Updated: Sep 15, 2019
This is a thought that often would go through my mind right after I receive a message from a friend asking me to meet for a coffee: "oh no, what I am going to do?" Right after that, confusingly enough, I would experience feelings of panic, anger and resistance… Also, guilt and shame would come up too if on that day I happen to feel more emotional (hormones or any other circumstances that can cause one feeling extra sensitive - as it happens some days). "It is not such a big deal" - I am sure some would say, however, strangely enough it can be QUITE a big deal to me! "What is so difficult and complex about receiving a message with a simple invitation to go out somewhere? It is a friend at the end of the day, what is all the panic about?" Well, let me take you through the decryption process that my mind can go in a situation like this.
Ruta's Internal Monologue (RIM): "Oh no"
RIM 2: "now I have to go and see my friend - I won't be able to do what I wanted… I was planning to do some reading (one on 46 books that I got from Amazon and never had time to read…since 2013)… I feel so sad because I was really looking forward to it."
RIM 3: c
RIM 4: "What will happen if I sound mean and not go to see my friend? I guess she will stop liking me as a friend because I personally don't like when people are mean or when I get declined… And if I do that, I guess I will lose my friendship… Because probably in the future even if I want to see her, I will not be able too, because of the constant declines I will be taken out of friends list…"
RIM 5: "Oh my God! I sound like a teenager… Or even a primary school student… I am a grown up now, of course, my friend would understand - we have other things to do apart from socialising. We have our hobbies, we have our duties, we have our interests. Also, we need to care for our health - we need to rest. It is OK to decline invitations when there is something else going on or even if we are simply not in a mood for that. There is no need to force ourselves to do anything - it will not feel good and the other person will not feel good either."
RIM 6: "OK, but then why I am feeling so bad? Where is the feeling of guilt coming from? Of course, I want to do what I wanted and planned to do, but I also want my friend to continue to be my friend and I don’t want to lose our connection…"
RIM 7: "what I am going to do? "
So yeah. What is happening is very well described by this good quote that I like: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven...” Even the situation from the outside is quite simple, there are so many internal mental and emotional processes going on at the same time that it can really drive my behaviour into the stuck mode. What is a stuck mode? To me - it means being in conflict. Example of a conflict would be standing at the crossroads and not knowing should I go left or should I go right. If I go left I get this, but I lose that and if I go right, I get that but I lose this. I guess if it would be a purely mental process - it would be easier to decide. A simple pro's and con's sheet would do the trick. What throws us, is when there is an emotion involved in a particular decision. In this case, there are two conflicting (emotional) needs that I am dealing with: 1. need to have my autonomy and my sense of self; 2. need to have a connection and a sense of belonging. So when I am choosing between going to see my friend or staying at home, I am basically choosing between having me and having a connection with the other. From the outsiders' point of view that might not be the case and it might also not be the case from my friends' point of view. But from my internal emotional point of view, that's exactly what is happening. Even though logically I might understand that it is not the case, but maybe when I was four I had experience of losing my mum's approval (and therefore connection) because instead of going to eat dinner I have chosen to play with my doll and as punishment I have been told off and had to spend 20 minutes in the naughty corner crying (which probably felt like forever to me) and therefore I have ingrained link in my memory *|choosing to do what I want = losing connection with those who are important to me.|* Now we have an explanation of why I might have felt a sense of panic.
Another thing that might have happened to me could be a situation at school when I was six. I may have observed a classmate bring in her own fairy tale book in the school and when another child asked her to share it, she didn't. I may have also heard a teacher or other kids calling her selfish, and that not sharing (i.e. doing what others want) is a wrong thing to do. This may have ingrained in my memory as *|choosing to do what I want = being selfish|* and a bonus link *|being selfish = being bad and not liked|*. To sum up, basically choosing to do what I want vs what other people want from me EQUALS being a BAD person and doing things WRONG. OK, so we now have explained feelings of guilt and shame. OK.
Now, what about anger and resistance? I got another one for you. Anger is something that arises when we feel our boundaries being / or about to be crossed. To me, it is often related to the injustice being done to me. Where did injustice came here from if we are talking about a friend asking me to come out for a coffee? Well, whenever there is conflicting needs and/ or wants it creates a split in our consciousness. It is easy to imagine it like this: one part of Ruta wants to go and see the friend and another part of Ruta wants to stay in and do whatever she planned to do. So this sense of injustice that I am feeling is not because of my friend, but because of my internal dynamic. It could be, that throughout my childhood I also had both parts: one who wanted to be connected and have the approval of people around me and the other just wanted to do what she liked. And probably the one who wanted to have a connection with other people kept on "winning" the case whenever a choice had to be made and the other part started to feel very suppressed and not considered. So probably by now, whenever a situation where I would need to make a choice between what I want and what others want from me I almost automatically feel anger because of perceived and assumed injustice by one of my part where the needs of the other side of me will not be considered and/or prioritised. Now we have an explanation of both anger and also resistance (because the suppressed part doesn't want to go that road again) that I have felt in that situation.
So now that we have an explanation of all of those confusing and seemingly inappropriate feelings arise in that situation, we can actually see that they are not confusing at all and absolutely appropriate. It is that it takes a bit more to see what is really going on and why this "simple" situation is actually quite complex, and DOESN'T FEEL SIMPLE AT ALL! The bigger question that this pose is who is more important: other people or us? I know that politically correct answer would be "all are equally important", but from a perspective of someone who has not been considering ourselves and our wants for a very long time it seems that it is time to prioritise us. At least sometimes.
The truth is that if we care about other people we don't and will not want to hurt them, so this is not about us vs them. This is about us AND our life - the things we like to do, the things we want to create, the things we want to build, the things we want to enjoy and the other people that we care in our life's. Our lives are no less important than the lives of other people (I know some would argue, but from an existential point of view - it is not less important).
Our time is limited (again - this is referring about our current life and how long waking hours we have in total). If we want to feel like better friends to ourselves and better people to live with ourselves, we will have to take some serious prioritisation to what we want to do, which will mean declining invitations and tasks from other people, even those who we care about most. After all, if we are happy, content and fulfilled it is also better for them, right? So my question, rather than the answer is this: IF we always prioritise and do what other people want from us WHEN are we are going to do those things what we want from us?
P.S. I have used myself as an example, for those who are interested in analysing what's happening. You may be able to relate to this situation because it is something that sometimes happens to you, or you might have seen somebody really getting stuck in a similar scenario. Anyway, I hope it helps to demystify some of our human behaviours. :)
P.S.2 There is a whole spin-off available on selfishness - I have started writing an article about that.
P.S.3 This type of situation doesn't happen to me so often anymore, but I thought I would use it because it did happen in the past in various degrees and I know it well from the insider's point of view. ;)