Take Care

I recently posted about making a major life decision and how difficult it can be when perfectionism or the fear of making a mistake is a dominant, controlling factor. Another element that hinders my own healthy decision-making is the desire to protect other people from their hurt feelings.

The decision I made to return to Canada directly impacted a number of people, and one person in particular, whom I shall call Maura, was especially affected. She and I had been living together in community for 8 months and I knew that if I left she would be alone, hurt and even betrayed by my choosing to go. The thought of inflicting these feelings upon Maura was enough to make me stay. The voices of dissent were pretty loud: How could I do this to her? Leaving her was totally unconscionable; an unforgivable, selfish act.

These negative thoughts plagued me and I wavered, thinking it would be better to sacrifice my own well-being to save Maura from her pain.

Red-flag moment. Save Maura? When I get into saving someone else I know I am in big trouble. I have moved out of the relative safety of taking care of someone and into the dangerous territory of care-taking. There is a big difference between the two.

“Taking care” involves looking after someone’s needs, being of service, helping out. Care-taking is about looking after someone else’s needs at the cost of my own and serving the ego’s desire for approval and esteem. It is not helpful. To anyone.

If I had stayed to protect Maura from her grief not only would I have been compromising my own needs, making me emotionally sick (and possibly even physically), I would also have been depriving Maura of her own life process. Not my job.

Care-taking is controlling behaviour at its most subtle. I tell myself I am protecting Maura therefore I am doing a good thing. I am noble. I am a saint! In fact, I am simply trying to orchestrate an outcome over which I am entirely powerless. I cannot save Maura from herself.

The consequences of care-taking can be dire because in trying to protect the other person I eventually become angry and resentful. If I had stayed in community with Maura I would have begun to see her as the one now keeping me from living my fullest and best life. And even though she didn’t ask me to protect her, even though I took it upon myself to save her, she would have been the one to blame for my faulty thinking. See the insanity? I sacrifice myself and it’s her fault.

Leaving Maura was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I wrestled with the question of what was right and agonized over whether I was wrong. In the end, I chose to put my own well-being first. (Even writing that sentence feels uncomfortable.) Doing so required an enormous amount of trust that my own liberation would somehow mean Maura’s liberation, too. Even if it caused her pain.

Inspiring Message of the Day: Am I able to embrace the concept of self-care? Do I attend to what is life-giving for me? If I am putting myself last on the list and it is costing me too much I will begin to trust that my own deepest needs can come first.

 

Decide

It is just before 5 a.m. and there is a ghostly bird whistling somewhere outside in the dark. I am not able to identify a bird by its call. Some, like the chickadee, are obvious. I got to know the sound of a baby coot because there was one living on the nearby lake and it peeped incessantly. The bird I’m hearing now could be a wood pigeon or an owl. Its sound is almost a cry, somewhere between a hoot and a coo. A hoo.

I was awake at three, possibly because of jet lag, having arrived back in the UK after 3 weeks in Canada. But it’s been a few days now so it is more likely the mind unable to fall back to sleep after being woken to go and relieve the bladder. I was dreaming of giant crocodiles and Steve Irwin, bless his Crocodile Hunter heart.

The mind is also being kept awake by its desire to ruminate further on a major life decision. The decision has been made but how it loves to go over and over the details! I employed all meditation techniques to no avail. Finally I got up to write.

Making decisions at the best of times let alone major life ones is never easy for the recovering perfectionist. I once stood in the linen section of a giant store trying to decide which sheets to buy. I was probably there for an hour before I left empty-handed. If I struggle to decide whether the cotton-striped or the plain flannel are right for me you can imagine what happens when I have something really important to discern. Total mental chaos leading to eventual paralysis.

I have gotten better. There is hope. Change is possible. And yet I still seem to have to go through a certain amount of turmoil before I actually decide what to do. Sticking with the decision is also difficult. Depending on the level of impact on others I can experience all kinds of guilt and shame and remorse. Ridiculous but true.

So I’ve made a major life decision. I’ve decided to move back to Canada after 19 months abroad, leaving the community I’ve been living in and the job I’ve been working at. It is the right thing to do and yet the fear comes at me in myriad ways threatening to pull me back and keep me down. I need every resource at my disposal to remain steadfast in the peace that came with the final decision. Because believing the doubt does not bring peace. It just sets me back in indecision. And indecision is really just another form of control.

Control is the perfectionist’s drug of choice. Getting off it is a lifetime journey of letting go practiced one decision at a time. Luckily, or unluckily, depending on your view, Life itself is the rehab centre. We’re given countless opportunities each day to release the fear and trust in the Unknown. Like the bird singing in the dark trusting day will come.

Inspiring Message of the Day: Despite my fear of making a mistake I will stick to my decision. I will surrender perfectionism and let go of trying to get it right. I will practice trusting the Unknown.

Humble Pie

“O Lord, it’s hard to be humble/When you’re perfect in every way…”

This old country song by Mac Davis has been running through my head lately as I have recently experienced a newfound humility borne out of an old way way of behaving.

The word “humility” is often confused with the word “humiliation” and yet they are not the same. When I am humiliated I feel bad or ashamed about myself. When I am truly humble I am teachable, right-sized and grateful.

When I am trying to be perfect “in every way” I am hardly in a teachable frame of mind. What can I learn when I already know everything? I am not the right size for my skin because I am ten-feet tall and bullet proof. And how can I be thankful when I am judging everybody else for not being as perfect as I am?

I often say I am a recovering perfectionist. Perfectionism is its own form of addiction. I am consumed by the need to be right and I will go to any lengths to sustain the illusion that I have the power to control others and outcomes. Like many addictions perfectionism is coming from a deeply wounded place. I’m not a perfectionist because I’m an exceptional person I’m a perfectionist because I am a broken person.

Last week, after trying to win my way through a discussion and coming up against brick wall after brick wall I was finally confronted with my own self-righteousness. It was not a pleasant feeling. The worst part about it was that I thought I was being very spiritual the whole time I was engaged in the battle! That sounds frighteningly similar to the terrorist who attacks others in the name of God. (I’m being hard on myself. And yet if we are not examining our inner assassins we are hardly in a position to condemn the “real” ones. I feel another post coming on…)

After it became clear that I had been acting like a hypocrite I had no other recourse but to admit I was wrong and make amends. The response from the other side was silence. No more fighting. The interior response was peace. I am dumbstruck by the complete paradox of this simple formula: We diffuse the bomb through surrender. (Would this work as a tactic at the political level? Declaring peace? There’s that other post again…)

As the shame from my humiliation gradually transformed into humility I began to see a wider view. I remembered that my self-centered behaviour is not actually who I am. It is merely the action that comes forth from my woundedness. I reconnected to the unbroken, untouched Sacred Centre that is the True Core of Who I Am and what do you think emerged? Gratitude.

Inspiring Message of the Day: Accepting my imperfection is an ongoing process. I will give thanks for my humanness, which allows my Whole Self to continually emerge.

Home Run

Dearest Readers,

A cousin of mine recently dug up some old home movies and sent a DVD copy my way. My immediate family didn’t have a video camera so I haven’t ever seen any live footage of myself from my childhood. Pictures, yes. Moving pictures, no.

So there I was, no longer a child but not yet a teenager, captured on video and suddenly brought to life on the computer screen. All I’ve ever had of those days are memories that play out in the recesses of my mind. Now they were before me, vivid and tangible. The year was 1983.

The clip I saw was a family baseball game at my grandparents farm.  After the novelty wore off (seeing the past come to life is pretty cool) I found the footage difficult to watch. There before me was the girl I used to be. And it wasn’t pretty.

I pushed my youngest sister aside when she tried to help me play catcher. I refused my other young sister’s pitches because they weren’t up to my standards. I yelled at the other players to run faster. I vied for attention when hit by a ball. All in all, it was rather excruciating.

My immediate response was to go into shame. What a bad kid I was. What a bully. What a bossy pants. What a self-absorbed sore-loser. Look how I ruined the game for everyone!

This has been a pattern in my life. Beating myself up. The sick pleasure it provides is quite baffling but it makes some sense. The inner perfectionist gets to say, “See? You are no good after all.” Painful but understandable. The wounded wound. The hurt hurt.

Being on the Healing Path means I must be willing to change that pattern of thinking. I don’t get to indulge in self-brutality. I need to flip it. I need to change the behaviour.

That night I wrote in my journal: “Could I have mercy on that little girl? Could I love her with all of my heart? She was doing her best. She didn’t have emotional tools. She didn’t have real living skills. She’d experienced sexual trauma only a few short years before. It was not her fault she behaved that way. Those were her survival mechanisms. She was who she was at that time. Love her. Forgive her. Accept her. Be gentle with her.”

And this is what I must do.

The most amazing part about the healing process is finding out that there is still more to heal. This amazes me! I’ve done so much work! How can I still be holding myself hostage for my past behaviour?

I believe it is because we, as humans, are the walking wounded. No matter what our individual wounding is we carry it with us all our lives. And we heal by degrees. We heal in layers. One comes off and another one lies beneath.

This can feel discouraging but, in fact, it is the opposite. It encourages me to remember I am not perfect and I’m not expected to do any of this perfectly. I simply have to do it degree by degree, layer by layer, one step at a time.

Now that’s worth watching.

Inspiring Message of the Day: I will continue to forgive myself. For who I am today, for who I was yesterday and for who I will become tomorrow. I will say it now, “I forgive you for being human.”

Reach for the Top and Stop

Dearest Readers,

We inherit our parents’ behaviours. This is not news to anyone. They pass on to us all that they are and all that they know: the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.

Both of my parents are perfectionists. It’s no surprise that both of their parents are/were, too. I have struggled most of my life with the effects of this debilitating dis-ease and have done big time work on myself to overcome the suffering perfectionism can cause. As many of you know, I often refer to myself a “recovering perfectionist.”

It’s easy for me to forget that just as there are two sides to every story so there is an asset to accompany every defect. I was reminded of this last night by my dear old dad.

For the last couple of weeks I have been staying in Montreal with my parents in a house they are looking after for some friends of theirs. Tomorrow we are all leaving. My mother has been gearing up to do a “major job” on the house before we go.

This has been the story of our lives. It’s the clean-your-room-the-cleaning-lady-is-coming syndrome. We leave houses in a better state than they were in when we arrived. If we break a glass it gets replaced with a set of six and some placemats on the side. In other words, we have been taught to go above and beyond, over the top, round the loopin’ bend of the call of duty.

Though I am getting better at keeping my mouth shut in family situations I didn’t manage to do so successfully on this issue. There is a woman coming here to clean the house after we leave and still my mother was talking about this “major job” we had to do to get the house ready.

So I turned my frustration into a little song while we were doing the dishes: “Above and beyond the call of duty/That’s why we’re so f’d up/Forcing us to go/Above and beyond/The call of duty…”

My dad cracked up laughing (thank goodness a sense of humour has also been a cherished family trait) but then he said, “You wouldn’t have gotten where you are in life without going above and beyond the call of duty.”

He was right. I couldn’t rebut. My personal drive can also be attributed to this powerful instinct to please others, to succeed, to do more and be more. If the defect of perfectionism is to go over the top then the asset surely must be  to strive for one’s personal best.

So I have to hand it to my parents. They gave me a lot of issues from which I am currently recovering but they gave me a lot to be grateful for as well. I owe them more than a critical song-and-dance number. I owe them my deepest thanks.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go and re-tile the guest bathroom.

Inspiring Message of the Day: Every negative attribute I have inherited from the generations before me has a positive side as well. I will recognize the asset in the defect and see if I can find the middle ground.