I’m trying to be still.
I’m not quite sure what I mean by that, but I’m going to feel my way toward it here, if you’ll hold my hand and bear with me. We’ll get there.
I’m not one of those people who can’t be convinced they’re wrong. As a people-pleasing perfectionist, I tend to be pretty sure that I’m the problem in every situation, and I’m all too happy to excise myself for the good of the group. In trying to unpack my own bruised brain and get past this, I’ve found it useful to write out the assumptions I seem to be operating under at any given moment, to make it clear to myself what old survival strategies or kneejerk responses I’m playing out with my behavior or reactions. Then I can go, “Okay, I’m acting like X is true, but is that something I really believe? Is that even reasonable?”
So when I make a mistake at work, say – in any situation where I feel as if there’s an authority over me – my response seems to start from this perspective:
- Each eyelash flicker, each gesture, each mote of dust on the desk is noted. All mistakes, no matter how small, are seen and remembered. By the time you make a REAL mistake (which you will,) you will already be deep in the hole with infinitesimal errors.
- You are so very lucky to be here, to have this. Your every fuckup proves that. Anyone who pays any attention to you at all is doing you a favor. Demonstrate your gratitude with every move you make if you wish to stay.
- Asking for help is an immediate disqualification. If we wanted to do it ourselves, we would have done it ourselves – we asked you to do it and you said you could. Are you saying you can’t now? What’s the point of having you here, then?
This means that when I really screw up… I tend to burn that bridge right down. Made a mistake at work? Welp, guess I just quit that job. I find it very hard to stand by the decisions I make, even if I have good reasons for them. When I do something worthy, I want to get away from it – it makes me uncomfortable to admit it’s mine. When I do something shitty, I want to get away from it – because it is mine, it’s all of me, big enough to obscure anything good I might ever do.
But… I hate myself so much more for a lifetime spent running, trying to hide, than I have for any mistake I’ve ever made. I’ve never been so goddamn bad at anything as to deserve what I’ve done to myself, what I’ve denied myself, what I’ve let pass me by. It was never my mistakes that destroyed me – it was the fact that I was only ever allowed to make one. I don’t have to keep repeating that pattern. I don’t have to disqualify myself after one failed attempt. That’s not actually a fair or functional way to treat anyone, and it’s not how people learn. It’s stupid, and it doesn’t make sense.
It’s okay to say that. It’s okay to say: they told me it was for my own good, to make me better. But they were wrong. It’s not just that they were cruel, they were also wrong, irrational, ill-intentioned. What they were doing was never going to work. It was never going to help. And maybe, just maybe… it was never really meant to.
To stop perpetuating this pattern, I have to confront that uncomfortable fact: maybe not everything my family did was for my benefit. Maybe they didn’t try as hard as they could have. Maybe I actually did deserve better.
The distressing truth is, we would rather believe that we had it coming, that we were born broken, that we were never enough, than believe that someone we love treated us badly for no reason. You have to believe you – the child – were the problem, because the alternative is so monstrous. You have to believe love looks like that… because if it doesn’t, that means they didn’t love you.
There’s a lot of stuff back there that I don’t want to face. I think… I think I started running for a good reason, but there’s a point at which you realize the footsteps you hear on your heels might… just… be your fear now, and the echoes of your own. And there’s no way to know for sure but to turn around and check.
Pay attention. Are you watching closely?
You’ll miss the most when you don’t expect to,
and it won’t be data that protects you.
Trust me – you are where you’re supposed to be.
Lingering is the hardest skill to learn.
Starting from the premise that you’re worthless,
momentum can feel just enough like purpose –
better than watching all your bridges burn.
Turn around. Sit down and talk. Have a beer.
Come warm your hands at the fires you lit,
swallow that oversized mouthful you bit,
admit to yourself that you’re really here.
They’ll chase you just as far as you permit,
but if you run from them, you let them steer.