I don’t think I’m naturally an anxious or nervous or fearful person, but I’ve been one, in varying degrees, for so long it’s difficult to know for sure.
I do know that when I have one or more narcissists in my life, the fear and anxiety increase exponentially, and unfortunately, there will always be at least one in my life, in one form or another. The best option, for me, is to limit contact as much as possible, surround myself with good people, and to try not to worry about what kind of nonsense is brewing under the surface.
I try to respond without fear. My brother would be so proud. Except, he probably wouldn’t. He would probably say something like, “Don’t try, just do it.” Yeah. That’s right. I’m working on it.
Sometimes that’s more difficult than others. I have one soft spot so glaring and obvious to the rest of the world, and when that spot is exposed, the fear becomes so challenging to sort though, it feels like trying to climb a mountain, without being able to see the top.
One of my big questions becomes whether I am doing the right thing, or whether I am doing the thing that is least scary, because sometimes they look a lot alike. Sometimes confrontation is unavoidable, sometimes confrontation is avoidable, but should not be avoided if possible, and sometimes confrontation is completely unnecessary. At least that’s what I think. Not everyone can be Gandhi.
Growing up I watched my father, rather masterfully most of the time, exploit the gray areas. He was pretty good at figuring out how to do just enough to make people feel uncomfortable, but not enough to warrant confrontation, and then when he finally would do enough to create an unavoidable confrontation, he was great at convincing people it was unnecessary, or there was some kind of misunderstanding, or it was really all their fault, or mostly their fault. Lies are fun like that. On the other hand, my mother avoided, and really still avoids, almost all confrontation. And, maybe as a result, or maybe as a cause, she isn’t always very great at dealing with it when it does come up.
Of course they were not the only two people in my life, and I did witness other confrontations over the years, but for the most part, I saw two options: take advantage of confrontations and be a liar, but get my way, or avoid confrontation, get pushed around a lot, but be a good person at the end of the day. I’m not blaming them. I am a grown up and I make my own choices. I am trying to explain, probably mostly to myself, how I got where I am now.
Eventually I decided I would avoid both of their approaches. I would do it my way. I would be a good person, I would be honest, but I would boldly face confrontation when it came my way. I would be strong, and I would be fearless, and I would always be brave and right. Again, this was back when I knew everything. I could do, and would do, everything better.
Except that I did not.
I never quite found the right balance in my hybrid approach, and I couldn’t help but feel extremely anxious every time I faced a real confrontation, especially if there was any implication on the other side that I did anything, even the smallest thing, wrong. I could sit down with an axe murderer, and he could say, “Well, you were five minutes late,” and I would say, “I know, I’m sorry I was so inconsiderate,” and I would mean it. I would actually feel guilty, and would lose the moral high ground in my own mind. This is something, by the way, I’ve worked on for a long time, and although I’ve made great progress, it’s very easy to move backward. I really need to perfect it before my children reach the teen years though, or God help us all.
For now I basically take my mom’s approach, but I try to act really tough and serious. At some point I decided that was the best fit for me, and hoped it would convince people to leave me alone. Unfortunately, whether it’s because I’m small in statute and rather soft-spoken, or because I have a terrible poker face, people tend to see through it immediately.
Back to the main question, which is how to figure out whether I am doing the right thing, or whether I am doing the thing that is least scary. I’m still not always 100% certain, and I hate that. I hate it less than I would have a few years ago, because life has taught me that more of life is in the gray area than I ever imagined, and I’m beginning to accept that, but I still hate it. I can type that, because my children won’t read this until they are old enough to decide for themselves whether that is an appropriate word to use.
I try to be more than 75% certain, and it helps to have people I really trust to ask for advice. I know that if I ask my mom, she will always opt for the path avoiding confrontation, I know that if I ask my husband, he will always say whatever is most protective of me, which usually means an offer of taking over the confrontation himself, and I have a fairly good idea of what advice other people in my life would offer, if I asked. I don’t always do what they advise, and often I do not, but it helps to consider their thoughts, and usually it helps get me closer to to complete confidence.
I also pray. A lot. I know that’s not a popular thing for bloggers to say outside of the extreme born-again religious right, but it’s true.* I say a Hail Mary or ten, or forty, or two hundred, I wait for signs, I take a few deep breaths, and then I do what I think is best, and try not to worry. I’ve also found that physical touch, for me, is very calming. Everything from hugging my husband or holding his hand to petting my dog helps me feel more relaxed.
I still make mistakes sometimes, as we all do, but I try to keep them in perspective, and continue on. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming…
That’s a pretty good note to close on, but I want to add that I am definitely going to keep writing after Day Sixty, and I know what my next thirty days will be about. I’m excited about the idea, but what I write will probably continue to look a lot like the past fifty-six days, to the extent there are any common elements.
*I might write, one day when I have less fear than I have now, about all of the problems with that approach, but for now I will just say I think prayer is and ought to be for everyone, and I think it can come in a lot of different forms.