ASK ABDI: HOW TO SAFELY BE THE REAL ME?

QUESTION: Recently, I had no choice but to start functioning more selfishly, and I was forced to stop playing the sweet female role. That all felt great, difficult but great. I got more and more comfortable with being a “bitch”, and I was able to start testing different methods out and it freed me up to be more productive. I stopped caring as much about what people thought of me because I was pissed at the way they treated me, and I could just focus on the job to get done (that I did well). During that time though, I remember feeling a lot of power and aggression. I kind of felt like I was turning into a monster and didn’t really know what to do with myself. In my personal life, I was selfishly taking care of myself because I had no choice: no time to chitchat over the phone, no time to caretake. A lot of my motivation came from an extreme level of fear that if I didn’t get better at taking care of myself, I would do something stupid. Then I got in a couple of “fights” with different people that I felt I needed to stand up to. And even with little things, I was just unnecessarily aggressive. It wasn’t quite right. I guess I felt destructive and I was not happy with where it got me… so I unconsciously reprimanded myself and turned back to caretaking because I needed to feel worthy again (especially since I had no “real” identity anymore).

All in all, I am really feeling that every move I make has a direct intense consequence and I’m scared to make any move right now. My gut says there are always direct consequences, but only lately am I able to see it more clearly and immediately, which makes everything feel more intense and dramatic. I guess the key is observing without judgment, taking note of what doesn’t work so well, and jumping back in the game and trying something different?

I feel like I must have jumped extremes and there is a better way to do the whole selfish/no obligation/take direct care of myself thing. I’m not just scared that I will have no identity/worth if I let go of being caretaker, I’m also scared that then there is nothing to stop me from just plowing my way through life, monster-style. When I let go and allow myself to just react, I’m often rude and ugly, but maybe things are going to be ugly for a bit before they get prettier? Or maybe ugly is really not that ugly? What am I not seeing here? I heard what you said yesterday about enjoying, no obligation, no perfection, etc., but do you have any words of caution to go along with that? Or just simply any insights, in general? Or am I just scared to jump in and seeking outside approval? How am I supposed to safely “be me”? And are there techniques to taking responsibility for the aftermath of “being me”?

ANSWER: The pendulum effect from nice to killer is because the truth is in the middle. And that truth takes time to connect to, so we go from what we know (caretaking) to protection (anger/rude). That happens for everyone until we learn to identify people, places, and things that trigger us. Also, internal emotional and physical states are a big player in how we react. H.A.L.T. is a good one from the 12-step program: Hunger, Anger, Loneliness, and Tired. These states make our threshold to correct behavior low.

The two modes that you describe, being nice and a “bitch”, are both attempts at manipulation instead of self-care. Sometimes one is nice because internally one feels that, or one is aggressive because an outside force is uncomfortably pushing against a boundary. But as we become more and more centered, our emotions and actions are not a reaction to the outside, but a reaction to the inside. That takes A LOT of time and practice, and it is never a done deal. If that is our weakness, we will have to eternally stay vigilant, but with time it does become more and more easy.

The initial step of raging towards those that we have allowed to treat us wrongly is normal. It might not be productive to friendships/pocketbook/self-image, but they are part and parcel of finding our center. That is conduct that we neither strive for nor want to keep around, but sometimes things need to blow up so they can be put back together in a healthy manner. What you describe about going back to unhealthy behavior of being nice is also a part of the healing. That yo-yo is how we right ourselves into a place where we are at the center. To learn to be oneself is an arduous process. It means dismantling all that we hide under. That can include relationships, jobs, roles, etc. Never pleasant. But that is a small price to pay for being fully alive under our own mantle.

One step at a time is a good mantra here.