In Pursuit of Just Sorry Enough

I would imagine that if you've been alive long enough to learn to read this, you've had someone in your life who believes they are never at fault Click To Tweet

I would imagine that if you’ve been alive long enough to learn to read this, you’ve had someone in your life who believes they are never at fault. My mother lived and breathed this one. Here’s a fun example of a phone conversation with her:

“Why would your sister say those things?” my mother asked. 

“Um, what things?”

“About her childhood,” she says, referring to my sister talking to our mother about not stopping our father from molesting her after she’d been told about it.

“Ah! Because… they happened?”

“Why would she say those things?”

“Umm, mom, I just called to tell you Merry Christmas…everyone will be coming over soon, so if you want to talk about this we can do it another day…”

“But why would she insist on saying those things?”

“Sooo, MerryChristmasLoveYouGottaGoooo…”  Click.

She never got as far as sorry-not-sorry. My family was much better at simply Changing History. If we say it never happened and try hard enough to convince people it never happened despite evidence to the contrary, then it never happened. Simple enough.

I’ve known others who would, when exhibiting a certain behavior, accuse me of having that  behavior. Again, not even sorry-not-sorry. Simply, not their fault.

And whatever IS sorry-not-sorry?

Dictionary.com defines it this way:

What does sorry not sorry mean?

Sorry not sorry is a sarcastic way of acknowledging that someone might not like whatever you’re saying or doing … but you don’t really care.

AH! So in this case, at least the person knows they have no intention of being sorry. No shifting of blame, no changing of history. Straight up “I know in polite social circumstances what I’m about to say would be followed by an apology, but, oh well!”

I struggle to not use this one, being the snarky smart-arse I am. I have a delicate relationship with sarcasm since my therapist told me that it literally means “tearing of the flesh.” That makes it sound so…painful.

And then you have the chronically sorry. I know a lot of people who believe they are personally responsible for all the world’s ills, including earthquakes and global warming. This is the one I struggle with as a Reforming People-Pleaser.

AHealthierMichigan.org says:

Stop Saying Sorry! Signs You’re an Over-Apologizer

Why do they do that?

People who over-apologize are often anxious and worry about offending everyone around them. They tend to have poor self-esteem and lack the confidence to let their words and actions speak for themselves. They also may view their relationships as fragile, to the point that one misstep would mean the end of them.

Sometimes this comes from being constantly criticized by a person in our lives until we develop it as an emotional tic. “Sorry!” becomes our go-to because, after all, how dare we take up space on their planet?

This, from the same article, spoke to me:

How can over-apologizers break the habit?

Talking to a psychiatrist or therapist can often help you figure out the underlying reasons why you do it. A professional can also help you recognize that most people forgive and move on and that relationships are usually resilient. Many over-apologizers could also benefit from doing things to improve their self-esteem (whether it’s reading self-help books, meditating, talking to a therapist or trying self-affirmations). The ultimate goal is to find an appropriate balance between addressing your own needs and feelings and being considerate of the people around you.

The next time you feel like an unneeded apology is coming on, try to change your tone to reflect gratitude over remorse. For example, if you have to change plans with a friend because of a busy week, avoid saying “So sorry—I’m the worst, I know!” and instead try “Thank you for understanding” or “I appreciate your flexibility.” Soon enough, taking a more positive, appreciative approach will be your automatic reaction.

THIS! I can try this. So, since I’ve been whiny for a week with a toothache, I can say to my friends, “Thank you for listening to me whine!” instead of “sorry for being so whiny!” (Honestly, I’m not sure they’ll feel a lot better with the thank you….) I’m still trying to understand how to use this when I accidentally back into someone at the grocery store…which I usually do. My tendency to say “I’m sorry” seems to fit here, since “Thank you for the smile you gave me instead of that awful judgy scowl your friend did” seems a bit snarky, and perhaps borders on the Sorry-Not-Sorry side. It’s a process, right?

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Where do you fall on the Sorry Scale? If you over-apologize, why do you think you do?  (If I’ve offended you by asking, I’m so sorry….)

Thank you for sharing the planet with me. You do contribute. Really. Even if someone has made you feel otherwise.

Comparison kills.

Lately I’ve been binge-watching the TV show My 600 Pound Life.

My entire life, though at the much lower weight of (mumblemumble) has been about weight. How much I’ve gained, how much I’ve lost, who’s happy with it, who’s not, and the massive helpings of guilt surrounding it.

One of the episodes I watched was about two brothers. The younger one, weighing in at 500 pounds, felt he was still okay because he was 200 pounds less than his sibling. At either weight one’s heart can only handle the extra workload so long. Comparison can kill. Literally.

I know I’ve had a sort of weight-blindness in darker periods of my life when using food as a coping mechanism. I felt like I’d wake up one morning with 40 extra (and surprising) pounds. How and when had that happened?

I’m fascinated by the psychology of things: by our human coping mechanisms, by the ways we can lie to ourselves so convincingly in our willingness to be blind to the truth.

I’m my most handy subject of course, since me-myself-and-I spend a lot of time together. I know the strength of the desire to lie to myself, and how easily I can excuse myself from harmful things I do because of what I don’t do. I spent decades using the phrase “At Least” followed by whatever comparison made me feel better about my life. I thought I was simply looking for the best in others or looking for the bright side of my situation. BUT–I wasn’t looking at my situation or the person, I was looking at the comparison.

I was the 500 pound brother.

If I’m happy with the view I see of myself next to my 700 pound brother, nothing changes. But if I look at the view of myself only, I can see whether or not my choices and decisions are having a negative impact on my own life and those I love. I can see if I’ve limited myself by making those choices. In the same way that having weight-blindness eventually limits one’s ability to move about in the world, choosing to have emotional-blindness and not face our own pain can limit us from having fulfilling relationships and working toward our dreams.

My Favorite Mental Health Professional calls it “being awake in my life.” Being aware of my own issues, my own health, my own situation. Comparisons can kill when they’re a distraction from facing what’s True and Real. If I compare I can always find someone who weighs more or weighs less, has less money, more money, has a better relationship or a worse relationship, is more ill or less ill…you get where I’m going, right?

Comparisons can kill. Comparisons can limit. Choosing blindness to the challenging areas of our lives can also kill and limit. I can’t promise a pain-free journey to Awake, but in time you arrive at Freedom.

 

The bring your own beverage conversation: What part of your life do you compare to other people? How does that distract you from the true heart of your struggle? In what areas do you choose to be blind?

 

On Tools.

I don’t know why I do it to myself. I really don’t.

I think I picture myself knitting contentedly, perhaps even humming, using those impossibly small toothpick-sized needles on itsy-bitsy yarn that’s spooling out away from me into a fully completed sweater.

So I buy tiny needles and wonderful yarn, and maybe even a pattern I have fooled myself into believing I will be able to finish.

Then at home I realize the truth–I have to actually count stitches or some other stupid thing that requires actual concentration,  and I can’t watch the Big Bang Theory at the same time, so I’ll be forced to do something like listen to a podcast or music which I love unless I am forced to do so.

My ex-sister-in-law knits like the wind–without looking. How is this possible? She can watch tv and carry on a conversation while simultaneously knitting some intricate sock pattern. I am not similarly gifted. I learned to knit in my 3rd grade class for a charity project–using sharpened yellow number 2 pencils. Given the fact that I would now be in something like  a hundred and forty-twelfth grade, I should be able to churn out garments for a family of elephants in a week and a half, two weeks tops, right? But no. Number of years times amount of yarn purchased does not equal greater skill.

Even if I only make scarves and hats and more scarves for the rest of my knitting life, I have at least learned that better equipment equals better results–such as real knitting needles without graphite tips to smudge the yarn.

Stress happens. In the past several years I’ve learned about a gazillion more healthy ways to deal with stress than I used to know, back in the days of sharpened pencil knitting. Back then I hid from what scared me. Back then I tried to soothe people who needed to learn to soothe themselves. Back then I thought I could make other people happy if I just did FILL IN THE BLANK  right.  These anti-skills and more filled up my body with Triggery Badness and physical illness.

Once I knew enough to realize what wasn’t working, I knew I needed to pick up some new tools, learn to count some stitches even. The new skills are not perfected, but I’m so thankful for the improved tools I’ve learned to use to cope with fear, stress, disappointment, grief….yunno, LIFE.

I didn’t know I could ever feel this calm, this clear. I’m not sure that on my worst days I would have believed a day would come where I’d look forward to my future.

I don’t understand why people who would never accuse a person struggling with cancer of being weak-willed will judge a person who struggles with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD or an addiction as being weak and defective. It’s all health. If you struggle with mental/emotional health, ignore the naysayers and run far away from those who would use your struggles as a weapon against you.

It takes strength to recognize when our tools are not adequate to the job. Writing implements got the job done for my first knitting project, just like hiding from angry people used to “work.” (In other words, not well.) Getting help to improve any skill set takes commitment. As journeyers In Pursuit of Mental Health, how do strength and commitment make us the crazy ones?

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What hobbies and jobs have you put time and commitment into learning? How would your life improve if you put that kind of effort into some area of your mental/emotional health? 

 

 

 

Can we train our brains to let go?

When I read the book The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, I identified strongly with a character. May, one of the sisters in the book, feels the pain of others so strongly it’s as if their pain, grief, horror, is hers. Attempting to manage all these overwhelming feelings, she scribbles names or descriptions on small rolls of paper and pushes the roll into the crevices of a stone wall she’s built–that way she tries to externalize the pain and get it out of her own head.

I’ve felt something similar over my lifetime, but more selfishly, usually the overwhelming feelings have been my own emotions of pain, grief, or horror. At my most generous I’ve felt a strong urge to help someone else feel less pain. Even that has often  been driven by the fact that their emotional pain hurts me. If I can help them feel better, more at peace, then I am more at peace myself.

I want to be an empathetic person, a truly empathetic for the right reasons kind of person. I just want to be able to do it with some balance and flair, like one of those people in a circus flipping from high trapeze to high trapeze in a shiny leotard. (Mine would be aquamarine. With feathers.)

Here was the major roadblock: I didn’t even know I could practice my emotional trapeze technique. I thought I was stuck with the techniques I had at that moment. And being stuck in a constant state of Big Feelings is exhausting.

Better late than never, right? If my life thus far has been in thirds–first third childhood/college/single, second two thirds marriage/divorce–does that make the next twenty years of my life the fourth third? However the math works out, I’m hoping to practice practice practice my way to balance and poise in my emotional state. I want to learn to handle my emotions differently, handle the emotions of others differently. I want to be more authentic in my responses to someone else’s harsh situation and the resulting feelings. This means my motive has to be about them, their pain, not mine.

Knowing how to respond to someone’s emotional upset helps me focus on them, their need, and gets my eyes off my own bellybutton. When we don’t sit with the unpleasant feelings that have rushed in, we won’t process all the way through to closure and acceptance. Here are two similar tools I’ve learned and personalized for ways to deal with the Big Uncomfortable Feelings and Words of life:

Observe those feelings. Feelings come and go. Sometimes they feel like we will never get past them, and maybe there are certain ones we default to because of the way we see the world and the people in it. Without trying to change or judge my painful emotions of fear or sadness or grief and so on, I use a visual image–I am a large rock in the middle of a stream or river, with the water carrying my feelings as it runs constantly over my head and around me. As the rock I notice the feelings as they come rushing toward me, over and around me smoothly. “Yup, there’s my sadness in this situation. There goes my anger at the unfairness of it…and my grief that the situation will never be the way I wanted it to be.” We can sit with our feelings as long as we need to for them to run their course, as they do. It’s calming and somewhat meditative to simply observe them.

In the same way but with a different visual, we can observe the negative words put on us by ourselves and by others. I touched on this in a previous post. The wind is hitting my face, and I see pieces of paper with the negative words I’m hearing, no matter who we may have received them from. Close your eyes and picture the words on the pieces of paper: Foolish. Stupid. Less-than. Too loud. Incapable. No voice. etc.. As the wind blows these notes against your eyes and mouth and cheeks, visualize them hitting but not sticking to your face. Those words of self and other judgment are being swept away by the wind. Keep picturing this in your mind until the words run out and you realize they’ve gone and are now papering somebody’s back garden fence.

Both are simple to do. Either could work for words or emotions. I’m a pretty visual person, so this type of exercise is helpful for me.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Do you have repetitive words and phrases in your head or on your lips that label you negatively? Write a list of them. Do you have any big emotions you wish you didn’t have? Write a list. Use your list with either visualization, sitting quietly for 5 or 10 minutes and letting them clear out your mind of the labels, the painful feelings, and help you move forward. How did you feel after completing the exercise?

 

Remember that you have worth simply because you’re on this planet! #Ihaveworth

 

The F Word: Frailty

 

I’m just coming through another one of the times that tries my soul: a Fibromyalgia flare. If you’re not familiar with Fibromyalgia, it’s a chronic pain and fatigue condition allegedly caused by an overactive/oversensitive Central Nervous System. It can be managed to some extent on a daily basis, but the owner of the aforementioned Frailty doesn’t know from day to day whether it will be a good day or a bad day, a normal pain and fatigue day or an F word day (er, of course I meant Frailty there…..)

A few weeks ago I hit the perfect storm for a flare–the decision to have my 14 1/2 year old dog euthanized, the 5th anniversary of my sister’s death, among other things. Even weather changes seem to contribute. A bad day turned into bad weeks. It seemed like sleeping and trying to ease the extreme pain of this unwelcome flare were the only goals I could work toward. I had no extra brain cells to use.

I hate this scenario, one that I revisit on an unexpected basis, though it feels more like it drops in on me like a surprise guest–“Here I am! Hope you don’t mind if I drop in unexpectedly to stay awhile and change every plan you’ve made for what is as yet an undetermined amount of time!”

It’s brutal.

And how I tend to treat myself during this state of Frailty is brutal too. I tell myself I’m useless. I tell myself it’s my fault, I must not be doing something right or this wouldn’t happen to my brain and body. I get angry. I get sad. I feel sorry for myself, and then I get angry at myself for feeling sorry for myself, and that makes me sad. It’s a real party of one.

This particular flare was so bad that the friend I rent from told me she actually came in to see if I was still breathing. (And here my imagination goes a little TV Fabulous and sees her leaning across my curled body with a tiny makeup mirror to see if I have breath to fog it or is it necessary to call 911, at which point she looks around at the shoes, books, and electronic devices tumbled by my bed that the paramedics would need to navigate and decides it’s better to just close the door and let nature take its course.)

Frailty. It’s a big bad word to me that begins to define my worth and take me to a dark place of Not Good Enough and Worthless and Too Weak. And–dare I say it–UNPRODUCTIVE. (GASP!!)

Once I realize the party is headed for StinkTown, one thing I do is to allow the words of self-flagellation to fly at me but simply glance off. To recognize that while this Frailty may derail me for a time it won’t shut down the railway altogether–I have a temporary Out Of Service sticker on my forehead, but in time it will lose its sticky and the train of my body and brain will begin to run again.

A couple of things I like to do for myself in these times: I’m a fan of visualizing. Whatever makes sense to you will be the best, but for me I actually visualize myself with big pieces of crumpled paper being blown at me like I’m in a storm, and on those papers  are the negative words and phrases written in large, dark print. They hit me but then continue on in the wind past me. They don’t stick. I also love to listen to affirmations. My favorite at the moment is from Belleruth Naparstek, “Healing Trauma.” Her CDs usually have an intro, a guided imagery segment, and then an affirmations segment. The affirmations in her voice are deeply soothing to my mean-spirited brain, and help me treat myself more gently.

IMPORTANT: all this takes practice. When you try to change your thinking be gentle with yourself–it won’t change at once.

The BringYourOwnBeverageConversation: What do you see as your frailties? What frailties cause you to belittle yourself? I saw as I wrote this post just how big of a deal being Nonproductive is for me, and how little grace I give myself when I need it.

Hope to hear from you!