Friday, I had to call my dad to tell him I was coming by to get a few things I realized were in a closet over there. Before I even picked up the phone, I started to feel agitated. Testy. Edgy. Not calm. I was aware of the feelings I was having, and I paid attention to where my mind went. He answered the phone and was his regular jovial self, “Well, hi there!” I hadn’t seen my dad for over 3 weeks. (Ok, more like 2 months) It’s perfectly normal for us to go a long time without speaking, even though we live less than 2 miles apart. I cared for him for about a year, but we eventually found someone to check in on him, and take him to his appointments, etc. It’s better for my sanity this way. I call him to check on him, but he usually hurries me off the phone, which is fine. He has told me on numerous occasions that he prefers solitude, but he is 90, and needs to be checked on daily or at least every other day. My father still lives in my childhood home, “the scene of the crime”, as I tend to call it. I was sexually abused in that house for years at the hands of my brother (see Opening the Closet).
That isn’t the only reason I dreaded going over there. I really just don’t get along with my father. He has a way of making me feel like a child who is constantly trying to prove she’s grown up. He grew up during the Depression, and he chastises me for buying “name brand” anything: paper towels, toilet paper, yogurt, cheese. I dreaded pulling into the driveway in my new car because if he saw it, he would think it was a colossal waste of money and that I was being pretentious for driving it. I dreaded telling him about Evolve, even though it is up and running and gaining momentum. He doesn’t have the internet and mainlines ESPN and MSNBC from his perch at the kitchen table, so his view of the world is very limited. He worked his entire career as a company man in sales. He carried a briefcase and went to an office every day so anything not perceived as a conventional job is met with complete misunderstanding and disbelief. If I try to explain an idea, it’s met with an arrogantly indulgent response as if he were placating a child. That just makes me feel as if I have to desperately sell him on the idea, which makes me feel more like a dumbass.
It’s not just my father who has the ability to make me feel small. Yesterday, I got a text message from an old friend who seems to have a similar effect on me. We rarely talk anymore but I have similar feelings about being judged by her. She texted me, asking why I had done something. Nothing personal, it was just a simple question. I replied and got no response. I then felt the need to further explain myself, which made me feel defensive. It was just a simple question, which I could have answered and not given it another thought, but it elicited an emotional response in me. WHY?? Why do I give a shit about what she thinks? Why do I feel the need to explain myself? I am 50 years old, not 10.
Luckily, I had a therapy appointment already scheduled for last night at 6, and when I shared all of this with Scott (my therapist) he asked me if I had heard of the “external locus of control”. I had not so Scott took that opportunity to not only educate me about it, but also to help me understand why I allow my father and others to affect my mood in this way.
As an adult, allowing other people, things, and situations to influence my moods, my thoughts, my decisions, or my beliefs, is allowing the external to have control over me. This breeds anxiety, trouble with self-esteem, and the inability to live without fear of judgement. It leaves me feeling powerless, or less than. I have given something outside of myself control over my life. My goal is to strengthen my “internal locus of control”, which reinforces the belief that I am the ONLY one in control of my life, my goals, my beliefs, my growth, and my capabilities.
Sometimes, you just outgrow people and situations. That’s not saying you are “better than” or more mature, or more evolved than the other person. It just means you have grown and changed, and they have, too. Sometimes people drift apart and when that happens, some can only see the friendship as it was, years ago, when you, your life, and your evolution was very different than it is now. You may have a favorite pair of shoes, but if they don’t fit anymore, it’s painful to wear them. Your feet aren’t necessarily a size bigger, but your feet have changed, and those pumps are just not comfortable anymore. I have lived like this for years, and now that I am aware of it, and am finished living this way.
Neither my father nor my friend in these scenarios are to blame. They are simply living their lives and viewing our relationships through their own lenses. I don’t feel either of them intentionally wants to hurt anyone. I am also not to be blamed. My feelings concerning, and reactions to, the external are what need to change, not those people.
I can do the work to overcome it. I need to check my feelings and see if my emotions are aligned with my truth. I usually get the answers faster if I consult my coach or counselor/therapist. If I have anxiety or unease, feel defensive or agitated, is it because I doubt myself, or is it because I am taking too much responsibility for things I cannot control? As I grow and develop in my authenticity and self-awareness, I am learning to trust myself more. I feel stronger and more secure. I feel calmer. I look forward to my next contact with people who, in the past, have pushed my buttons. I am learning to disarm those buttons and triggers, which really only exist in my mind. I will use my new tools to keep calm, leave emotion out of it, and see how I can add to the conversation, if I can at all. This takes focus and effort but I will get there.
Does any of this resonate with you? If you have ever felt the way I’ve described, please reach out to me, I would love to help you navigate through it.