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Being kind to others starts with being kind to yourself - 6/15/2017

Do you hesitate to do or say what you really believe because you feel intimidated and controlled by someone or fearful others will disagree or see it as foolish? Then, later resent them and hate yourself for not having the courage to risk being you. If so, as a child you likely felt yourself restricted by your parents. As a student, you probably blamed your teachers. Later in life, the culprit was your boss at a job you disliked, though you were afraid to leave. And, it didn’t end there.

You carried this pattern of behavior into your marriage, where you stifled your beliefs and refrained from saying what you felt because you didn’t want to “upset or hurt” your spouse. Instead, you buried your thoughts, hid your true emotions and self-righteously proclaimed yourself to be a kind person. Do not deceive yourself. Your behavior wasn’t virtuous. It was dictated by your fears and lack of confidence.

Essentially, you lied to yourself in order to rationalize your “sacrificial” behavior. Granted, there were occasions when you let your feelings out, but for the most part, it was only when you built up sufficient anger to give you a sense of false courage.  The rest of the time, you grinned and bared it, thinking this is the bed I made and I have to sleep in it. Alternatively, you may have assumed an air of bravado and, instead of keeping things in, you went to the opposite extreme and let them out inappropriately. When you felt threatened, you reacted angrily and were quick to blame, depreciate and intimidate others, most particularly, your partner. Even when you were later sorry for your actions, you found it impossible to apologize because you couldn’t emotionally admit you were in the wrong.

Sad to say, I can’t begin to count how many individuals I’ve seen in therapy that fit these descriptions. They complained about their spouses, lamented the error they made by marrying him or her and at the same time claimed they loved them but weren’t in love with them. What they were blind to was the fact they and their partner’s actions, almost always, stemmed from their similar fears of hurt and inadequacy.

One spouse justified their behavior and subsequent lack of closeness on their spouse’s treatment of them. The other justified his or her hurtful treatment on the lack of affection and appreciation they received. Neither questioned themselves regarding why they initially married or stayed with their cold, rejecting or abusive spouse. I should note those who did eventually divorce often returned to therapy, years later, regretting their behavior or singing the same song, second verse with a new partner.

It makes me think of a man who was imprisoned for 30 years. Every day he rattled the bars of his jail cell and shouted, “Let me out!” Upon his release he went into a world that had changed from iceboxes to refrigerators, calculators to computers and dial phones to “Dick Tracy”-style wrist phones. In search of something familiar, he raced to the corner drug store where he and his buddies used to hang out to find a high rise. In despair, he robs a convenience store across from the police station, is immediately caught and placed in a cell. Within the hour he begins to rattle the bars shouting, “Let me out!” In reality, the cell he wants out of is his security blanket. He abhors it, but it’s a place in which he knows how to cope. He’s no different from spouses in dysfunctional marriages who run from or stay in an unhappy relationships rather than choose to change themselves.

What you don’t see when you’re in an unhappy relationship is the “cell” you feel trapped in is one of your own making, that you’re responsible for your own behavior and you must stop blaming others for your actions or reactions.

As a child, you undoubtedly learned to protect yourself emotionally by becoming a depressed subservient victim or an abusive controlling bully, though neither behavior works long term. No matter which role you play, your behavior is explained by what others did or do. Their actions don’t justify or excuse you.

By age 21, you were free to make decisions, exercise your own judgment, and express your views, and many failed to outgrow the lessons you learned in childhood. Why, because there are many payoffs for remaining a child. You don’t have to take risks. You can blame others for your mistakes and shortcomings, feel anger toward them and view yourself a victim. In the end, whether you act in accordance with your early-learned rules or rebel against them, what you need to see now is you’re letting the wounded child inside you determine your adult actions and expectations.

The consequence is your loved ones now have to deal with your immature behavior. If they tolerate it, they reinforce it. If they don’t, you’ll see them as non-caring and rejecting, which either confirms your victim status or justifies your right to hurt them.  It would seem there is no solution to the problem. However, let me assure you there is one.

First, it requires you accept responsibility for your own behavior. Second, you need to learn from it and focus on who you want to be in the future. It becomes a case of your own truth setting you free and the acceptance of it, making you stronger and more accepting of you.

Let me assure you, it isn’t an easy course to steer. It’s far more difficult to learn to stand up for yourself than it is to blame others. It requires you honestly recognize who and what you have been in the past because it encourages you to change in the future.

In the process you must determine if you were too weak, too subservient, too compliant, or too intimidating and controlling a human being because too much of anything – be it good food, good wine, exercise or sleep – is pathological and destructive to you and your relationships and your emotional health.

Accordingly, too much denial and too little awareness of your own behavior can be more injurious to you than the early rearing you experienced as a child. Thus, it becomes essential you not only recognize and accept your past errors but realize you will make mistakes in the future because you’re human.

Don’t fight it. Learn from it and forgive you. As a result, you will hurt less and your life and relations with others will improve exponentially because people, who hurt, hurt others. Conversely people who are forgiving and kind to themselves are forgiving and kind to others.

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