As we all know by now, my goal currently (and for the last 25 years) has been to not be crazy.
Actually, I take that back. I like my crazy. I like my energy, I like my moods and creativity and the spectrum of ways I experience the world. I like my good crazy.
But then there’s my bad crazy.
Sometimes, for seemingly no reason at all, I start crying. I get really, really scared and down, and I can’t shake it.
It predominantly happens at night, after drinking and when I’m getting tired, and it happens because I get upset in my relationship. It’s usually something he doesn’t do – something that makes me scared he doesn’t care, or he’s changed his mind about me.
Obviously, this is incredibly unstable. If I’m in a happy relationship where we love each other – all the time – lunch together, dinner together, laughing together, a home together – how could the wrong look or the wrong response at the wrong time send me into such a tailspin?
It’s by far the worst thing I do. By far. If you told me I could exchange never doing this again for 20 lbs that I wouldn’t be able to get rid of I’d take you up on it and enjoy being a frumpy little stable lady. But, sadly, that’s not an option.
Now here’s the big news:
Today, for the first time in my year and a half with Chase (and the relationships I had before where I did this same thing) I realized where those tears come from.
You don’t understand – I’ve been actively working through this, trying to figure it out, for years. Years, people. Therapy, prozac, thousands of bottles of wine, hundreds of workouts (yes, more wine than workouts- stop judging me), and today I just - understood.
First of all, although I haven’t read any of it, I think just by “owners osmosis” my Chaos to Clarity book is totally working.
Second, I followed all of my own advice – and it WORKED! People, I’m good. I should listen to myself more often.
Here was what I did:
1. I drew boundaries
2. I was authentic
3. I made space
4. I was gentle
5. I accepted myself
.. and then, although it wasn’t the problem at hand, the storm clouds of my brain gave way to this little rainbow and it was like “Oh, Jen, as a reward for you doing what you’re supposed to do today, we’re going to reward you with that little bit of self-knowledge you’ve been looking for for about 4 years.” Plop. Then it was in my brain. The thing that had been under my nose this whole time. It was just – right there.
I’ve been looking for unconditional positive regard.
During development, infants and children internalize the praise and criticisms of their environment, incorporating conditions of worth into their self-concept. From Rogers’ perspective, an environment of unconditional positive regard, the belief that one is accepted unconditionally, is essential to the process of self-actualization. When faced with incongruence, a self-actualizing individual will be capable of accepting the discrepancies between their real and ideal selves in confidence that they are valuable in spite of these evidences of their imperfections. Rogers argues that it is the existence of an unconditional support system that empowers this individual to gradually confront and let go of the unrealistic components of their idealized self-image. An individual without this safety net, one who believes that only their ideal self, the self they have created in order to meet the perceived conditions of the environment, is worthy of love will respond rigidly and fearfully to evidence that contradicts the mask of their public persona. In this case, because they believe their worth is dependent on externally imposed rules, this individual lives in a state of fear and anxiety that blocks them and gradually distances them from the internal compass of their real self (read more..)
I’ve been afraid that no matter how much someone loves me, if I do the wrong thing it will disappear – because that’s what conditional love is.
Conditional love is terrifying. It means that everything that matters to you can just evaporate, in a heartbeat.
But today, in the newfound emotional space made by all of the aforementioned steps, I listened to my conversations with Chase. It was like being an observer while also being the actor. It was a bit out of body. I also had a really intense energy drink, so that could be contributing to this whole experience.
Anyways, there’s a lot going on. Basically, I had a falling out with one of my best friends. I haven’t had a fight with a girlfriend in YEARS, much less a full-blown falling out. But it happened. I won’t go into the whole thing, but I have just not been my best self around her, and she doesn’t have much grace with me. Yet she thinks she does, and gets angry at me and belittles me for the way I am. But in some ways, I can’t blame her – I do act a bit crazier when she’s around. But part of that is because I feel judged around her, and I feel insecure, and I fall into the crazy spiral I was telling you about.
So at the end of the day, I drew a boundary. I accepted my authentic self, and stood up for my imperfect self. It’s hard to stand up for our imperfect selves, because they’re imperfect. But I love me, and I know why I do what I do, and I was sorry for the imperfect things I had done, and instead of having grace she just kept berating me.
After all of this, I didn’t sleep more than 3 or 4 hours last night.
I woke up anxious around 5 am and went to the gym, feeling sad and scared and shitty about myself.
But I got on that Stairmaster, and I thought of my Italian dad. I thought of what he would say if someone chewed him out the way she chewed me out. He would never tolerate that. He would look at them, dead in the eyes, with an intensity reserved for Italian fathers, and he would make it very clear he would never be spoken to like that. I used to be like that, too. I wondered what had happened to my old attitude, the strong independent Jen that would never stand for someone berating her like that. No, I’m not perfect, but I didn’t do a single thing out of cruelty or malevolence. I was just me. And if you’re going to just start yelling at me? You can GTFO. I used to be amazing at making space, at knowing the people that brought out the best in me, the people that I had mutual grace with, the people I could be myself around.. what happened? When did I let go of the Italian girl that had the pride to stick up for herself?
What happened is I built a life with someone.
Now I know what you’re thinking – what on earth could your relationship have to do with being in a friendship that wasn’t working, right?
It has everything to do with it.
See, Chase and I built our life around many things, and one of those big things is our friends. Our friends. I was terrified that if I spoke up, if I built those boundaries and stood up for myself the way single-take-no-bullshit Jen would have that somehow I would mess up this little life we have. This deep part of me believed that what we have is so fragile that it wouldn’t be capable of readjusting, or something. I was afraid that this life – this life that I love so fucking much – was conditional.
And so, in finding a relationship, I suddenly had conditional arrangements with myself. “As long as…” everything will be OK, Chase will still love you, your life will move on. The moment those “as long as” conditions start entering the equation, you begin to distance from your authentic self. Yes, the movements are small, but I would venture to say that every tiny inch off of that platform of our authentic self is like moving the Earth inches off of its axis. Suddenly, everything is off balance. Suddenly, you have one too many glasses of wine and he – the one you’re changing all of this for – looks at you weird, and you’re completely unhinged. Somehow, with falling in love and wanting something to work, I completely fell of my axis. And then, anytime you threw stress/alcohol/fatigue/a normal argument into the mix, I just couldn’t handle it.
So anyways, in watching us today, in watching how he spoke to me, I prodded a bit. His mom is in town, and I was worried about what we should do while she’s here. I told him I want it to be perfect. “What if it isn’t perfect?” he said. “Well,” I responded, “then she might not be excited that I’m with you. She might not be happy about me.” Chase’s response? “Who cares, Jen?”
Correction, upon Chase reading this and gchatting me:
Chase: that’s not what I said!
I said “it’s perfect anytime you’re there and we’re together”
not “who cares”
And so I pushed it further. I asked him about this friendship, if we don’t make up and it changes the group dynamic, and – well – he didn’t care. He still loves our friends (as do I), but the idea that things could be evolving didn’t throw him into the tailspin I for some reason thought it would.
And then, even though I’ve been an emotional wreck, I show up to meet him at lunch and he smiles and gives me kisses and we share a sandwich and everything is just fine.
And that was when I realized – I’m in unconditional love. I don’t need to overreact, or be so scared, because he doesn’t care if our life changes, he just loves our life, just like I do.
And just like anyone in love, he’s more in love with me when I’m happy. What makes me happy? Sticking up for myself. Feeling confident in my Italian pride. Not letting myself be berated. Knowing how to make space. Reaching out to the girlfriends that have seen me do far, far worse and just love to laugh about it with me. When I’m living life like that, I glow. I laugh. I don’t cry. I feel safe.