(Charlie): The other day I caught myself feeling like a victim. Again. I’ve been writing and teaching about responsibility and accountability long enough to know that whenever I feel victimized by someone or something, there’s usually (like about 99.9% of the time) something for me to learn from that experience. And about 99.8% of the time, I’m not, at least initially, very enthusiastic to find out what the lesson is. This particular instance was no exception. I was feeling overloaded, overtired, and resentful, all of which I’ve come to recognize as symptoms of putting more on my plate than is really good for me.
Admittedly, there is a part of me that is attached to seeing myself as a good guy who can be there for anyone, anytime, with whatever is needed. I guess you could say that I’m a recovering helper. And I’ve even got a graduate degree in social work to prove it! As a very experienced helper, I’m generally pretty mindful of the symptoms of over-giving. They include the three that I just mentioned, as well as feeling burdened, irritable, grumpy, and holding unresolved grievances.
Fortunately, in recent years, I’ve become much more acutely aware of these symptoms when they (less frequently than in the past) show up and hijack my generally good mood. Connecting the dots to recognize the cause/effect relationship between my feelings and the part that I play in creating them seems to be the key to putting in the corrections that bring me back to “normal”. These days it doesn’t take too long, usually no more than a few hours. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of minutes before I’m back to being “myself” again.
I currently live in a mood of gratitude almost all of the time, which seems to make it a lot more pleasant for others to be around me, and for me to be around myself. That’s probably why I (and others) am so quick to notice when I’m feeling grumpy. The difference is obvious because I no longer spend much time being that “self”.
The most-frequently called-for corrections when I am guilty of neglecting myself or over-giving, have to do with giving myself a healthy dose of responsible self-care, putting a temporary moratorium on placing anything that isn’t absolutely necessary on my plate for a while, taking some things off my incomplete list if that is possible, getting support or assistance with handling them when it’s not, renegotiating agreements that are stressing me out, forgiving myself for slipping into the black hole again, and apologizing to anyone to whom I may have offended or upset with my behavior or communications.
The last two are particularly important to me, especially the part about apologizing. Apologizing for me isn’t as much about admitting to a transgression in order to receive forgiveness, but rather, it’s the means through which I confirm that I have been in some way unkind, disrespectful, or insensitive to another and taking responsibility for my actions. This relieves others of any concern that they may have that they were in some way at fault for my responses to them.
While they may also bear some responsibility if there has been a breakdown in our relationship, it is their business to deal with that and not mine to point it out to them, but more importantly, at least to me, is that in acknowledging my behavior and my responsibility for it, I am affirming to myself the reality of the consequences of my actions. And in so doing, I am creating a deeper and more lasting impression of the lesson that I need to learn in order to minimize the likelihood of repeating this pattern. Entrenched habits don’t die quickly or easily, but with practice and clear intentionality, they do weaken and diminish over time. They show up with less and less frequency, and they are neutralized more quickly and effectively.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be completely free of the impulse to default to feelings of self-pity and irritability when I overload myself, but for me that’s no longer the point. Knowing what I need to do to minimize the eruption of these tendencies and putting practices in place that will prevent them from taking my generally positive attitude hostage, for very long anyway, is good enough for me. And who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and find that I can get a permanent victim-ectomy. I’m not too hopeful about that one. But who knows? Anything’s possible!