Tuesday, August 27, 2019

His Side of the Story



One of My Turns

As many of you have read through the posts that the Mrs. has shared about the rough patch we’ve been going through I started to reflect on what my own personal changes were in this past year and thought it might be helpful to share as well. But before I can get to where I am now, I’m going to have to really flex my discomfort muscle (a term I will have to describe in more detail in a bit) and share some of my personality traits that honestly would have caused me to have a panic attack about admitting to in the past.

The Happiest Days of our Lives

I once thought that my childhood was about as idyllic as a kid could ask for – but I realize now how much it actually screwed me up in a lot of ways too. I had two loving parents and two older brothers - one of which I idolized and the other, I well, tolerated up to a certain point.   (He later bullied me because of my weight so we never really got along.)  My Dad worked a lot being a business owner, and he had an amazing work ethic. Sometimes this meant he’d have to leave the dinner table to take a call and he’d be on the phone with a rather needy client until way past my own bedtime, but I knew it was so we could have the things we wanted. I was spoiled with toys and video games as a result. I guess in a lot of ways I made up for that lack of time with Dad by filling up the voids with stuff. Stuff being anything from Star Wars figures and GI Joes to food.  I definitely got my work ethic and a lot of the nice guy syndrome from him.

The Mrs. kind of touched on the fact that my Mom had it very ingrained in her that perception mattered more than reality when it came to the family reputation. Being that I was the baby in the family, I ended up getting the most attention from Mom as a toddler than my older brothers had since they were 5 and 6 years older than me and essentially grew up together, sharing her attention in the process. So I think I learned a lot of the people-pleasing and art of subtle manipulation early on in life from her.

However, I honed those skills while navigating 12 years of catholic school where I had to always be on my best behavior, or at least try to. My first year of school was wrought with “bad behavior” from me. My homeroom teacher threatened to tie me up and actually did tape my mouth shut and made me wear that tape even on the bus home. Thankfully a nice bus driver told me to yank it off as soon as we left the school parking lot. I think that was my first big lesson in what happens when you try to be yourself and to this day I truly believe that my personality changed as a result of the behavior of certain teachers in that first year of school. I’m not claiming any kind of abuse - although I did get slapped across the face by a nun at one point as well as a recurring punishment by a priest.  He would squeeze the life out of the back of your neck if you so much as placed the water and wine on the wrong side of his dish during mass (he'd wait til after mass when nobody but God was watching of course)- but let’s just say that none of this would be considered appropriate in today’s society – this was 1978.

Couple all of that with the bullying that goes along with being a fat kid and mix in the, prior to school, mentality that the baby in the family could do no wrong, and I know now that what I lacked in real self-esteem was compensated for by adjusting my personality to fit situations and using manipulative tactics in my attempts to get what I wanted. I figured out how to mind-read and tell people what I knew they wanted to hear so that they would always like me and think the world of me and then I would be able to work my way in and eventually get what I wanted as well.  What I didn’t know then, and what I finally realized, is that I was fooling only myself in all of this. Ultimately, it cost me my integrity. I was not a genuine person. I didn’t even know what being a genuine person was.

Another Brick in the Wall

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved Pink Floyd – The Wall. I didn’t understand a damn thing that was happening, but I could listen to that double album back to back without stopping and feel every moment of it. I think I realize what it all means now, for me at least. And I came to this realization at the point where, in the Mrs.’ story, she informed you that she had seen me in a very sad mood during our first retreat. I told her I was saying goodbye to my childhood, but the reality is it’s a bit deeper than just that. I was actually coming to terms with the idea that I had built a wall of my own that kept me from ever putting myself out there and being truly vulnerable. I became so good at people-pleasing that I believed my own hype.  I had built a personality that was actually my wall that protected me from all the bad stuff that I thought comes from actually letting people in, or letting them know your business. All the fears, anxiety and “what will people think” situations my Mom had instilled in me could never come true if I just kept people at arms’ length and never actually let my true personality show through the veneer.

But last year, in that moment of clarity, I truly realized that living that way means you are not a genuine person at all. Worse, you lose so much of yourself in all of that pretending that suddenly you don’t even realize or remember who you really are, or what you really like or dislike in this life. It makes it very hard to form our own opinions, have your own genuine beliefs – or even make simple choices sometimes.

The Mrs. mentioned how her family just loves me, and I could do no wrong and how this bothered her. I think she’s right to think that I was partially aware of this fa├žade that I was perpetuating. I lived for that. It was my main goal in life to make people think I was that perfect guy and anything that would threaten that was a threat to my personal wellbeing, so I would “burn it all down” if cornered. I believe this is where a lot of my honestly poor ability to fight fair came from. I went straight for the jugular, knowing what her deepest fear was and using it to manipulate so that she would stop the threat of exposing the real me.

I know this all sounds very harsh, but it was time for me to get harsh with myself. Actually, another Pink Floyd – The Wall reference comes to mind here too (Floyd fans will notice other things in this post, I had to have some fun). The Trial is a song that comes near the end of the album (and movie) where Pink finally has to come to the realization that he built this wall around his heart and it was really all a way to avoid having to take responsibility for his own actions and his own parts of his life that led him down the path that got him in the mess in the first place. Welp, that’s me in this story too. I had to accept that even though I may have learned some behaviors that didn’t do me any favors as a kid, at some point in time I was well aware of some of the things I was doing and it was never going to change if I wasn’t willing to face up and take responsibility for my own part in all of that. I had lived life building the wall and avoiding responsibility for far too long, and it was time to tear down the wall. It’s no secret that even in the song “The Trial,” Pink’s sentence is “to be exposed before your peers.” Does a blog post count?

Outside the Wall

I have read quite a few books on how to get myself to a better place. One of those books the Mrs. mentioned was No More Mr. Nice Guy. It actually did help a lot, but I’m not going to lie, it starts out with a brutal chapter about what being a nice guy really means that was extremely hard to accept but also impossible for me to deny. Basically, it reinforced the realization I had come to on my own – that being a nice guy means you lack integrity and are not really genuine. Harsh… but true.

I also read a book called Not Nice: Stop People Pleasing, Staying Silent, & Feeling Guilty... And Start Speaking Up, Saying No, Asking Boldly, And Unapologetically Being Yourself. That is the book that has taught me to practice by “flexing my discomfort muscle,” which is slowly helping me to be more assertive. I don’t agree with all of the things that particular book offers up in terms of how to practice (for example, messing with people’s heads for the sake of flexing your discomfort is not something I can get on board with) but I have to give it the credit for the idea of practice makes perfect when it comes to learning to be more assertive and genuine.

Comfortably Numb

I need to stress something very important too that I realized while going through all of this. The biggest problem with always people-pleasing or just being too nice is that in the end you just start to resent everyone. You always feel like you’re losing even if in the moment you might win by avoiding the conflict which is typically that biggest fear for someone like me. Resentment is essentially the “brick in the wall” that undermined our relationship the most, and it also lead to me being an angry person behind the wheel. I would also resent people at work because I would see them clearly taking advantage of me and all I could do was stew about it or tell my wife about it only to disappoint her because she’d tell me how to deal with it (her natural assertiveness makes me jealous by the way) and I would inevitably cave and never really do anything aside from piling on more resentment – for her, for them, everyone but myself because, well, I was the victim! I became comfortable in being resentful, but numb to any real passion or feelings – with the exception of those explosive angry moments of course where it would all just release at once.

Resentment is the enemy in any relationship. Not just marriage. Family, friends, co-workers, you name it. Resentment will ruin it all and leave you by yourself in the end. So I’m thankful for finally getting to the root of some of my personality traits that have just not worked for me. It was time for me to accept my faults, embrace what was left and rebuild from there with the idea that I could be a person with integrity who is not afraid to stand up for himself or what he believes in and who can live a life that is happier because it is no longer burdened with resentment.
Now, I’m still human, of course. I have not been 100% better on all fronts, but I’m practicing, and while I know it takes time, I am relentless in pursuing my goal of getting to be that better version of myself all around. I also find that it ties quite remarkably into the weight loss journey. In some ways, I feel like I finally cracked the code on what was making me so unhappy on that underlying level all these years. Even long before I met the Mrs.

Much as she said, we brought a lot of our crap to the table when we met. We were far too young to realize what kind of baggage we even had. But thankfully we’re still here together, and we truly do have each other’s backs. I thrive on the encouragement I get from her when I tell her how I’ve dealt with someone at work who tried to drop extra work on me. It helps a lot because even as I still hear that little voice in my head telling me to just cave in and avoid conflict, her words of encouragement are far more valuable to me and it makes each time easier and easier.

Whew! This was tough to write. Even tougher to share. But I hope it helps! I will say the comments people have been leaving have been wonderful to read. It makes sharing like this worth it. The internet can be such a negative place, but I’m glad our little corner of it has been positive. But rest assured, if the need should arise, I’m ready to flex my discomfort muscles!


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8 comments:

  1. Wow! This is great exploratory work!

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    1. Thanks! Exploratory work indeed. I felt like I was spelunking at times. LOL

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  2. Good for you, Mr, for giving yourself the time, space, and self-care to examine and evaluate what you used to be like, what you are like now, and where you want to be. That takes tremendous courage, strength, and desire to want to move forward and away from being a person you're no longer comfortable being. None of us will ever be perfect, but it's about progress not perfection. I think many of us have gone from being victims from the cruelties of childhood to volunteers who continue the behaviors we learned young, but weren't willing to let go of them. As you said, "comfortable" because it was a "known" rather than the upheaval of "unknowns." You two have always had each other's backs and you'll feel that more and more as the resentments of the past are released and you can feel more comfortable flexing that discomfort muscle, knowing you are ALWAYS valued, even on those crappy I-slipped-back-into-my-old-behavior-reaction days. You have value merely because you breathe. It feels so good to let go of resentments we've held on to for way too long (whether justified or not), slights we perceive as real because we were conditioned to do so, and to just not pick up that heavy weight anymore. We lug that crap around with us and have no idea until we hit that wall as you said, wondering why we are so damn tired, and we're left to start at square one. If we don't pick it up, we don't have to worry about putting it back down again. So happy you are finding yourself slowly getting more comfortable in the skin of who you want to be, the you that's always been there but now feels the courage to step out, shed the old ways of living, and find your passion and joy. And all with your best friend, partner, and number one supporter and encourager right by your side. That is pretty darn awesome I'd say!!!

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    1. You hit the nail on the head regarding slights we perceive as real. That was so much of my life too. Trying to read minds and constantly monitor other people to see if I was being slighted or should be on alert for something. I ended up wrong more times than I even realized and likely missed so many good opportunities as a result of being in my head so much.

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  3. Thank you so much for sharing your side of the story too. As a wall-building people pleaser I know it is so hard to share things with anybody. I love the way you and The Mrs are so forthcoming with your experiences. Thank you to both of you for including us in this part of your lives.

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    1. Right up until this morning I was second-guessing whether or not I could really be this open so thanks for acknowledging how hard that can be for us people pleasers!

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  4. Thank you so much for sharing this and I know 5 year ago you would be having palpitations over this much vulnerability but it seemed to be freeing when you were writing it. That's what this process is all about. It has been especially gratifying to see your change where work is concerned. I know you always had a case of "imposter syndrome" since kind of stumbling into your industry but you have proven how competent you are over and over. Standing up to those seeking to take advantage or to make you second guess yourself has made both you and your team stronger and I'm so proud of you! <3 We'll continue to work on our own issues and do better as a couple.

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    1. Thanks hon! We are both better off by doing the hard work and then coming together as one again!

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