Have you ever thought that all your senses - your nose, eyes and ears, are pointed outward and, consequently, it’s no wonder that you focus on what is external to you. As a child, I recall hearing a statement that strongly supported this notion. “A dog never smells its own feces.” Generally speaking, human beings tend to also believe that the noxious odors and behaviors they smell come from someone or something external to them. As a result, they rarely look inside themselves. That makes living far less painful, but distorts reality because, more often than not, what you hear, see, feel or smell is radically influenced by your perceptions and interpretations.
Similarly, in the classic novel, The Little Prince, a visitor goes to the moon, where he travels throughout the land, asking, “What is the essence of life?” In the end, he learns that what is essential is invisible to the eye, i.e.: that it’s not what’s on the surface that counts. It follows, then, that everyone needs to look inward, to discover the meaning of their life.
I recall, years ago, being frightened, feeling insecure, and so afraid I’d fail because I had ADD, hadn’t gone to high school, only had a GED, and everyone else was a magna cum laude college graduate, that when I walked down the hall of the psychology building and saw two professors talking, I was positive they were voicing their doubts that I’d graduate. My belief had nothing to do with fact, it had to do solely with my fears, which contributed to my imagining myself the center of their universe. The truth was they probably didn’t even know my name. Nevertheless, I creatively perceived what I feared and caused myself tremendous anxiety. Why? Because to look at the situation realistically would have required that I acknowledge how frightened, inadequate and insufficient I felt. All of which were feelings I dared not own, no matter the emotional price I had to pay.
Let me give you another example. Julie was married for one year, to Charlie, a triathlete who constantly strove to reinforce his sense of masculinity. He dressed immaculately, was financially successful, physically buff and extremely intelligent, but rarely showed any emotions. When his father was terminally ill, Charlie showed no outward signs of grief or despair. During his father’s illness, Charlie visited twice a month, but only at his wife’s insistence. After one notable argument, he said, “I don’t understand. You’re intelligent, and beautiful, and I love you, but you’re on my back all the time. I’ve explained to you it’s all he deserves. He was gone the first eight years of my life. He paid no child support and my mom had to take care of us kids alone. God knows where he was or what he did. I’ve forgiven him, but don’t expect me to feel toward him the way you do toward your parents. They were distant, but they didn’t leave you.” Julie heard his words, she kept insisting he visit more frequently. Charlie finally said, “I can’t take it any more. He’s dying, but instead of supporting me, you’re putting me down. You know, we have no kids, we have only been married a year. Maybe this marriage is a mistake.”
In my opinion, however, that decision wasn’t one that needed to be made in an agitated state. He was in a bad place and, consequently, any decision he made was bound to be bad. At the same time, I knew Charlie felt that he was more than fulfilling his obligations toward his father. Plus, he had assured his stepmother that if there was anything she needed, he’d help. What more did he have to do? After all, what he felt toward his father wasn’t love, it was responsibility. Nevertheless, Julie was unbending; so much so that she eventually agreed that divorce was the best solution.
I viewed the situation quite differently. I felt that Charlie was totally blind with regard to where Julie was coming from. I understood that because of his angst, all he could hear was what he feared. When I told him so, he said, “I’ve heard enough. Her words say it all. If I do what she wants, she’ll love me. If not, I’m rejected.” My retort was, “You may fear being controlled, but she’s not talking about you or your father.”
Let me explain. Think about it this way: in marriage, you get who you are. Smart people marry smart people, dumb people marry dumb people, strong people marry strong people, and weak people marry weak people. In your case, I’d say that two emotionally hurt and needy persons found each other. It’s apparent your childhood was hurtful. Dad abandoned you and mom was so weak she didn’t divorce him until twelve years later, while Julie, because of the unemotional home she came from, is as psychologically scared as you are. What she’s screaming is, “There, but for the grace of God, go I. If I were dying, you wouldn’t be there or care. ”
“That’s not true. I love her. I want to spend the rest of my life with her. And it hurts when she criticizes and finds fault with me.”
“Then you have to tell her that. You need to explain to her how you steeled yourself from your feelings years ago. That you would never desert her, and will always be there for her. Assure her that you aren’t her mother or father. That you do have loving feelings for her, but you’re frightened to express them.”
Charlie, Julie, each of you and I need to remember three things. One, everything doesn’t revolve around us and others aren’t necessarily talking about us. Two, our partner’s words don’t always accurately reflect what they’re saying. Three, we all experience feelings of hurt, rejection, loss of love, insecurity, and a host of other emotions. Although some individuals disguise or hide them better than others, they’re there, and when the right circumstances, such as death, divorce, sickness or loss occur, they often expose them. Before that occurs, it’s imperative that you get in touch with what’s inside and essential, so you can better understand and explain your own reactions and feelings to those persons you love, who may mistakenly think that all your behaviors occur because of them. The reason: they haven’t heard that the world doesn’t revolve around them.