Learning and growing December 9, 2013Posted by Shaun McGonigal in Culture and Society.
Tags: Mental Health, relationships, responsibility
Sometimes shit gets real. We all make mistakes, we have people hurt us, and we become emotional and life gets hard. Welcome to Earth. Hopefully, we have people close to us who we trust and who trust us despite the fact that mistakes will be made. Because mistakes will be made. But what do we do about it?
First, don’t be defensive and don’t beat yourself more than is proportionate.
Start with the assumption that you did something wrong to cause the situation you are currently debugging. Also, start with the assumption that your super powers for mayhem are not so vast that other people don’t have any responsibility for the circumstances before you, and that you are not completely to blame. There are some people out there who blame themselves first, and some who blame others first. In both cases, intelligent people can rationalize their tendency, and we all need to be aware of that. Otherwise, some people take too much blame, while others will deny theirs (or, more likely, forget about it later). The truth is important, and we sometimes need to force ourselves to adopt a more objective perspective in order to see around our own biases and faults.
Other people can help us do that, so listen to them. That leads me to the next piece of advice.
Actively listen. I don’t mean to merely stop talking, but actively listen rather than defensively react. I mean shut off your defensive rationalization powers for a little while and accept that what people say might be worth trying to internalize. The people that know you, love you, and are willing to talk to you when shit gets real are not trying to fuck with your head. If they are saying that it’s not all your fault, it probably isn’t all your fault (or all your responsibility). If they are saying you are at fault, figure out why and what you are going to do about it (insofar as it is your responsibility).
When we are emotional, we are not ideally rational. We sometimes think we are rational in such cases, especially if we are repressing some tough emotions, but that is a lie our brain tells us when it’s in defense mode. Insecurity and fear create firewalls and other mechanisms to protect your operating system of a mind in order to (in effect) maintain the part of you that is fucking up. Our intelligence can too easily be used to conserve the things about us we would ideally like to change. Realize that, and then keep it in mind for when you plan on upgrading your software.
In other words, don’t let yourself slip back into your standard behavior, since that is likely part of the cause. When the battle or war is over, we don’t necessarily go home and keep on keeping on, because that might have been part of what started the fighting. You absolutely must realize that our normal, every-day behavior is probably the cause of some future tension, because it is bothering or hurting someone else. And if you don’t think or care about this, then your fault compounds the longer you ignore this. This leads me to another piece of advice.
Try and identify the cause of the mistake. All too often, we address the symptoms of the problem, rather that honestly deal with the underlying cause. All too often, the cause is fear, insecurity, and related daemons. And when the smoke clears, and those feelings are not banging on the door, we forget that they still exist, quietly, under the surface. If, like me, you spent years learning to meditate and to be always aware of the daemons running under most of your daily noise (as much as possible, anyway), you will know that those daemons are always nearby and are just waiting to be called into action by circumstances; triggers. If you have not done that work, you may be completely oblivious to your own daemons. But I guarantee you that other people close to you are aware of them, and probably know some of your triggers (to avoid them, mostly to keep you from freaking out and making shit get get).
Triggers can be just about anything. They can be a tone of voice, a smell, a word, a type of social interaction, etc. For me, it is things like lack of consideration of my time and space (especially by people close to me). It is also being restrained for no reason. What do you mean I can’t be critical of religion? Fuck you and your gods! What do you mean I can’t love more than one person and manage a relationship with them? Fuck you and your monogamy! What do you mean I can’t rob that bank? Fuck you and your laws!
OK, maybe not so much that last one. Morality, after all, is superior to even my own personal desire for bank-robbing. For me, the rank of considerations are: 1) Morality 2) interpersonal considerations (things like consent, preferences of people around me as well as my own) and 3) law. And really, I only care about the law insofar as it is a legislation of morality. The reason I don’t go through red lights has much more to do with concerns for efficiency and considerations for safety than it has to do with the fact that it’s a moving violation. If there were no fine, I would still not do it in the vast majority of cases.
Our emotions, whether marinated in fear or whatever else, are responsible for more of our behavior than even the most intelligent and rational of us realize. We are never fully (or perhaps even mostly) free from emotional influence. In my case (having Borderline Personality Disorder), the effects are more severe and worrisome, but that only means that I deal with it all the time rather than only occasionally. Most of us have the capability of losing our shit and making (and often rationalizing) bad decisions.
What is important is not merely sliding by and going back to normal after things calm down. We need to remember that the daemon is still running under everything, and it’s only a matter of time before it launches an attack on our executive functions again. So, after you have dealt with the symptoms, go back and dig deep into yourself and figure out the nature of the cause. Be willing to give up your habits of behavior, even your deepest preferences, because they might be the causes. You might have to change drastically, especially if you don’t want to.
I am not the same man I was 10 years ago. I have made mistakes which have alienated me from people I loved in the past, and I spent the time to make huge changes in my ability to communicate, deal with difficult feelings, etc. And there is still much more for me to do. I will never stop evolving and changing based on what I learn, especially from my mistakes. But I had to first learn that it was possible that everything I believed was wrong. I had to start, like a skeptic, to question even my own deepest values. I had to be willing to, as Nietzsche called it, be an archaeologist of my own soul, and dig out artifacts that were not mine so much as they were influencing the culture of my own mind in ways I didn’t like or fully understand.
It would have been much easier to remain the selfish, manipulative, and rationalizing person I sometimes was while younger (not always, mind you). I could have kept moving down another path of growth (or lack of growth) and subsequently turned into a man I would not have been happy being, but who also would have been more acceptable to our culture (because I would have been ‘monogamous’ and otherwise mainstream). In our culture, it is easier to be a manipulative cheater than responsibly polyamorous. It is more acceptable to be defensive and “respectful” of religion, rationalizing the cognitive dissonances so many people carry, than to be an honest critic.
It is easier to not grow, than to do the real work of growth. Because not doing real personal work towards growing is so common in our culture that it often looks like it is a value of our culture, rather than a plague. Because we are so good at pretending to grow and change while only doing enough to pass, that we end up stagnating. For real growth, we need to sometimes dig deeper than we are comfortable doing, and challenge every aspect of our behavior and beliefs. We can’t hide behind excuses. We have to do it openly, and make ourselves vulnerable.
All too often we don’t do this–myself included!–all because of fear and insecurity. We call it protecting ourselves or something like that, but it’s just an excuse, a rationalization, because it’s scary. No shit it’s scary.
So, let’s be scared together, rather than be scared separately.