Recently I was on an airplane watching a show in which two adult women were discussing a falling out they’d had. One of the women, upon being confronted with a description of her behavior, replied by saying “Well, that’s just HOW I AM and I can’t change that.” Once I finished judging her for her ridiculous closed-mindedness, I came to realize that I’ve used this excuse hundreds of times myself. So I began writing this down: There’s a choice here that we can explore. None of us are any ONE way. We choose who we are, moment to moment, day to day and year after year.
A close-to-home example: in the heat of a recent error in judgment on my part, I indulged in typically self-punishing, exhausting thinking. However, for the first time in my adult life, I actually stopped to breathe — and sensed the dramatically escalating inner pain literally squeezing my heart. I felt the tension emanating through my torso and down into my hands. For the first time, in that moment, I ASKED, in the silence of my own heart, for an opening. And I received that opening; from there I entered into a state of inquiry.
What IS this feeling? Can’t I just be sorry and move onward without this wild need to punish myself with sabotaging thoughts or actions?
I leaned over the metaphorical edge of the well of self-judgment, and instead of plunging into the usual damaging free-fall, I held myself still. I remembered a line from a great track, “Live through this, and you won’t look back.” I got really quiet inside, and the moment passed through, releasing my heart on its way out.
In the asking, I realized that trajectory from damaging thought to damaging behavior is simply NOT a path for me anymore. At my heart, I’m NOT a person who needs to be punishing herself with self-blame and self-destruction for making mistakes. It’s simply been a choice I’ve made in the past.
My point is, when I ceased to engage with my “usual” tendencies, and truly paid attention to what those habitual thoughts were doing to me, they ceased holding me hostage. In that moment of choice, I realized that those expressions of self-loathing were actually inefficient attempts at deflecting attention away from my actions! Using this well-honed but very destructive escape hatch of “hating myself” to avoid taking responsibility, I’d actually found a way to make those around me feel bad for me. In lieu of a clear-eyed apology, I’d make it even more about me.
So to set an efficacious example for my son, instead of now stating “that’s how I AM,” I have chosen to change gears. In that moment, instead of transforming my mistakes into an inappropriate, attention getting self-hatred session…I just apologized.
Please pardon that digression; that’s a whole lot of information to arrive at a constructive choice, which I can hopefully convey in the following contemplations.
- What are the words I use to tell others about myself?
- How do those descriptions of myself shift when I am talking to someone I’d like to impress?
- Especially in a heated moment, when I know I’ve erred, do I try to escape an apology?
With these questions, I’ve chosen to starkly observe the ways in which I have sabotaged my own free will. I have chosen to identify the way I have, until now, chosen to negatively alter my own state of being. I stand still, and choose not to be too hard on myself. I have taken to remembering that I needn’t be a slave to what has, until now, always been true.
I want (and need) to be making choices about who and how I am.