by Jennifer Sey
I've always worried a lot, panicked in some instances, about whether I'm doing things right. In a way that might bring approval. In a way that avoids descriptions like lazy, unfocused, undisciplined, stupid, mean. This is cowardly, I am sure. I don't want to see those scathing words attached to my name, so I toil against them. Not for something, but against something. Avoidance.
I don't know if it started when I was a young gymnast. My coaches were very critical and I would have done anything to avoid that raging criticism, avoidance of it amounted to praise - or if it was simply honed there. My therapist - who I haven't seen in some time, but probably should, many of my friends would assert - said that it was innate in me, but that it was sharpened through gymnastics. Because it worked. In my desire to extract approval, I worked very hard. Sometimes against my own best interests (broken ankle, dragged behind me, training still - I didn't realize this would have repercussions later in life). And when I worked very hard, I met some degree of success. So there you have it. Fear of disapproval --> tenacity --> moderate success -->avoidance of disapproval --> more hard work --> more moderate success.
So it is who I am and that is fine. I've come to accept it, I think. I've turned it over and over, looked at it from many angles. In a desire to make others proud or at least not mad, I work. I take blame sometimes deserved, sometimes maybe not, though I never believe that when my boss tells me so (this wasn't you, you know?) He's missing my role in it, I think. He's being nice, because I beat him to the punch. But in all this self-flagellation, I achieve something. And make myself proud. I am reminded here of Amy Chua's philosophy on parenting, which she claims is "Chinese" in nature. Be hard on your kids, make them work beyond what they would ever feel was comfortable, because you believe in them, because it will make them successful. Not being exceedingly tough on them - in her case demanding hours of violin practice a day, no TV or sleepovers, calling one daughter 'garbage' in public - amounts to not believing in them, prompting failure. My coaches must have been secretly Chinese.
Anyway, I now find myself wondering, extremely anxious, about whether I'm separating from my husband right. Whether I'm making him mad. I know I already made him very mad. And very sad. I left. I fucked up. My egregious mistakes feel unrecoverable and irrevocable. In my heart, I can't see what he's done in this, though when I read old journals, I know in my head, he did stuff. I just don't feel it. And it doesn't matter anyway, I know, because here we are. No point is divvying up blame now, is there?
But maybe I can make up a little ground by being good at getting a divorce. My past mistakes are something I will have to learn to live with. Something that will grow duller over time, I hope. You'd like to think that by willing something enough - I am desperate to take that back, that action, those words - you could actually change what happened. But you can't. It doesn't stop you from trying, playing it over and over in your mind. If only...
But now, in the moment, am I doing this right? This thing I can still change because I haven't fully done it yet. Am I being nice? Am I being fair? Is he getting what he needs? Does he have enough money? I just dropped my kids off at his house and find myself wondering, is he madder than normal? Have I done something wrong today? How do I fix it? How do I avoid making him hurt more? Do I ask him? No. Doesn't seem possible given how little we speak. So I am guessing. Inaccurately, I am almost certain.
Can I let go of trying to satisfy his expectations? Should I? If I do, will it change my entire orientation to the world, to life? And is that good or bad?
At worst, I'm a people pleaser. At best, I'm driven. How do I lose the first, and keep the second? How does a person accept appropriate blame, but not carry the whole of it around all the time? Accountability, but with limits, with - I hate this word, but can't think of another - boundaries. In marriage, in work, in child rearing. If I don't learn it, it's going to eat me up. So I better get on it, work on pleasing myself.
That came out wrong. You know what I mean.