Authenticity, or lack thereof, and the ego

Authenticity, or lack thereof, and the ego

Yeah, I get it. Probably the most frustrating thing about my people pleasing nature is that it is, in part, arrogant. I believe I have the power to affect how people feel. I believe my actions dictate how people will respond. I think I control how people respond to me. I believe, therefore, I can modify my behavior to generate a desired response from a person or people.

It’s crazy. It’s improbable. And it’s arrogant. It’s my ego. It’s what I’m doing instead of esteeming myself.

I don’t want to be arrogant. I want to be authentic. I want to say how I feel. I want to just speak up in real-time when I have a reaction. This manifests itself especially when I experience anger.

Because I am a people-pleaser and want people to react positively to me, I avoid anger. In fact, I don’t really understand anger and I don’t have a healthy management system for my anger. The way I experience anger is this. It builds up until I blow up. It’s like I have some threshold, below which, I don’t really know the anger is happening or, I bury the anger so quickly that I don’t see it happening. Then, when the cumulative anger surpasses a threshold, I feel edgy and snarky. I lash out. To my wife. My kids. My friends. I exude negative, sarcastic behavior. Not in a terribly way. Sometimes it’s even funny. But ultimately I release the surplus anger is negativity and I don’t like it.

Sometimes, the surplus is so great I blow up. I have yelled at my kids. I have (gulp) kicked my dog. Not horrible, but not ideal.

I understand now, through counseling and reading, that I need to learn to identify my anger and release it in the moment rather than letting it build up. When I search my life for opportunities, I see where I am experiencing anger. But my role is so strong I feel that speaking up, despite being my authentic response, is going to probably surprise people.

In most of my relationships I am even-keel and though I respond sarcastically and negatively some times (when I should be emoting anger), I rarely get mad or ‘let it out’. Therefore I am going to try to explain my new behavior with a clarification. So the next time I experience anger and realize it I hope to do something like this:

Whoa, I know this is out of character for me, but I’m trying to be more authentic with my emotions and I am currently feeling angry about X, Y, or Z.

Now, I force a few possible outcomes of my new behavior. Ideally, I will feel better regardless of the reaction. On the one hand, the person I am angry with can freak out and get mad at me for either expressing myself or for not playing the role of ‘never being angry guy’. Alternatively, my reaction could initiate a conversation. That conversation could result in the same reaction of the person being upset with me. Or, it could turn out that I am being completely unreasonable or angry about something else or just overreacting. Which would be completely ok.

The point is that I am tired of letting my anger build up. It ain’t working. And in NOT changing my behavior I am expecting a new result from the same behavior and that, of course, is insane. I seek new results and I must therefore impose new behavior. I’m ready.

 

Walk the Talk. It all comes down to people pleasing

Walk the Talk. It all comes down to people pleasing

Though I have journeyed through etomophobia (fear of vomiting), general anxiety, depression, and codependency I think I have found the root of my issues. As I traveled through each of these conditions and learned about how and why they manifest themselves in my mind and body, I found a theme.

I visited my inner child. I faced my shame issues head on. I try very hard to take a neutral perspective and to shed the old beliefs that maintain my  outlook. I have arrived at my core issue and it is self-esteem.

Maybe you can relate. I think we all have a degree of self-esteem issues as we struggle not to judge ourselves nor play the victim to our own self-abuse and the perceived (or real) abuse of others. Why are we often our own worst enemies? I don’t know, but I can summarize what I’ve learned about myself.

I definitely believe it starts in childhood. I think we enter life as innocent experiencers and learn to internalize the world to varying degrees. I internalized the shit out of my world, becoming my own best friend and advisor. Unfortunately, an 8-year-old doesn’t often give the best advice and I carry much of this around in me today.

In my family I learned to be quiet, not have any negative feelings, maintain an even keel, and help others maintain a peaceful atmosphere. I didn’t see my dad much and my mom sort of did this for him and us kids. Nothing bad was spoken about, nor anything meaningful, really. No one got upset and, if they did, they were ignored or shunned as rocking the boat. I don’t remember specific interactions but I remember specific feelings about my role: Do well in school, don’t complain, and accept the consequences of your actions.

That last one is the big one. Paraphrased, my dad also used to say “walk the talk”. I learned quickly that my actions affected people, including myself, so I needed to make absolutely sure that I carefully considered my actions and all of the potential consequences before I did anything. Yeah, I took a fairly simple mantra to the extreme – that’s who I am and I’m sure my parents didn’t know.

But this led me to analysis paralysis, a place I still spend a lot of time.

Because I learned that my actions affected others I became hyper aware of all of my actions. I was scared to upset people. I agonized over my actions and how they would affect other people to the point that I was constantly making assumptions about how other people felt. Eventually, I realize now, I became so arrogant to actually believe that A) I could tell what people were feeling, and B) manipulate their feelings through my actions. I know, I know, crazy. But I think a lot of us do it.

Psychologists call it mind reading. I don’t know when I assumed I could do it, I now realize I can’t, but I struggle to shake the mindset that thinks I can.

Moreover, my esteem, in large part, came from being able to make people happy. It set me up for a lot of disappointment. You can probably relate. I felt something happening. Someone was getting upset or not getting what they want. A whirlwind of thoughts spin in my head to figure out how to prevent the upset or to correct it. I became quite good at humorous quips to distract. But this was a constant buzzing noise in my head: scanning my environment to assess people’s’ conditions. It was exhausting.

And the worst part was that it rarely worked. Because I can’t accurately understand how people feel, nor can I manipulate it, I consistently failed to prevent disappointment and conflict in my environment. Sure, sometimes my quips made people laugh or delayed conflict, but it came up eventually because that’s life.

So the combination of constantly paying attention to people around me and continually failing to avoid conflict left me in a state of, you guessed it, anxiety. I was exhausted and unable to meet my own needs. Eventually, I forgot what they were.

My reaction to the anxiety was to try harder. I gave more of myself to my world to try to be better and avoiding conflict. And, of course, the harder I tried the more I failed. It’s an impossible situation. As we know, I can’t make people feel happy – that’s up to them. I didn’t get that for a long time. And now that I do, I don’t know what to do with it.

See, a big part of my identity is tied to ‘making people happy’, or being the caregiver, or maintaining the peace. I still seek the rewards of fulfilling the role I perceive myself as my purpose. I can’t shake it. I don’t know any other way.

But I am trying. I have accepted that the symptoms of anxiety and depression were essentially results of not being able to adequately esteem myself. I have therefore focused on the core issue of finding out how to do that. I understand that I need to learn about and accept that I am a good, unique person deserving of love and that my role is not to make people happy. I am learning what my needs are and how to ensure that they are met.

Gary Van Warmerdam through his work at pathwaytohappiness.com uses the term ‘old beliefs’ to describe how we cling to old habits. His book MindWorks
A Practical Guide for Changing Thoughts, Beliefs, and Emotional Reactions
 stands out to me as making the most sense about how to address issues related to anxiety, depression, and others. Gary uses archetypes to describe how we treat ourself through our negative self-talk. The judge, victim, hero, and angel archetypes maintain our old belief systems related to our self-worth and affect how we esteem ourselves.

For me, I judge myself as being not good enough. I attribute much of this to rarely being able to fulfill my presumed purpose of pleasing people and avoiding conflict. Because I am continually failing in that role, I continually judge myself as a failure. This triggers the victim  mentality where I feel sorry for myself for always failing because my life is so hard. In the middle is the idea that I am some sort of hero that has the super human ability to please people, diminish conflict, and control how people feel and act. Related to these is the princess who is so special that she deserves special treatment from the world. Gary’s book is very insightful. He describes familiar concepts (don’t all self-help guides?) but in a way that speaks to me.

Gary’s advice, then, is to catch yourself when you are falling into one of the archetypes and to remind yourself that this is an old belief, something you want to change, and really has no value in your life any longer. What follows is how to develop healthier tactics to get through life. But I’m still working on understanding the relationship to my old beliefs and how I feel.

Learning to love ourselves is hard. It’s hard for me to admit that my issues are primarily related to self-worth and self-esteem. I understand that everything in my life stems from my self worth. If I can just shake this one aspect of my personality, redefine my role in my family and society more accurately, and reduce the amount of time I spend listening to my old beliefs well, all the rest will probably take care of itself.

 

 

The Past Ten Years Led Me to Here

The Past Ten Years Led Me to Here

Sure, a lot happened to me prior to 2006, but let me summarize the meaningful chunk that is the past decade.

I finished my PhD and needed to move to the next level. I was impatient to get a job so I accepted one that was probably not a great fit. During my first semester I realized that trying to be a dual income family with three kids under five was not working. My then-wife tried to work less and help out more at home but just couldn’t take the pay cut or the parenting intensity. As she worked more I ended up at home with the kids and couldn’t give my blossoming career the time I needed to succeed.

As a people pleaser, borderline codependent, self-esteem challenged, perfectionist, negative self-talker it was easy for me to do what I did next. I quit the tenure track almost as soon as I had started. I moved my family closer to my in-laws and would be a full-time stay-at-home-dad who would eventually reenter the workforce at some reduced capacity. My then-wife would be the breadwinner. It was my decision and I don’t regret it (mostly).

I struggled with my decision. I had put ten years into a good career that I did well and was increasingly successful. But I prioritized my family and it was suffering with two parents working. I couldn’t resolve the issue so the simplest solution was to give something up so I did. The next few years were hard. I became less confident and more frustrated in my new role and limited identity whereas she reconnected with a past life. Eventually she had an affair and our marriage ended.

I reentered the work force and started to heal. I started a new business (a craft brewery) that was supposed to have been my job, but I couldn’t support myself and three kids on a brewery salary. I moved for 9 months to start a new job in my old career. It was an ok job but it was not academia. I would try for almost ten years to find a job in my field but could not find anything satisfying. Or even tolerable.

Yes, I’m spoiled. I accepted several positions that my degrees help me obtain but they were disappointments. I wrestled with whether I was justified to want a meaningful career and was stifled by the Phd-sized chip on my shoulder.  Was I asking for too much to want to have a good career? I quit two decent jobs in pursuit of something better. Then the last job ended when the funding ran out.

Fortunately, I remarried during that time and my new family provides me financial stability. I realize I am extremely luck in this respect and try to do my due diligence and appreciate my fortune. My wife appreciates my need to resolve some old issues and is allowing me some time to ‘work things out’ while I learn more about writing, start acting rather than simply thinking, and figure out how I might benefit my family, and society, beyond simply earning a paycheck.

I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. Except when I don’t.

So what? Who the hell is this guy?

So what? Who the hell is this guy?

I don’t know about you but I’m kind of obsessed with personal growth, self-help, meditation, self improvement, etc. Since I was bullied as a kid I’ve always had an over-active internal dialogue helping me deal with life’s stressors. Like many of us, I learned a lot of things as a kid that no longer serve to help me grow. As an adult I rely on old worn-out habits to assist in decision-making and serve as my compass or advisor.

I smoked pot daily for about ten years and, when I quit in graduate school I started having anxiety that expressed itself as emetophobia and other things. During this period I always felt like I was going to vomit. Or, more accurately, I was afraid I was going to vomit in public and embarrass myself. I literally don’t remember any lectures from my Master’s training because I couldn’t sit in a classroom without freaking out. I eventually realized it was anxiety and it started to express itself in different ways. When I had my first kid at 30 I needed some help so I started taking SSRIs for anxiety.

Fast forward a decade or so and two more kids into the future and I got divorced. I struggled between self-pity and opportunistic growth and finally came out on the self improvement end of things. I stopped taking medications and got up every day trying to make the best of my future.

I eventually met a wonderful woman, remarried, and now have a fourth daughter. Life is good. But I still struggle with the old beliefs of the past. Most notably, I have trouble esteeming myself. As a child, for whatever reasons, I learned that my role in the family was to stay quiet, not have any of my own feelings, and to do everything in my power to ensure my behavior didn’t upset anybody. I’m a people pleaser extraordinaire.

When I was a divorced single dad I expressed this personality trait to the extreme. I did not find any identity in work because I had been a stay-at-home-dad. I didn’t socialize much because I was grieving. My identity came from my role as father and caregiver. I lost a lot of myself staying at home with my kids before I got divorced and my identity became directly tied to my role as father and caregiver. I forgot how to esteem myself from within. My need to please my children coupled with the inherent difficulties of parenthood, led to a failure of my old belief system. I could not continuously please young kids and as a result felt like a failure.

I will go in to a bit more detail about my issues, revisit the whole ‘lottery’ thing, and then get to the daily thoughts that I mentioned in my first post.

What would you do if you won the lottery?

What would you do if you won the lottery?

I ask because I kind of just won the lottery. I’m not trying to rub it in, I’m telling you because it was an unconventional win. I won the lottery by losing my job. Not exactly the ideal windfall and it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to you. But don’t worry, it didn’t make sense to me, either at first. But that’s why I’m here.

I don’t want you to think I’m a master of positivity because I’m pretty wrecked about losing my job. But I’m choosing to approach my change in work status as an opportunity. Whenever a significant change occurs – often beyond our control – we have an opportunity to choose our response. Our typical responses can either be positive or negative. Pro-active or reactive. In my case I am choosing to be appreciative, to feel gratitude, and to try really hard to improve my life and the lives of those around me. Because I can, I’m lucky, I won the lottery.

My wife has a good job, you see. Being able to pay our bills is not contingent upon me bring home a salary. I enjoy working, I have nearly all of my adult life employed, and I was once a tenure-track professor. But my contributions have changed as my family has grown and generating a small salary is not absolutely critical at this moment. Anyway, I suddenly have some time to focus on the personality traits and habits I’d like to change. I realize not many people have this luxury but I’m hoping that my effort to capitalize on my opportunity and share it with you might help somehow.

So that’s what I’m doing here. I’m spending my lottery winnings on this blog. I’ll begin by proving a bit of background about the issues I need to work on (they are common), a little more background about how I came to this opportunity, and a summary of how I plan to summarize my adventure right here.