Things I’ve been wrong about for most of my life, part one.

stronggirlI spent most of my life believing that if I said and did exactly the right thing no one would get mad at me, no one would misunderstand me and everything would work out. Every time anyone was mad at me, I took it as a personal failure, and tried to figure out what I’d done wrong and what I could do differently the next time. I mean, EVERY TIME. It was, and is, exhausting. Constantly replaying and rehashing each interaction, no matter how small, as if my brain were perpetually tuned to sports radio after a big game, analyzing the plays and the players, the coach’s decisions, the referee’s calls, the weather, the history, the fans.

I can’t remember exactly when it first occurred to me that there might not be the perfect thing to say, and that other people’s flaws and imperfections might be contributing to misunderstandings, too. It might have been college. At various points over the years that thought came back, and I’d have a few moments of peace. But then I’d go back to living as if I could figure out how to do the right thing and make every relationship and every interaction go smoothly.

Yet all the time there was something strong and confident within me that knew that I was trying my best, knew that I was examining my heart and my motives and being as honest with myself as I could, and wanted me to stand up for myself. She was a child in many ways, strong and stubborn, tearful yet not backing down. I often tried to push her down and tell her she was too childish, too proud. I told her what the adults had told me, that she was too stubborn and defensive, that she had to be humble and willing to see her faults and weaknesses, that she couldn’t always be right. I pushed her away and pushed her down. But she never left. She stayed there, at my center, refusing to be broken.

So this was my constant struggle, my self analysis and self denial, always going on internally but sometimes bursting out of me in frustration when I couldn’t make things right, no matter how hard I tried. And then, in 2009, a woman moved into my community. She was angry with me almost from the beginning. She misunderstood almost everything I said. And my self analysis kicked into high gear. I prayed constantly that I would be able to be a better friend and community member to her. I apologized for things she said hurt her, even when my meaning was completely different than what she took from my words. I tried to speak better, to follow the rules that she laid down, to say the right thing so as not to make her mad or hurt her. But the more I prayed and repented and tried to change, the more she said I was hurting her and the more anger I felt from her. A lot of things were going on in my life that needed my attention and energy, but I was putting 99% of it into trying to figure out how to speak and act and BE in order to make things right with this one person. And we lived together so there was no escape from the situation. I couldn’t speak, even to someone else while she was there, without being told I was wrong. After a while I stopped speaking almost entirely. I stopped coming out of my room. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

Then, one day, when she had been upset with me about something she thought I’d implied, and I’d tried to explain what I’d really meant, she wrote to me in an email: “You are the most defensive person I’ve ever known.”

Oh.

That stopped me in my tracks.

I thought, is that really possible? Am I really the most defensive person in the world, despite my best efforts?

Then I thought of the hours of prayer, of tears, of analysis, of effort I’d put into the relationship, and I thought, surely there are people who don’t put this much effort into figuring out what their flaws and faults are. I can’t be THE most defensive person she’s ever met. I feel like the least. I feel like I have no defense at all against this situation. I am not letting myself defend myself — I’m even going so far as to join in the attack.

And then I thought of that little girl. And I suddenly loved her so much. I suddenly thought, she’s right! She’s just a little girl but she’s trying to stand up for us. She’s trying to let us BE, let us LIVE without this constant struggle. She is doing what I won’t allow myself to do. She knows who she is. She knows who I am. And suddenly the words, “You are the most defensive person in the world,” took on another meaning to me. I thought of that little girl and I thought, GOOD! I WANT her to be defensive. I WANT her to protect herself and care for herself. STUBBORN and DEFENSIVE are good things! My community-mate might have thought she was saying something negative about me, but I realized — it was compliment! The little girl can defend herself! She can take care of herself. I can take care of myself.

And then I realized that I’d found what I’d been looking for all along: The thing that I was doing wrong, my fault, my flaw.
My fatal flaw turned out to be believing that I had a fatal flaw in the first place.

And so I stopped. I stood up for myself, in that relationship and in my head. I took Maya Angelou’s words as my truth: “You did what you knew how to do, and when you knew better you did better.” I stepped out of the striving and the analyzing and the “maturity” of self examination and I stepped into the skin of the strong little girl, who was stubborn and defensive and glad. I stopped repenting except when I was truly convicted of having done something wrong. And when that happened I said I was sorry and then forgave myself, regardless of whether the other person did or not.

It didn’t make that relationship better. If anything it made it worse. But it gave me back my life and my self. It gave me the energy to focus on the things I needed to do in my own life: My own healing and strengthening, my career, my other relationships, my faith. And eventually it gave me the strength to leave the community.

And now, of course, I forget that lesson. I forget all the time. Especially in Boston traffic. For some reason it’s so hard for me when people honk at me. I go back and watch the replay, listen to the commentators in my head, try to figure out how I could have driven better so as not to have gotten honked at. I have to remember, yet again, that it might not be my fault. Other people might have been driving poorly, or the driver might have been having a bad day, or she might have been honking just because people in Boston honk at each other. Or it may actually have been my fault. But that’s okay. As Ralph Waldo Emerson told himself,

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

Blunders and absurdities! That does sound like me. But I do try my best, and I will try my best again tomorrow. I will tuck the little girl into bed with praise and a glass of water. And I will let myself rest, as well.

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44 comments on “Things I’ve been wrong about for most of my life, part one.

  1. Judith Kunst says:

    Thank you for this. I was just re-reading some of my old journal entries, and found this quote from Brene Brown: “whole-hearted people are…willing to let go of the self they think they should be in order to be the self they are.” It’s funny how hard it can be to see that self, find that willingness.

    Like

  2. What strikes me is that when we feel anger it is often because we see something reflected in another that points out a flaw in ourselves that we don’t like much….in other words, when someone calls you the most defensive person in the whole world, it is quite possible she is talking not to you, but to her own reflection. I think that’s the key to forgiveness of self and others in a nutshell xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Lisa, very possibly true! Maybe the childhood taunt, “I know you are, but what am I?” holds more truth than we realized!

      Liked by 1 person

      • judithkunst says:

        A friend of mine was recently challenged by an Orthodox priest (who is her Qi Gong teacher) to try to consciously not defend herself in her speech for 24 hours. This exercise was a profound one for her that she’s continued. When I pondered the idea in my own life, it was hard to “get;” when I listened to my own words/inner thoughts I predominantly heard self-judgement rather than self-defense. A more potent exercise for me is to focus on the image of a soft heart in my encounters with others/my inner selves, or to seek ways to offer what Richard Rohr calls “a primal Yes” to any situation.

        Like

  3. […] couple of months ago I wrote an essay called, “Things I’ve been Wrong About Most of My Life, Part 1.” It was about learning to stop judging and critiquing myself all the time, to let go of the […]

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  4. You cannot imagine the perfect timing this is for me to find and read. I am a 59 year old little girl in this post! Thank you for sharing your writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Amanda Goins says:

    I needed to tell you that I also have a little girl inside, who is “too sensitive,”too defensive,” just “too.” And I want to defend her, let her speak up and be heard and valued. I should defend her and her feelings and her words and thoughts! She IS right! This is exactly how I have felt for years, and I love you for writing it out. Absolutely wonderful. You are the JAM.

    Like

  6. I’m at that point where I want to throw my hands up and say I quit. I quit trying too damn hard to be good – to be better. I just want to be and accept myself. This is a great post! Good for you and thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. juliedno says:

    You describe the exact process I went through with a friendship recently. I, too, have come out the other side, wiser and wounded, but wiser. Last year I wrote a book for adult faith formation and included a chapter on friendship. As I worked on that chapter, I asked my FB friends to describe how toxic friendships (or frenemies) made them feel. I was taken aback by the depth of the comments. It seems to me that the experience of friendship between (as Glennon Melton Doyle of Momestary put it) neurotics and narcissists is common and damaging. Thanks so much for your words.

    If you have a chance to check out my blog, I’d be honored. http://www.diennodemarest.com.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love this. Thank you for posting it!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Karen Moon says:

    I can relate to much of what you wrote. It was such an empowering realization when I discovered that not only is it not always my fault, but that to the people who continually think it is, you can walk away. ;). Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. jhelenadams says:

    Yes. This is exactly how I feel. Thank you for these words you have also shared! I am working with a wonderful psychoanalyst to deal with exactly this issue in my life (well, and a host of related ontes) after burning out a few years ago and ending up in the hospital during pregnancy. I ended up screaming one day in therapy early on, “I don’t want to be a good girl anymore” because it had exhausted me. So many years of doing the same thing you describe in my head and trying so hard to please everyone and thinking then no one would “yell” or honk or otherwise be aggressive or annoyed with me. And that would help me feel safe. But instead I was attacking myself all the time to stay in line. I didn’t even realize that until the little girl inside yelled out that she had had enough. Hearing your words about your own journey is very encouraging and empowering to realise we are not alone. Peace to you. Look forward to following your blog now that I ran across it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. michelemorin says:

    Truth! For years I believed the lie that if I did “A”, my children would respond with “B” and all would be well. Then, I actually HAD children, and learned that they are separate, sentient beings who . . . just might not do “B” after all, no matter what I do. This opened my eyes to the very thing you are writing about: blunders and absurdities, flaws, they all happen, but God is the one who is sovereign. He’d like me to get out of the way and let Him do His job.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Thanks for posting this. I also have a tendency to assume that everything that goes wrong is all my fault! I love how much grace was being released as I read it. Also had a little smile at the bit about the honking cars… When we moved to the middle east from England it took me a while to realise that not everyone that honked the horn was incandescent with rage, and that it wasn’t always me that was in the wrong place!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Kelly W says:

    Words that speak to those of us who think it’s always our fault: “… if you could feel bad enough to fix all the anger, all the sadness, that would be quite the trick…” from
    http://craigcardiff.bandcamp.com/track/a-prayer-for-you-2

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thanks, everyone that has stopped by and commented! Welcome to my little blog. It’s really true, I think, that the things that make us feel most alone often turn out to be the same things we have most in common with others.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. crushedcorn says:

    “My fatal flaw turned out to be believing that I had a fatal flaw in the first place.” Yes. Thank you. That line makes me want to cry, to tear at my hair, to stand unmoving in the rain. I often feel like there is something REALLY wrong with me, something that makes me awkward in crowds, something that doesn’t allow me to really feel like me. Thank you for the strength and the inspiration to try to be me regardless of how that makes other people feel.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Rebekah Coval says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I have always struggled in a similar way. When I was 19 I wrote the following poem in response to the Emerson quote:

    Let me not think on yesterday’s blunders,
    for yesterday huddles
    under another setting sun–
    one which has been set and is done.
    Witnessing my shame,
    it did not cease to rise and
    make light again.

    I pack my blunders into the folds of my Savior’s arms
    where they can rest
    from the weight that carries on
    into distress,
    it tarries on
    until all that’s left is everything that’s wrong.

    But, yes…
    my mistakes are hidden in the breast of another,
    in the blood of my lover;
    that’s who I hide under.

    Tomorrow the sun will rise–
    I’ll toil and try,
    lose and find myself all before night time.
    Write another night rhyme,
    pause, reflect, and sigh–
    wonder why I did
    this, that and every other thing
    that could been have left behind.

    All to run back to His side
    and cry,
    “Let mercy be mine, Lord;
    Let mercy my mine.”

    Liked by 1 person

  17. That’s beautiful, Rebekah! Thank you for sharing it.

    Like

  18. Amy Reineri says:

    The honking horn is so ambiguous, like the barking of a dog. Usually it means: “I am frustrated, I am going to be late. It is my fault but someone help me – though I realize you cannot.” Horn honking is the desperate cat-call of moving (non-moving) traffic. It is the lowing of the cow so far from the milking station that it knows it is not next in line, but it is in pain none-the-less. Feel empathy for the honking driver, but no remorse. They could have left earlier, they could have worked for a less demanding company, they could have managed their expectations better. The wonder is not that so many people sound their horn, the wonder is that not everyone does nearly every hour of the day.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Meredith W. says:

      True in many instances, I imagine, but someone honking at me late one night probably saved my life. I was drifting off behind the wheel no more than two blocks from home…and drifting towards oncoming traffic. Every once in a while, we *need* someone to honk at us. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  19. Rhonda says:

    Thank you, from me and that little girl who has tried all these years. I no longer have to gut myself daily searching. I’ve shared this and found another friend it helped. Your post sparked an epiphany for me. I’m free. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  20. reneeliamrhys says:

    Thanks for your post. I came across it through Momastry on Facebook.
    You used a very similar picture to what I used a year ago for a blog post….that’s why it caught my eye 🙂
    Mine came from morgueFile free photos. Courtesy hotblack
    http://www.alexa-asimplelife.com/family-fun-the-simple-way/

    Like

  21. i saw a lot of my own thoughts in that article – thank you. and loved the quote, too! wrote a similar blog about self-defense (against meddling mummies) if you’d like to read it 🙂 meetmeonamountaintop.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Riham says:

    THANK YOU Jessica…. one day at a time, one hour at a time… one blog post at a time, it’s amazing to see all these women bloggers sharing their lives so we can all learn from one another even if we’re separated by thousands of miles (in terms of geography as well as culture).

    Happy New Year to you all,
    Love,
    Riham

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Thanks for Sharing beautiful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Reblogged this on Patience with Questions and commented:
    Well, this writer knows my soul.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Just read this and re-blogged it and shared the link on my Facebook Page. As the Quaker’s would say, “This spoke to my condition.” Blessings on you!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Faith says:

    Thank you so much for this. All of a sudden I don’t feel quite so alone. I have only just started being me…unafraid…free…real. It’s the most amazing feeling ever.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Rudey's Room says:

    I love this! Thanks for sharing. I’m a recovering perfectionist, so this piece really rang out to me. I am like you: “Constantly replaying and rehashing each interaction, no matter how small, as if my brain were perpetually tuned to sports radio after a big game, analyzing the plays and the players, the coach’s decisions, the referee’s calls, the weather, the history, the fans.” I have to intentionally stop my mind from going there and remind myself that I’m enough and let myself be.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. […] my day job soon. But today I wanted to tell you this: When I wrote the first part of this series, Things I’ve been wrong about my whole life, part one, I shared something from that secret part of myself. I had never felt more alone or more on the […]

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  29. Whenever I’ve been afraid that I said/did the wrong thing, I call the ensuing inner monologue “broken record syndrome.” Somehow, have a name for it (and maybe a box to put it in?) snatched away just enough of its power that I can — most of the time, and with considerable effort — shut it down. Incidentally, I take honking that personally, too. You should hear me yell my defenses at the drivers who are long gone…

    This was beautifully written and all-too-easy to empathize with. Much love, friend 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Sue Ann says:

    Jessica, this is such a beautiful and touching entry. I believe what I love most about it, is that the need to be perfect and to assume blame resonates with so many women. While that’s not necessarily a good thing, there is comfort and strength in community and sisterhood.

    There are a few lines from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem that I go to time and time again. They speak to me of imperfection, redemption, wholeness, responsibility, beauty, the list changes with each reading. Perhaps you’ll like it too. Simple Genius.

    Ring the bells that can still ring,
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. accsoleh says:

    i love this, thanks for sharing..

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Larry says:

    thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  33. ChimeraCat says:

    I’ve been in this situation, although it was with my mother. There are some people with whom you just can’t win. I’ve found that as I’ve started to learn who I am, the people who didn’t like it and protested the loudest were the ones who were bringing me down. However, I’ve also found that the awesome people who encourage me and challenge me to be better grew closer.

    Thank you for a thoughtful, thought-encouraging post.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. valerieerwin says:

    I am new to your blog so this is only the second article I’ve read. but I cannot imagine that any of the others could be more powerful than this. this is fabulous!

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Morag says:

    I have the same reaction to people honking in traffic!!

    Liked by 1 person

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