Friday, January 29, 2010

Another turn around the fractal

In my last two posts I wrote about the beauty of experiencing the miraculous, the healing and peace which lie within us.  I think that's what Lavender Luz was referring to when she referenced a Higher Self.  I got to experience that in unexpected places, there are lenses through which we get a glimpse of that Self.  They are also portals through which we connect with that Self.

I also learned that having this knowledge in my bones doesn't mean that I neglect anything in this life, the temporal, little me.  I have to live with integrity at this level too, and that involves being true--true to myself, my feelings, my experience.

When I was 14 or so I read a book that I think was Harriet the Spy.  I'm not certain if it's the same book, though.  In this particular story a girl keeps a diary where she writes down her true feelings about the people in her world.  The diary is found and people she'd had an unflattering opinion of were very angry with her.  An adult in this girl's life--a relative? a teacher?--counseled her that to live in this world, we have to lie.

So I think that notion is out there, in general culture.  American culture, at least.

In Scott Noelle's  piece about sociality, he put it in a nutshell: "Quite often the real purpose of 'being social' is to protect others from their own small-mindedness.  Such is the case when mothers are pressured to avoid nursing in public."

My father-in-law provided the latest demonstration. He yelled at my 8 year old son on Christmas Eve, for being too loud, after a solid day of his dog's barking and his yelling at her to be quiet. He is used to people tolerating behavior like that without comment.  I've been shocked by the way he's treated other adults: his son, his ex-wife.  I've seen him do it many times, but not directed at me. So I'd said nothing. But he crossed a line to do it in my home at my kid. I called him on it, though I gave him the courtesy he'd not given my son; I did it in private rather than in front of other people. I also considered very carefully before I sent him an email telling him what I'd seen him do, pointing out the irony of yelling at my kid for being too loud when he and his dog had both been nothing but loud. I stated the rule that in our house, when we want something we ask for it respectfully.

He's not "spoken" with me since.  Clearly, my job was to carry the burden of unresolved anger in order to spare him knowledge of his own misbehavior.  I decided I'd rather live with the discomfort of his not speaking with me to carrying the unresolved anger, and so let it settle where it belongs--on his shoulders.  It's his, let him carry it.

In light of this incident, I now see things clearly that were clouded before.  I live in a world where people want things of me; in this case my FIL wanted to be able to behave as he pleased in my home and have it tolerated without comment.  Raised in a hypocritical world, sometimes my own well of feelings and emotions rebelled.  I lived in a family that did not tolerate insubordination.  It wasn't flexible enough to acknowledge the times it was unfair or unreasonable; to belong I had to swallow it.  I was a compliant child, responsive to the threat of punishment and ostracization.

How does a child cope in a world where what is expected runs counter to his/her truth?  I see now that my solution was to sow doubt about the legitimacy of that Truth.  My solution was to blame myself.  If my feelings ran counter to what was expected around me, there had to be something wrong with my feelings.  So I had to question them, second-guess myself, demand a standard of 'proof' that was impossible to meet.

I see now that this was the best possible of solutions.  It short-circuited the intolerable contradiction between what I knew to be true in my very soul, and what was expected to get along with others in the world.  So I see that this is the pattern I’ve been living in.  If I couldn’t just live in it happily, then I was going to have to live in it unhappily, but thinking there was something wrong with me for being unhappy.  No one really cared if I was happy in it; just that I was compliant and didn’t cause any trouble for them…did my part of keeping their self-esteem intact by not contradicting them.  I had great fear of not belonging.

It hasn't served me as an adult, though.  However, as the example of my FIL shows, people are still expecting me to "protect them from their own small-mindedness."  And there is still a threat of punishment.

My marriage has been a replication of this pattern.  I stayed in it because of the possibility that the unworkable parts were my fault.  My worst fear was that our conflicts were a result of a deep flaw in me that kept me from letting myself be happy.

Now I see that unhappiness is a natural result of living within an unworkable marriage.  Furthermore, as I've separated my own conception of mySelf from the conception of the people around me, I see that being True inside is more important to me than avoiding disapproval.  I would rather carry the burden of disapproval than the one of violating my own internal integrity.


Mama Zen said...

The choice to risk disapproval and maintain one's integrity takes a lot of grace and guts. Most people, sadly, never get there. I hope that someday I do.

Lavender Luz said...

"I would rather carry the burden of disapproval than the one of violating my own internal integrity."

This is HUGE! And congratulations!

I saw that Scott Noelle piece the other day and thought of our upbringing. What a beautiful synthesis between his words and the situation with your FIL.

Bravo to you, truly.

Quiet Dreams said...

So much of this resonated so deeply within me. I think that I have spent far too much energy in my life protecting people from their own small-mindedness. And worrying that I was somehow at fault.

Sheri said...

Learning to rise above the urge to carry the burden of disapproval from someone else was very difficult for me for a long time.

Being a middle child, I wanted everyone to be matter what. If compromising my truth helped to keep the peace, then that just made things easier.

Going through my own divorce, I abruptly quit my usual pattern. There were several people who weren't happy with me...but I was not willing to, "violate my own internal integrity," any longer.

I still battle with it, but I'm a lot better than I used to be.

As MamaZen said, this does take a lot of grace and guts. Good for you!

This was a GREAT post!