Monday, March 11, 2013

Finding Fault

What is wrong with this picture? Nothing.
 
Today I find myself wondering why we are so quick to find fault in ourselves and others. Even for someone like me always looking for the redeeming quality in a situation or personality, it is far too easy instead to recognize and react to everything annoying, disappointing or hurtful. When did complaining become such a strong part of the human condition? When did everyone become guilty before proven innocent? 

And maybe because of that culture of blame, there is an equal and opposite trend towards forgiveness, letting ourselves off the hook for every possible past or present weakness, flaw, damage or misdeed. But there wouldn’t have to be so much forgiving if there weren’t so much blaming to begin with. And none of that blaming would matter if we weren’t so hungry for acceptance and approval in the first place.

You hear a lot about “unconditional love” being the highest form of this most sought after of human connections. We love our dogs, cats and other domestic companion animals because they love us unconditionally, flaws and all. We don’t have to prove anything to them because their approval is constant and guaranteed. They don’t stop loving us because we are unpopular, underpaid, overweight, or overwrought. When we can’t meet our obligations due to illness, or sadness, apathy or stupidity, they don’t lose faith in or respect for us. We can be weak with them, tell our secrets to them, know we won’t be judged, and that we will be the same person to them whether we are at our worst or at our best.

It seems that even the best of human relationships can’t measure up to this standard of acceptance. We may find ourselves in a partnership of great mutual tolerance, compassion, and understanding, and still not avoid those chilling moments when it is apparent that someone has let someone down, moments when it seems more sympathy and support are to be found among strangers than loved ones, because loved ones can’t conceal their vast disappointment, and strangers aren’t invested enough to have quite as much to conceal, or at least have the decency to hold off until you’re out of the room.

Feeling bad about myself has occupied far more of my lifetime than feeling good. Much of that blame came from within, but a lot of it also came from outside, from the voiced or perceived disapproval of others whose approval was important to me. It doesn’t really matter that a well-intended desire for the best for me, and belief in the best in me, were often the source of frustration and grief when I failed to achieve that ideal.  At some point an ideal was established as desirable, and from then on, failure to achieve it was easy to recognize and feel bad about, whether anyone actually pointed it out or not.

With such a strong fault-finding mechanism in place, forgiveness has been a difficult counterpart to establish. Not focusing on the bad in persons, places and things takes effort. Not focusing on my own failings takes more. For both, it means stepping back and looking away from the present moment and considering things in a larger context of past and future successes, which is not easy to do when the present moment is so much more compelling, immediate and substantial than the ghosts of what happened long ago or the visions of what hasn’t happened yet and has no guarantee of ever happening.

The good news is, I don’t often feel bad about myself anymore. It takes a lot of overwhelming evidence to convince me I am guilty of being less than I ought to be. I’m far from ideal, but I’m doing pretty good all things considered. Mitigating circumstances carry far more weight in the course of my deliberations. And yet, my better judgment is still swayed by a lingering unnecessary need to prove myself. For instance, I am at home writing this post in bed today because I needed a day off from a new job I only just started a week ago. I began the job while battling a bad headcold, and having pushed myself to complete my first workweek, that headcold is now winning the battle. In retrospect, I should have set aside my unwillingness to disappoint, accepted that I was unequal to the task, and delayed my start date. But I apparently needed to prove something - to myself, to my loved ones, to my new co-workers? – and now I am paying the price. 

Fortunately, my self-forgiveness mechanism is strong enough that, without hesitation or guilt, today I chose taking care of my health over making a good impression. Sadly, that decision was immediately followed by an urge to defend it, provoking the thought process that inspired this post, which I am only able to write because I stuck by my decision. Looking on the bright side, not only will my health benefit from a day at home, but I’ve also been able to clear my mind, and possibly write something that might help other sufferers of unnecessary faultfinding. The fault-finder in me is still too quick to point out everything wrong about me and my choices and their consequences, making me that much more vulnerable to the judgments of everyone in my life. But while I can’t ignore those disapproving voices, neither am I letting them dictate my actions. And that is a kind of progress.    
 

11 comments:

  1. At the end people find far more easy to blame and judge others, because looking at themselves could get into an unbearable experience and a heart breaking one, and also an excerise of braveness and honesty only a few could have the size to succesfully undergo. And like you mentioned, with it comes a certain excercise of forgiveness implied, "I judge you, I forgive you" maybe trying to prove some kind of moral superiority and sometimes I even suspect, trying to gain some kind of moral power over "the forgiven one" like if by receiving the pardon one were at the same time acquiring a kind of a debt. I think nonetheless that the most important forgiveness we as individuals could long for, is that we can give to ourselves, to really and honestly be able to forgive us about our mistakes, our wrong decisions. To honestly forgive us about the roads not taken and the challenges we better prefered not to face. To forgive us and reconcile with ourselves and our lives, that is the forgiveness that matters the most, and certainly the most difficult to grant and get. And after all after this day, and tomorrow, and the next one, we are going to keep being humans, and mistakes we are going to commit again, feelings of greediness, anger, rancor, envy . . . the need to prove ourselves our value, why not, the need of prove to others our value, that will keep continue being part of our reality and life, but with a real ability of impart ourselves forgiveness, in that way we are going to be able to walk life with a smile, even if a shy one, and that believe me Gaby, is a little, but also a kind of progress as well :)

    Big hugs my dear friend.

    Alberto.

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    1. Wise words, my dear friend. Thank you for expanding on my humble musings....

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  2. That sounds like HUGE progress to me. I am still much, much harder on myself than I am on anyone else. I expect more of myself, and berate myself for real and imagined failing. Which, knowing that it is wrong to do so, is at best a very bad habit. I loved hearing that you are able to put those voices into perspective. Wonderful news. Inspirational.

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    1. Perhaps action is the most important in the end, but I do seem to have that part of the decision process much better in hand than the thought/emotion. I still feel all sorts of irrational guilt, those voices never do go away, and if by chance someone near and dear to me joins the inner chorus, all my better judgment goes to hell and I must painstakingly re-build the house of cards of my confident resolve. It helps to write it all out, either in my journal or here, and then it makes complete sense that I should of course let myself off the hook of impossible ideals, take care of myself and worry about how it looks later. Then the whole crisis fades away and I wonder what the fuss was all about! Would that the whole process went a little more quickly and easily!

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  3. PS: New job? Something you will enjoy I hope - at least when you are better.

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    1. Yes, EC, new job...Week One went well, except for my not being fully present thanks to the headcold. Week Two is on Day Two and I have only logged half a day so far. Hopefully doing a half day today will prove the perfect compromise whereby I get a little rest for myself, and preserve a little good faith with my new employers before they begin to doubt their decision to take me on! It's basic office work among some congenial people, not too stressful, but I have been so focused on mere survival at this point when I am at the workplace, and prey to such petulant resentments when I am home and wish I could stay there where I belong were it not for the job, that my judgment is a bit skewed as to the "enjoyment" question. Will keep you updated! Thanks so much for your comment!

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  4. Gabriella I fell too to have lived the most time of my life beeing not happy... i think it's somethings inside us, it is not unhappy, it is a different kind of happiness for people like us, that seems to ourself as a suffered time, but i think so we are. sometimes i think we have to forget our past the past since the childhood, all, to be completely free. but the past is ourself, we are our story.
    I#m happy now to see you again!

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    1. Laura, what a beautiful way to describe this special kind of "not being happy." You are so right about freedom from the past - you cannot break free of your own shadow - you will run and run and never get anywhere. You have to learn to understand, accept and even love it as part of who you are. Thank you, my dear, for understanding.

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  5. TT/G - yahoo to the new job; yuk to the cold; and forgive oneself and take the next step and next breath. Hope you are recovering well. Go well. B

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    1. Thanks B - it's been a shock to the system to return to the working world under less than ideal conditions, but hopefully soon this will just become part of the lore of my long, healthy and happy time at this new job! Writing my way through the inner dialogue of doubt helps, hearing from faraway friends who understand and care, priceless. Best to you and F.

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