The next time you see me, the first thing you have to say is, “Golly, Ed, you’ve gotten new glasses. They make you look younger and chic.” (You’ll understand this after you read the rest of this article.)
You would think that, after forty-nine years in the therapist’s chair, listening to myself, I would be in control of my actions and insightful regarding the immature, childish and manipulative behaviors I’m capable of. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, because each of us are two people; an intellectual adult and an emotional six-year-old who is apt to sneak out when you least expect it. Figuratively speaking, whenever you open your emotional door or turn your back, he/she is liable to run out into the front yard or the middle of the street.
Well, that’s exactly what my little kid did when, after weeks of waiting, my prescription glasses finally arrived. Essentially, I picked up the glasses on my way to our beach house, where my wife had been for several days, relaxing and entertaining girlfriends. She greeted me in such a warm, loving manner that it was evident she had missed me as much as I had missed her. But she failed to notice my new glasses. That was Thursday afternoon. Two days later, on Saturday, Harriet still hadn’t mentioned my glasses and I was becoming angry, resentful and convinced that she didn’t care.
At the same time, let me say, I’ve lived with Harriet for over 55 years. During that time, I have learned, on innumerable occasions, that she could walk by the living room and if a chair was missing, it would be a week before she’d notice it. Conversely, I could walk in and if there was a nail hole in the wall, it would jump out at me and cause me to become fixated on the fact that I had to repair it. This isn’t to say that one is better than the other. It’s just that she walks through life not seeing things, therefore, nothing is broken or in need of repair, whereas, I become obsessive, with regard to having to fix or rearrange things that aren’t in place. That being the case, I intellectually knew that she wasn’t likely to notice my glasses. In essence then, I set up a test, which I knew she’d fail. I also created a situation where I would feel rejected, angry and depressed. Now, I ask you, why in the world would anyone in their right mind have done that? I’ll leave you with that question, while I return to Saturday.
Harriet and I were watching TV when a commercial came on about glasses. She looked at me and said, “Ed, have you heard anything about your glasses?” I pointed to the bridge of my nose and said, “Now that you mention it, all Thursday afternoon, Friday and today, you’ve been staring at them and me, but you never saw them.” Her reply was not to take the bait, but to say, “Ed, you’re crazy. If I had gotten new glasses, I would have come in saying, ‘Look at my new glasses. Don’t they look great?’” I can picture it now. That’s exactly what she would have done. But if I had done that, it wouldn’t have afforded me the opportunity to feel angry, depressed and unloved. Once again, let me ask, why would a sane person do that? Simple. Because even the sanest of us has a little six-year-old kid inside, whose job it is to protect us. He/she doesn’t know anything about long-term consequences. Instead, his job is to help us survive in the moment, with as little pain as possible. Unfortunately, the result of his actions is short term comfort and long-term pain. And that’s exactly what it amounted to. After thinking about it, I realized that I had brought my new book with me. It was only six chapters short of being finished, which was wonderful. But, unfortunately, once it’s done, I’ll have to face the possibility that some publishers will deem it unworthy. That would indicate that the “baby” I created was lacking, which would mean I was lacking, as well. Not finishing and staying preoccupied with my wife’s behavior protected me from that eventuality.
Believe it or not - and I would have you think about it before you disbelieve it - my little kid set up the whole scenario, none of which was consciously motivated. But, if you had suggested I created the situation, I would have been extremely defensive. Yet, I did wear the glasses, even though I was almost positive they’d go unnoticed. I also proceeded to generate feelings inside me of resentment and unworthiness. Why? Because it was far better to feel angry or hurt by someone else I perceived as not caring, than to face the fact that I was the one who felt undeserving of being cared for. It’s a feeling, I’m sad to say, I’ve carried with me ever since childhood. One I constantly fight.
I tell you this story to help you see that, if you ever want to be healthy, it isn’t a matter of fixing you, it’s a matter of first seeing you and then learning to live with, accept, forgive and love the person you are, shortcomings and all. Shifting the blame to others never works, long term. It only serves to push others away and, eventually, to validate that you really are unworthy because you aren’t perfect, strong enough, or without fears or anxiety.
One last thought. Remember, the next time you see me, to mention how wonderful my glasses make me look. I’ll like hearing it but, because of my kid’s feelings, I probably won’t believe what you say. I’ll think, “You’re only saying that because I asked.” Fifteen years ago, that would have been the absolute truth. Today, I’m better able to look inside and affectionately say, “Ed, you’re an idiot. Don’t believe your own BS. Look at yourself. Question where you’re coming from, why you’re reacting the way you are and determine if there isn’t a more positive, proactive way you can behave in spite of your fears of insufficiency.”
If you can relate, I’d have you approach yourself with the same introspective honesty and affectionate objectivity that I’m finally able to demonstrate. I believe it will help you to discover that you truly are okay, even if your kid doesn’t feel it.