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Look At You Before You Leap - 5/13/2011

There was no doubt in Steve’s mind.  Catherine  was guilty.  The evidence was as plain as day, in the form of  a 16" pizza, covered with melted mozzarella, Italian sausage and spicy marinara sauce.  What could have been better?  Almost anything, because, in Steve’s mind, three years of marriage  was sufficient time for her to know that sausage wasn’t his thing.  She knew he liked mushrooms and could have easily ordered half of each.  No wonder he was furious and he let her know it.  “All you care about is yourself.   You never think about anyone else. Why did you get this pizza”  “I wasn’t thinking”, she said.  “That’s exactly my point”, he responded, “you don’t think.  You’re selfish, self-centered  and totally inconsiderate.”  

The pit of his stomach was in a knot.  He was angry beyond belief.  A myriad of thoughts ran through his mind, one of which was, “I should get a divorce and find someone who appreciates how hard I work, how much I care and would care back.”   Inside, he also thought, “I’m a good person.  I always think of the other person.  But not her.  In the beginning, I thought ‘she’s special.  She speaks up and has the backbone to look out for herself’.  Now I see her for what she really is, egocentric and hurtful.”  

Then, with a flourish, he cut off half the pizza, scraped it into the garbage can and said, “That’s my half.   Go eat yours.”  

On the one hand, you’d have to say Catherine wasn’t very considerate.  Her behavior demonstrated little apparent concern for Steve and certainly lacked sensitivity.  Worst case scenario, you might even interpret her actions as deliberately hurtful.  So, it’s difficult to view her as a totally innocent victim.    In fact, you could probably say that she sets things up for her to become a victim who retaliates passive-aggressively.

On the other hand, Steve’s reaction was, without doubt, excessive and inappropriate, which is extremely surprising, in light of the fact that he’s neither a hostile nor an impulsive person.  In fact, he lives life in an emotionally cautious manner, with considerable  awareness of the feelings of others.  Moreover, there’s little doubt that, several days from now, he’ll regret his actions and the accusations he directed toward Catherine.  Chances are, he’ll apologize, experience remorse and feel guilty.  Emotionally, however, the hurt he reacted to will remain and grow.

If you listen closely to his  words, you’ll realize that Steve is a martyr.  He wouldn’t like that term, because of its negative connotation. In fact, he would probably view it as an unjust description.  But, think about the way he initially presented himself.  “I’m a good person.  I think of others.  I’m considerate.  I would never buy a whole mushroom pizza.  I’d know she likes sausage and I would get half of it the way she likes it, because I love her, because she’s important and because I think of others.”   What’s implied is, “I’m a better person than she is.”  What he doesn’t say is, “As a little kid, I never felt important.  I put out inordinate effort to gain dad’s attention, respect and love.  But it was never forthcoming.  He was consumed with his own emotional needs.  In a crowd, all you ever heard him talk about was his own accomplishments and how successful he was.”  Steve’s choice of a coping mechanism was to become the opposite, a good, kind, humble young man who never caused problems or brought attention to himself.   Someone he hoped would be appreciated for his ingratiating behavior.  Consequently, he never allowed himself to be selfish.  He never said, “give me”, he always gave.  Similarly, he rarely stated his desires and only made requests, which always ended with, “and if you can’t, I’ll understand.”  In his heart, he truly perceives himself deserving of love and respect for the way he acts.  

I can’t deny that his behavior seems meritorious, but the driving force behind it has nothing to do with generosity and kindness.  It has everything to do with a 1) a desperate need for love and attention that  borders on being pathological; 2) an exaggerated attempt to present himself as a good little boy who always winds up the victim; 3) a forgiving, understanding person devoid of anger.  (The latter being a lie he lives with and believes.)

It’s difficult to criticize someone for being so nice, but Steve really has to question why he’s that way.  Inside, I believe he is saying, “You have no idea how much it hurt me when I saw that pizza.  It reinforced every notion I have inside that says I’m unlovable and lacking.  If I really mattered, half of the pizza would have been mushroom.”  You, of course, realize that his reaction had nothing to do with pizza.  It all stemmed from how needy and insecure he is and how much he needs Catherine’s love and assurance that he matters.  There is nothing wrong with having those feelings.  They’re part of his humanness.  But, a martyr’s behavior is always guilt-provoking and manipulative.  Consequently, it eventually serves to push others away, rather than attract them.  What Steve needs to do is see that he has worth in his own right and that he doesn’t have to earn love because he deserves it for just being who he is.  That will, initially, require him to recognize that he isn’t a victim who is manipulated, controlled or ignored by others.  That, instead, he copes by prostituting himself emotionally, acting the victim and controlling through guilt.  (A fact that may explain, but not justify, Catherine’s behavior.)  

It’s the same for all of us.  To love life honestly, you have to look at yourself and decide if how you are is the way you want to be.  If it isn’t, you need to modify your reactions in accordance with what you can accept because, until you’re pleased with you, it’s inadvisable to consider altering a job, boss, friend, lover or marriage partner.  The reason being that it’s far better to fix how you act and the situations and relationships you’re in than it is to start out new and make the same mistakes all over again.

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