Every time I feel stuck in life is a good time to admit to myself that I feel like someone owes me.
On the surface, it’s usually true: I gave them my time. I helped them come up with an idea. I lent them money.
So the thinking goes, they must give something back. Now. Because I need it. Because it’s the right thing for them to do. It’s what is supposed to happen.
Right? But also because I am stuck, and I depend on them to get me unstuck.
What a life. Longing for independence whilst shirking responsibility and placing blame. The others owed me. I gave them stuff. So now they gotta give some back.
DUDE — I think to myself now. That is not how it works.
If I lent you money, knowing you have not been the person that gives it back as soon as possible in the past — believing I’ll be the big exception, perhaps? Because you really like me, so you’ll try extra hard, just for me — the fact that I have not gotten it back is fully on me.
Granted, everyone deserves a trust advance. But I gave you three hundred of those already. Granted, what you owe me now is a carry-over of what I gave you as part of the first hundred. So, yes, I’m still paying for my lack of judgment.
But this price comes with a gigantic gift.
I can choose to rely on myself only. I can choose to not give a flying fuck about my poor decision making of the past and move on with my life, no longer depending on people I don’t trust anymore (oh, the irony) suddenly seeing the error of their ways and paying back everything I gave them ever, in every way imaginable. I can choose to be empowered.
I can also choose to let myself be wrong in assuming I will never get that shit back. That money, the time, those ideas. Perhaps they will find their way eventually.
Assumptions. Such slippery things. Ugh. Does reality cause assumptions or do assumptions influence reality? How do we know? And at what point in time are our beliefs about someone or thing set in cement?
You meet someone. You like them. They do something. It happens. Whatever. You give them the benefit of the doubt. You forgive. It’s the right thing to do.
It happens again. You forgive again. It’s the right thing, right?
It happens one more time. Do you forgive again? You’re slightly pissed, but you do it anyway. You like this person, so it’s ok. It’s the right thing to do.
But now you think you know something about them. You hope it won’t happen again, though really, you assume it will. You don’t know it, but it’s true. Your ego luuurvs being right. You’ve been proven wrong a couple of times — now you’ve learned, now it’s time to be right.
It happens. Your ego rejoices. YES. I knew it. I was right! I am A Person With Good Judgement. I Knew You Would Mess Up.
You’re also pissed. Of course! A bit more this time. What happened does hurt you in the end. It’s not all fun and ego rainbows.
But really? It is. Your ego is addicted now. Let’s do it again! Let’s be right! We love being right, right?
Yes. Yes, always.
That icky satisfaction. That horrible, twisting, gutty, slimy, beautiful feeling you get before it happens. You know it.
And you can’t stop yourself from craving it to happen exactly the way you tell yourself you don’t want it to.
What happens next?
I wrote the above text a long nine months ago. It was what my sad, sorry fingers succeeded in retrieving from my depleted brain after I published it without realizing it hadn’t been saved. Reading it now, I think I can see why I didn’t manage to resurrect it completely back then.
The past few months have been one gigantic exercise in practicing radical kindness towards myself. This story was, at its core — like my entire world view at the time — heading in the opposite direction. It was cynicism parading as self-awareness. Of course, I didn’t notice it, it felt too good to be able to ‘see’ my nasty little ego this way.
In my desire to unlock the mystery of why the fuck someone important in my life still, after so much time and energy invested on my part, wasn’t showing up the way they supposedly should, I found refuge, like so many times in the past, in blaming myself. Now in even more insidious ways: my ego, the dastardly fellow, simply needed to be right — he was addicted to it. Thus, this person just could not be doing what I thought I needed them to; my ego was producing vibrations that were blocking them from giving back, I assumed.
Exhausting, debilitating mental and emotional gymnastics, that.
The thing was, I was hurt. Deeply so. The person in question is the father of my child, who is painfully absent from his son’s life, and who also owes me so much money that I could go on a three-week luxury vacation to the Bahamas tomorrow if he just happened to give it all back in one fell swoop. If I wanted to go to the Bahamas, that is. This wasn’t something I was going to ‘solve’ by simply making it so. The pain wouldn’t just leave on its own account.
Nevertheless, the newest trick I had come up with to deal with the whole thing was pretending to embrace responsibility for my situation by viewing myself as detached from my ego, which I now saw as the real culprit in the story of how I managed to simultaneously ruin my life and save myself three years ago.
The thing about the ego is, though, while it may not be a reflection of your true self — the one that is free of All The Shit The World Tattooed Into Your Brain — it is there, inside you.
And if that’s the case, it needs love.
The ego, ironic as it seems, though it really isn’t, needs not more blame, derision and shame — that’s what it’s built on! But it’s part of you, human. So it needs love.
What I was suggesting above was, on the surface, a good, rational, stoic, tactic. Remove the other person from the equation: in the end, everything falls back on you. Very noble. And sane.
But what was behind it, viewing a part of myself as not myself and therefore as free game for all the fear and loathing I had become accustomed to nipping in the bud from the nanosecond it made itself known in every other case…was plain and simple cruelty. A symptom of the very thinking I was fighting against.
Shouldn’t we know by now that fighting a thing is what gives it strength in the first place?
Here, have some tactlessness
Have you ever noticed what happens when a person is, say, grieving the loss of a loved one and some (equally, if not more internally wounded, but not in a place to see it) other person comes along and says something along the lines of: “How are you still not over it? Jeez, pull yourself together.”
Well, the grieving person will most definitely reply something like this:
“Oh, what a good point! I hadn’t thought of it like that! Now that you say it, I think I will! Thank you so much!”
Rather, the grieving person might, aghast, say nothing, retreat further into her hole of despair and begin (or continue) the all too common cycle of shame-and-blame. Or they might hurl the pent up pain right back, tenfold.
This is exactly what I was doing to myself by suggesting my ego should just shut up and give its incessant be-right-be-better attitude up already. And this is exactly what happens when we go around telling people to ‘kill’ their egos, shut up about their struggles, whatever. There’s even a term: spiritual bypassing.
Can there be a conclusion?
Yes, in a sense. What I have come to realize in the months since writing the above may be distilled down to this:
Every thought I entertain that upholds a view of myself or part of myself as separate from the rest of the world is ultimately one that reinforces destructive patterns, regardless of the light it paints me in.
That includes viewing part of myself as separate from myself. I am all that I am. I cannot seriously go about my life with the conviction that the things I think, do and stand for do not affect the people around me. That telling part of myself to desist from being as a means to an end will result in that part to cease, and the end to emerge.
It’s all the same: commanding my ego to fuck off has the exact effect on my life as if it were a person. Because it is a person. Me.
But I stand by the main point I made above, nine months ago: letting go of the need to be right is one of the most productive things you can do in every scenario.
Clinging to your rightness is based on the fear that you won’t be in the end — right, better, more knowledgeable, wiser, whatever. So if you are ‘right’, you can let go now. You don’t need the superficial satisfaction of having the last word. Most things you claim to be right about aren’t even that important on a larger scale. So you may let go.
On the other hand, trying to force yourself to let go because it’s the right thing will always result in more clinging. I need to let go so what I want to happen will happen. No. You’re trying to skip steps. Don’t.
Putting aside the matter that clinging may also be a symptom of wanting something to happen that isn’t right for you, acknowledge that this is where you’re at right now. In a process. You’re human. Your ego is part of you. It’s okay. You’re okay.
Meeting pain with more pain never produces less pain. It’ll always lead where you didn’t want it to go until you give up completely.
Give your ego the love it needs. Acknowledge its pain. See the fear. Say: I know. I’m sorry. I know.