I have a confession.
It turns out i am a human. Who is flawed. And (gulp) imperfect.
There’s something about the holidays that just leaves me feeling raw and vulnerable. I am sure I am alone in this. I am sure no other flawed, imperfect human struggles this time of year!
Let me tell you about my judgment spiral. Wait, let me back up. I need you to know first of all that I am INFJ. That is a meyers-briggs personality assessment because I freaking love any time of psychology/self-help/woo-woo assessment.
You will notice there is a J at the end. J is for judgment. As in, I am a judge-y Judy. My husband-the-scientist is an INFP–“P” stands for perceiving. Which means conversations like this occur (as it did last night):
Me: It isn’t always bad to be judge-y. Sometimes you need to make a judgement about something!
Husband: Do you?
Me: (Horrified) You are joking when you say that right? YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME!
Husband: No I am not joking. [editor’s note: He wasn’t joking. I KNOW RIGHT??]
Me: Oh, I just judged you for NOT JUDGING. Damnit I have a problem!
Now let’s back up one week. Let me set the scene.
Our babysitter was here watching our kiddo during the final week of the world’s longest break because I had to work (for real) and my husband had to work or else he would go certified stir-crazy (also true).
The sitter came and watched our kid in our house. Our messy, grimy, needs-deep-cleaning-so-bad-I-can-taste-it house. Our sitter–a self-professed “OCD neat freak” — was likely breaking out in hives all week after being forced to be in the grime. Of course that was what I was imagining.
Every morning before she came I cleaned like a madwoman, cursed about whoever didn’t put their shoes away, decided my husband and child were the World’s Messiest Human Beings, and generally felt my stress level go up ten notches.
Dear people, this was because I was worried about what my 22-year-old babysitter thought of my messy house. Yes. A young woman who has no children, no spouse, no full-time job. WHAT THE ACTUAL :!@#IE?!
Oh, might I add that I assumed she was judging me. It is also possible she showed up, shrugged her shoulders, and carried on without a thought. Either way, why do I care?
Well, I care because at the end of the day I am ashamed of my dirty house. ASHAMED. I mean that is a powerful word right? And why am I ashamed? Because my dear, loving mother kept the most immaculate, clean, neat, tidy house you can imagine. My dear mother who would care for everyone in our house from the moment she arose to the end of the day, 11pm at night, sitting and folding laundry while finally doing something for herself: watching some tv. WHILE FOLDING LAUNDRY.
Guess what I do. Are you ready for this? I work all day, and after putting my kid to bed, sit and watch tv. WITHOUT FOLDING LAUNDRY. I let it pile up like nobody’s business. Or, I sit and write (like now!) rather than clean, or I sit and paint rather than clean.
As I type this I hear my mom in my ear. Tears well in my eyes as I type this: Sarah, you are being so hard on yourself. She also adds, with a chuckle, that housekeeping has never exactly been my strong suit. (She would also be correct. I have always preferred writing, painting, and day-dreaming to sock-matching . My daughter, who very much likes her socks to match, will sometimes come over and say quite-seriously: “Mommy, good job! Your socks match today!”)
Yeah, I might have a self-compassion problem. In fact, I do, according to self-compassion.org! (An actual website with an actual quiz.) Yes, it turns out there is a quiz for it. Because the universe has impeccable timing, Brené Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection” arrived yesterday, and I flipped directly to the self-compassion chapter which had a link to that website listed.
http://self-compassion.org/. Drum roll for the results….
Yeah…I’d say that maybe the word for 2017 will be self-compassion.
Me: HI, MY NAME IS SARAH.
Everyone else: HI SARAH!
Me: I AM A HUMAN! I AM IMPERFECT, LIKE ALL THE OTHER HUMANS!
Everyone else: WELCOME TO HUMANS-ANONYMOUS, SARAH!
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Which meltdown do I begin with? Me yesterday frantically trying to find my daughter’s Halloween costume (the one I purposely bought early since I knew I would be busy traveling for work) only to lose it and despair over the fact? Or the blueberry smoothie that spilled over half the living room rug and had me yelling at nobody in particular? Or maybe it was the bathroom desperately in need of mopping before someone mistakes it for a baseball stadium restroom. (Thank the kiddo and her pee-pee accidents for that.)
Yes, yesterday was a Day. It was a day where I felt so super-charged in my responses to fairly benign stresses (or at least routine ones) that it was hard at times to remember that I shouldn’t just blindly obey the part of my brain that desires a knee-jerk reaction, and more importantly that I should not identity with those emotions and distorted thoughts that demand I feel victimized, or resentful, or defeated, or righteous. What Jen Pastiloff calls the “bullshit stories”, the false soundtrack about our life that we all create as human beings. So much easier said than done, especially when the lizard brain is clamoring to be in charge.
Yesterday, as I was frantically looking for my daughter’s costume so she could wear it to a Halloween-themed birthday party, I got teared up. It was silly and I knew that, but the emotions overcame me and I just let them. I needed the cry and I didn’t fully understand it but I tried to just be with it. My daughter saw me upset and she playfully started poking me with her broom and said “cheer up mama!” I could not help but laugh. How perfect, right? The costume that was for my daughter (not me) and yet was causing me such distress. But she wasn’t in tears! We had found a dress that looked sufficiently “witch-ish” and she had her hat and broom and what was all this fuss about exactly?
A reminder not to take ourselves so seriously.
That as intense and strong as those emotions may be, they are not us, they are simply the wave that is surfacing and we can ride it and–yes–even laugh!
I needed that reminder from my almost-four-year-old. A young human being who knows all about intense emotions, and yet also seems to inherently know that sometimes you just pick up your broom, brush off, and keep flying.
Every window in my house is currently steamed up. (No, it’s not what you think! Jeesh, don’t make me blush.) The reason? I live in Florida. It is summer. The humidity is higher than Donald Trump’s bangs.I just returned home to this heat from
vacation in the cool, humidity-free Northeast. No matter. I am loving the all-consuming stickiness.
At last: the outside world is matching my inside world.
As vacation ended and some unpleasant realities of life creeped back into my consciousness, anger began seeping out in all the ways that Oprah would advise against. Projecting onto my husband. Snapping at my daughter. Scowling about towels left on the floor and muttering loudly under my breath. A tiny voice within squeaked, hmm you seem pretty CHARGED UP about this…perhaps something else? To which my ego (angrily) replied, NO! Really, I AM this angry over my husband whining about needing a nap after he slept ten hours last night! (Yes this really happened. Normally I would I would chuckle and lovingly mock him and tell him to shut his pie hole. I would not be full of PRIMAL RAGE.)
I was full of PRIMAL RAGE.I’ll spare you the details of the who and what that led to my anger. It isn’t necessary. What I will share is how surprised I have been at the depth and fierceness of the anger—and my unwillingness to simply name it for what it was.
Why, I wondered later, is it so hard for me to just say, “I AM ANGRY AT X AND I NEED TO JUST SAY IT OUT LOUD!”
Many wise souls have pointed out how resisting what is is the source of our suffering. Certainly it was the source of the suffering between my husband and myself, as he threw his hands up and said, “Whoa, why are you so upset with ME? I know this isn’t about me, this is about x! Stop projecting!”
He even predicted that ten minutes later I would be back, apologizing, and admitting he was right.
Damn it, I hate when he is right.
I think it all has to do with anger being a secondary emotion.
I read the term “secondary emotion” for the first time a year or two ago. I had this major “AHA” moment. I had been lumping anger as an emotion with all the rest. Turns out, anger is special. It is just the first layer of a delicious cake of emotions. Perhaps it is the crispy charred caramel bit atop a Crème brûlée. You have to poke through it to get to the creamy, smooth center, the meat of the thing.Which, in my case, turned out to be sadness. So. Much. Sadness. Once I finally admitted to my husband that he was right (sigh), that I was not actually angry at him, I crept into a spare bedroom and wrote a little. The tears started flowing and they wouldn’t stop. Streams and streams of tears. I hadn’t cried like this in a very long time. I let it run its course but it took an awfully long time for my eyes to dry up.
No wonder I was hiding behind the anger. Who wants to unearth all that hurt and sadness?
I’d love to carry my metaphor forward about the dessert and crème brûlée, something trite about how sweet it is to finally break through all the flavors and eat the gooey custard middle. But that is not the case. There is nothing fun or delicious about resisting anger, feeling anger, and then crying for twenty minutes.
For me, the closest I can come to that happy ending is through my writing, which always helps me unpack what I’m feeling and find some self-compassion in the process. Not as tasty as a French dessert, but I’ll take it.