One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received I got last semester in the midst of a full out break down in the bio computer lab. I was in the middle of freaking out about how, once again, my perfectionism was preventing me from getting everything done. I just couldn’t let go and accept that sometimes it more important to just be finished than to be finished perfectly. The net result was that nothing was getting finished, and deadlines were looming.
I was reflecting out loud on my behavior pattern, saying something like, “Here I go. Again. Why do I do this to myself?! I can see myself doing it and I know it isn’t helpful, but I’m doing it anyway. All the awareness and reflection in the Universe is useless if it doesn’t translate into behavior change. If I have to be this dysfunctional, I wish I could at least be ignorant to the fact I’m so dysfunctional.”
My amazing lab partner (and commanding officer) gave me a huge hug and said, “I love you. You are no more messed up and dysfunctional than anyone else. What makes you so amazing and refreshing is that you know you’re dysfunctional and you claim your dysfunction, rather than blaming it on external events or other people.”
To some extent I believe this ability to clearly see my own shit has served me well. The problem comes when I view all shit as my shit, even the shit that isn’t mine. While other people might struggle to see their part in conflicts my tendency is to see everything as my fault. All the time.
While you might think that this is a totally devastating position for me to take, I have experienced it as liberating. If I am always wrong, and everyone else is always right, it means I never have to stand up for myself. I never have to challenge anyone. I can avoid all confrontation by just assuming that I’m at fault (or at least incorrect) and that I need to acquiesce to the other party. Working under the assumption that I’m always wrong or at fault means that I don’t have to use my voice. Rather than speaking up for myself I swallow my opinion, thoughts, or feelings, stay silent and not risk having others get mad, irritated, upset, or, G-d forbid not like me.
I’m not sure why or how this transition has started, but I have recently been able to rather clearly see that I am, in fact, not always wrong – or at least not totally wrong, or at least not the only person who is wrong. It isn’t that I’ve stopped seeing my part in conflicts or difficult interactions, it is that I am beginning to see that it isn’t always all my fault all the time.
And I’m not sure what to do with this.
Back when my assumption was that everything was my fault, I bore no responsibility to voice my needs, feelings, or thoughts because they were, after all, wrong and I wasn’t justified in having them in the first place. If I now acknowledge that there is some legitimacy to my experience and that it is possible for the other party to be wrong (or at least no more right than I) doesn’t it follow that I have a moral imperative to speak up? I think that it does and that scares me.
I’m scared of speaking up for more reasons than I can count, and I’m sure more reasons than any is interested in, but by far the biggest is that I’m afraid that I’ll say or do something that will cause someone to not like me. Or be mad at me or angry at me or hate me or never want to speak to me again or banish me to West Virginia… or insert-some-equally-terrible-fate-here.
On some level I think I do know that these are ridiculous worries, but apparently on some level I don’t know this because I do truly fear these things. More fodder for the couch, I suppose.