. I want to be right. Maybe that would mitigate my sense of personal shame.
Oh how I can keep myself small and a child and trapped by old mishigoss.
So why has this come up? I’ve been dealing with something which has not progressed as smoothly as it could have. Others have not completed their part of the process as their job decreed they should and I’ve received the fallout from that. And, when I get right royally miffed by that, then I get dressed down and told that I do not have the right to get angry. “This cannot happen again!” or “Once this process is complete, our employees will not have to deal with you ever again.” I already feel shame because of my behaviour and then I am judged and shamed again. And I find myself caught between my desire to take the person sitting in judgment on me to task, my need to be right and get in the last word, and knowing that it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is making my own choices and not getting caught in others’ opinions.
The main thing I find myself remembering is that what others think of me has nothing to do with me. It’s all about their own processes and feelings. The only thing that has to do with me is how I choose to respond.
And, with each time that I remind myself of my own power to choose how I will respond, I find the need to assert myself to others becomes less. As a friend of mine has said, it all becomes smaller in my rear view mirror.
And I feel mySelf.