I was flipping through one of my old journals when I came across an entry that really grabbed me. I’d been struggling with anger toward one of my parents at the time, and in my journal, I wrote that even though I knew the anger was detrimental to my well being and was fueling self-destructive behaviors, it was hard to let it go.
I had a subconscious belief running in the background like a tired, old soundtrack that said, “If you stop being angry, you’re saying that what your parent did was okay.”
And this insight wasn’t necessarily anything new. I’ve known for awhile that a major roadblock to forgiveness is equating forgiveness with condoning someone’s behavior, when, in fact, the two are quite distinct. You forgive in order to free yourself. Forgiveness is not the same as condoning past hurtful behavior, nor is it an invitation for future hurtful behavior.
Even so, something was keeping me stuck.
It took hearing about an acquaintance’s work drama to flip the switch for me. The situation was this: “Karen” was in a supervisory position over “Pete,” and for months, the two had been engaging in a power tug o’ war. Pete procrastinated on work projects, and Karen ripped him a new one every chance she got. From the outside, coworkers were wondering 1) Pete’s a smart guy–why on earth doesn’t he just get his stuff done on time to prevent the bi-weekly blowouts? and 2) Why doesn’t Karen find a more productive way of dealing with Pete because this strategy clearly isn’t working?
Both very good questions. Where my interest lies, though, is in Pete’s situation, because this is one that I’ve found myself in many times with my family. As an adult, I’d find myself doing things that felt like Teenage Me rebelling, and even though they made little to no sense in the current situation, it was hard to stop.
Why? Well, there are many reasons, of course, but here’s a juicy one: I wanted to prove that my parent was “bad,” and one way I could do that was through triggering their bad behavior by deliberately doing things I knew would set them off. As a kid, I imagine that a big part of my subconscious motivation was that I needed help. I was no match for my parent’s domineering anger, but perhaps if I could trigger them to act out, someone who could stand up to them, like a teacher or a relative, would see how bad things really were and come to my rescue.
As a kid with limited options and life skills, this made sense. As an adult, however, there are far better ways to get my needs met, and provoking bad behavior in the hopes of dragging other people to my rescue is far from a good strategy. In Pete’s case, this tactic is leading him down the road to termination, and I can bet that Karen isn’t going to be the one who feels punished in that scenario. Pete is punishing himself.
What Can We Do?
One of the most transformative steps for me is recognizing what my needs are. Until I know what I need, it’s hard to consciously choose healthy ways of getting those needs met, something I’ve written about extensively in the past.
If you find yourself reacting on autopilot (which sometimes takes the form of chronic complaining), use this as an opportunity to press the pause button and take stock.
What do you want from this situation?
What do you need in this situation in order to feel [safe, supported, etc]?
And the question for the win: How can you take responsibility for getting those needs met?
This doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help; sometimes taking responsibility for our needs means asking for support from the right people (i.e. people who are actually in a position to support us and who are willing to do so).
And even if getting our needs met does involve other people, it inevitably circles back to us. We must be meeting our own needs before the support of others can have a significant impact. If we’re not supporting ourselves, other people’s efforts to support us are either rejected or they’re never enough–we just need more and more to feel okay.
When we start by supporting ourselves, which might look like establishing healthy boundaries, getting a massage, validating our feelings, and other forms of self-care, the support of others is like the cherry on top. We’re not desperately relying on it to feel okay, but it sure is nice to receive.
When we get clear on what we need and want, we can go about getting those needs and wants met in the light of consciousness, rather than taking a back alley through the subconscious, resulting in behavior that’s baffling even to ourselves.
In New Age circles, there’s a lot of talk about being a Light Worker. If you ask me, more so than putting a positive spin on everything and keeping it “light,” this is one of the Light Worker’s primary tasks: To bring the heavy stuff out of our closets into the light of consciousness so we can forge ahead with mindful awareness.
Who’s with me?