Sunday, 26 January 2014

Don't Punish Your Self.

As a species, we are farcically exploitable but this is not Natural. We've been conditioned with corrupted sentiment and sensitised with emotional abuse to the point where we're pathetically, tragically fragile. Our emotional feelings consistently make us faceplant. We don't do ourselves any favours when we get emotional, that's for sure.

I'm substantially less emotional these days but I had an incredibly emotional childhood. My siblings and I were forced to contend with a mother who was hysterical when she wasn't catatonic. I carried residual frustration and bitterness throughout my teenage years and into my late 20s.

The remarkable thing is that I was aware that I more tightly strung than most, but the idea that my feelings were in my control never really occurred to me. It was just the way I felt. How could I help it? People were making me feel that way. 

I see a lot of people in a similar position.

Looking back, it's depressing realising the extent to which I Self-sabotaged without ever contemplating whether my (over)reacting to stress served my best interests. I was flat out dealing with the fallout and even when - on routine occasion - I was given reason to regret (when I'd lose a friend or make an enemy or fail to impress), I merely regretted the outcome rather than my anger itself. It was just the way I felt. How could I help it? People were making me feel that way. 

In some respects, I wasted my youth feeling miserable and annoyed, intolerant and frustrated. I'd subsequently behave in ways that made me really feel like shit (write off motor vehicles, lose fiance, etc). I was trapped in a cycle of degraded emotion. I knew I had a problem, but I never felt it was my problem. I had a problem with people who were incompetent or stupid or malicious. I'd explode in fury, even to the point of blind rage on occasion, over what really seem like trivial offences in hindsight; perceived abuse of trust, generic incompetence, inconsideration, broken promises, etc. I wasn't growing up; if anything, I was going the other way and I was given reason to be alarmed when, as soon as the blur of rage subsided, I'd instantly realise I'd overreacted in a way that seemed out of my control.

People were often telling me I needed to be more tolerant, forgiving, understanding and accepting of others' faults and deficiencies. Though I disagreed with the idea that I could be at fault, when they were the first offenders, I did make a concerted effort to handle incompetence with Zen. When I failed, my repressed fury would explode. I had no middle gear. I was going for Zen v No Control.

I tried so hard to be more forgiving, less mercurial, more nonchalant and less cruel but when my blood pressure started rising, my good intentions would be discarded in favour of reading offenders the riot act. I strived to be the bigger man, to take the high road, to turn the other cheek and I even consulted therapists who gave me coping mechanisms (take deep breaths, walk it off, count to 10 before responding, sleep on infuriating emails, think positive, etc). I even bought audio CDs with whale sounds or rainfall but it was all pointless. Nothing worked.

I didn't realise it at the time but I wasn't being very selfish. My frame of perception had been directed at the Other; I was obsessed with how others had treated me, how their conduct had affected me, how they said this and did that. Even when I'd began to toy with the idea that something might be wrong at my end, I was still trapped in obsessing over my appearance. I'd strive for calm to avoid shouting like a madman. I'd attempt to be stoic to avoid appearing hysterical. I was suffering to please others and that's not very selfish at all.

I was aware that the source of my frustration was my residual bitterness at being the victim of injustice. I'd do the Right thing but others wouldn't reciprocate. For some reason, I'd been led to believe that if I treated people Right, they would treat me Right; I'm not sure how I came to this curious delusion as I was routinely punished by grownups when I'd done everything right, made zero errors, held up my end of the bargain only for someone else to lie and offload their blame onto me. I'd plead my innocence only to be given Christian logic like "Sometimes the innocent have to suffer with the guilty". How does that even make sense?

In my mid-20s, I started to fear the inevitable. I felt I was going to snap sooner or later. I knew it would be ugly but I didn't feel I had any say in it. It was just the way I felt. How could I help it? People were making me feel that way. 

One day, I read a quote attributed to the Buddha:

I must have repeated it half a dozen times as a light bulb (deactivated for some time) flickered in my mind. Eventually I concluded, "Well that just makes perfect sense." I'd never felt about my feelings that way. I'd never perceived my anger as punishing myself. I wasn't being selfish. I'd been blaming others for making me feel miserable and I felt stupid. Why was I forfeiting control of my mind, to imbeciles no less? I was embarrassed, clearly only I could control my feelings. I was suffering to please others and failing to please, my suffering was meaningless and I detest redundancy.

Humans treat each other poorly when we do not love ourselves. In need, we impose on each other, make unreasonable demands, we suffer for each other and expect others to suffer for us. But why would we want others to suffer or to put it another way, why would we want to suffer for anyone who wants us to suffer? I knew people were supposed to treat me Right but rarely ended up doing so. What I didn't know was that I was the worst offender. When we forfeit control of our emotions to others, we become our own Nemesis. No one treats us worse than we treat ourselves. When we get angry, we just punish ourselves.

I'm still treated poorly by those who do not love themselves, but I almost never rage now. I very rarely get angry. I didn't really even have to try. Once I understood, I was insulted. I deserved to be treated better than that. I believe we all do.

I no longer want or expect others to do the Right thing by me. They should do the Right thing by themselves but when they don't, I no longer take it personally. I respect myself so no one can really disrespect me, they just disrespect themselves. I'm in control so I don't waste my time failing to control others. It's just the way I feel. I can help it. No one else can make me feel.   

I'll always regret the years I wasted feeling like shit but I'm also very relieved. I no longer punish myself.