Monday, June 29, 2009

Asking Yourself the Hard Questions

I believe that in order to truly be whole, we need to know ourselves. Of course, we know what our favorite color is, what we like to do…all of the usual things. But do you know WHY? Have you asked yourself the hard questions, and heard the answer clearly?

It’s so easy to lie to yourself. We do it all of the time, to justify our actions, or to eliminate pain. It’s a great defense against the barrage of messages that bombard us every day, chipping away at our psyche, making us question our beliefs.

But is it healthy? I’m going to say no, as a general rule.

Even our most mundane tendencies can usually be explained, and the explanation might just be as mundane as the idea itself. But what of the times that it is not? When the tendency is something that hurts us, or hurts our loved ones around us? That is when it becomes necessary to question our motives and discover what makes us tick, so to speak.

It sounds easy, doesn’t it? But don’t kid yourself, we are very good liars, especially when it is to ourselves! We WANT to believe the inaccuracies that protect us from making changes that may be painful to address.

Here’s a simple example: Seat belts. There are laws to ensure that we wear our seat belts, whether we like them or not. This practice may or may not save lives, depending on whom you ask, but our responses are more important. Do you readily agree to this, because it is a law? Or do you chafe against the idea that someone is telling you what to do? Do you avoid wearing your seat belt just to prove that you CAN? Even though you believe that it will save your life?

It gets more complicated.

I have a real pet peeve about people falling asleep on the couch, watching TV. It used to make me crazy! I would get so irritated at people, and I had quite a few friends who made a regular habit of it.

But why did it irk me so?

It came down to the fact that I am a schedule girl, a deliberate girl, and one that sees everything as a procedure. I simply cannot “fall asleep”, because there are things that must be done before one goes to sleep. Put on pajamas, brush your teeth, turn off the lights…that sort of thing. To simply drift off in front of the TV set implies that you have no regard for these duties. Or that you are too lazy to do so.

Is that true? Of course not! Everyone has different priorities and ways of doing things, and that does not mean that one is right and another wrong. Once I came to terms with this, I am much more tolerant of drifters. Which is the way that it should be, of course.

I had a real eye opener once when I was talking with a cousin that is much more laid back in her approach to parenting. At the time, I was a stickler for bath, teeth brushed, pajamas, put the babies to bed routine. I would pack to go visit my family, and it took many suitcases just for me and the two boys. She, on the other hand, arrived at home with a couple of suitcases and six children in tow. I was amazed that she could travel so lightly, so we were discussing how she did it.

She never carried her own hair appliances, as she would borrow her sisters’ when she arrived. And she only packed a few changes of clothes for each of her children. What it came down to is that she would allow her children to wear the same clothes, both day and night, for a couple of days. I was shocked. That was just….WRONG! Children need clean pajamas! Children need clean clothes! There was impropriety here! She simply shrugged it off, laughing that it really didn’t matter to her.

I thought about it for a few days after our talk. I simply could not bring myself to allow my children to sleep in their clothing…even if I planned to bathe them and put on clean clothes in the morning! (Dirty clothes in bed??? OH MY GOSH!)

She emailed me a few days later, laughing. She had pondered this thought, also, and as hard as she tried….she simply could not force herself to worry about her kids wearing clean clothes at every moment.

Part of this is simply our personality types. I am a germophobe, she doesn’t believe that they exist. I am a neat freak; she is more concerned about activities than whether or not her house could pass a white glove test. We could not change our basic “spots” if we tried.

But I’ve also learned that sometimes, her way works. Tuxedo Boy was my GQ kid. He insisted on changing his clothes if they got the least bit wet or dirty, and now I’m not sure if I trained him that way, or he trained me. Musician changed all of that. Musician was a dirt magnet. I could not keep that child clean to save my soul. I eventually gave up, and allowed him to wear dirty clothes…not just for more than half an hour, but sometimes even to BED! (I heard that collective gasp out there!)

And then you begin to dig deeper. I once lit into a friend of mine for getting new glasses that I hated. I even told him that! I hate your new glasses! Can you believe it?? It wasn’t until later that night that I really asked myself what the deal was, and I was disappointed in myself.

It wasn’t the glasses that I disliked. I’d had a bad day, and it seemed like everything was changing. I was trying to deal with new policies at work, new challenges, and new concerns with my family. The changing glasses were simply one more drop in that bucket that I simply could not take. I felt like things would never be comfortable – the SAME – again.

I apologized first thing the next morning, admitting my very immature and RUDE behavior.

Thankfully, however, I was able to find out exactly why it bothered me so much, and address it like an adult. (too bad I wasn’t adult enough to act appropriately from the start!)

I’ve since learned to ask myself quickly…and respond just as quickly. It solves problems much more easily, when you know what the problem really is, as opposed to the smoke screens that we throw up in front of ourselves as protection.

I’m happy to say that when I went to lunch recently and discovered that my favorite restaurant had changed the Friday special, I was able to recover. Even though it made me feel insecure and out of control, I talked myself out of it, and ordered the next best thing.

There are great advantages to having a deep and ongoing conversation with yourself! Someday, I hope to understand why I have such an aversion to butterfly graphics…

Hmmm. We’ll save that for another day.

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