I have a blessed life. My wife and I don’t need to worry about money or a job or the troubled children we never had or health issues and no one we love is dying this month. Living like this gives me the time to roam deeper into the human cerebral landscape and put it under a mental microscope.
As you know, when we look at very small things through a lens they become very big. And so it happens in this blog. I analyzing the details of human psychology and I use myself as an example, hoping that in some ways I’m not that much different than you and what we examine together can be helpful.
So let’s begin. Let’s peel back a few more layers of Irv Podolsky. Maybe his questions and his search for answers will apply to your own.
“I don’t want to hear about it,” she said.
She’s told me that more than once so I don’t talk about it anymore. I hide it. I never expected this kind of isolation in my marriage, that I’d have to hold back certain thoughts that bother me. But what bothers me bothers my wife even more. It disturbs her and she asked me to deal with my moods solo. So I write about them. Then I feel better.
Maybe you’re like me when it comes to mood swings. Maybe your emotions are not entirely your own. Maybe they decide to feel bad for no apparent reason, or such a little reason that’s it’s totally unjustified.
I’ve read about bi-polar disorder. I’m not that nuts but maybe I have a bit of unwanted wiring anyway. All my life I’ve been telling people that generally, I’m not happy, but that I’m not unhappy. It’s just that, when waking up to start each day, I don’t feel rosy and cheery or optimistic. A positive morning for me is feeling neutral. Lots of times though, I feel like I’m am now, at seven-fifteen am. I’m unsettled, anxious and uncomfortable. I’m trying to figure out why.
So I’m thinking while writing. Maybe the anxiousness comes from my new project, the one I blogged about last week. I’m fighting a proposed freeway that’s supposed to tunnel into my city. I report to Sally, an aerospace engineer who has volunteered her time like me to save our community and the value of our homes. Frankly, I’m not passionate about this cause but I think getting involved is the right thing to do. Sally needs tons of help coordinating the resistance and I’m in over my head helping her. No matter what research I do or how many reports I write, Sally tells me they’re not enough and they all need more work.
She’s right. Sally and I are working with six groups building a complex court case and everything has to be annotated and verified with credible sources. Consultants charge a few hundred per hour for this kind of work. I’m doing it for free like Sally and everyone else who’s driven to fight the California Transit Authority.
But as I said, I’m not crazy-impassioned and the work is oh-so tedious. Okay, sometimes it’s sort of interesting, if you’re into giant tunnel boring machines. But it’s still grunge work, like studying for a required college course you hate. And it never ends. No matter what I do, there’s more needed and I’m feeling pressured…by Irv Podolsky.
It’s always Irv Podolsky. He has no patience. That’s why I’m not happy. By my own standards, whatever I do isn’t good enough. Which means, I’m not good enough unless somebody tells me I am. How the hell did I ever get stuck with this attitude? Sure, every parent wants their children to do well and mine encouraged me to excel. But they never demanded it. Why do I demand 110% from myself?
Are you this way too? ‘Cause if you are, you know what I’m talking about. There’s rarely a time when you can relax and tell yourself there’s no reason to prove your significance, that you’re fine just the way you are, that you don’t have to EARN your personhood or the right to be happy. You can be happy for no reason. You can be happy when you’re not winning ‘cause you’re not in the race. You can be happy just being alive with food in your tummy and a roof over your head.
My wife is like that and she doesn’t want to be sucked into my Not-Happy World. In my space the Number One Rule says: YOU CAN ALWAYS DO BETTER. And you should!
Nothing’s wrong with that except I’ve taken that notion to it’s extreme with my personal Eye-In-The-Sky scoreboard. Am I BETTER yet? I am? How much BETTER? Is this the best my BETTER can be?
I’m an Over Achiever who never quite over achieves. And that’s why little things bother me. They all turn into big things just beyond my reach. So IF I get them done, there’s always room for improvements. You wouldn’t believe how many times I rewrite and polish these articles.
Acute perfectionism isn’t fun but I know I’m not alone with this. Many people feel they need approval to feel good about themselves. Seeking validation can steal self confidence but there’s an upside to this condition. Really! You see, people who care about other people’s opinions do their best be nice to those people. If you’re a perfectionist like me, you’re thinking about how other people will regard your work. You’re judging your creations and behavior from another point-of-view. You don’t want to screw up so you watch the reactions of others for signs that your off course. And by doing that, by being careful not to rub people the wrong way, you become more empathic. And that’s just fine.
Of course there are wonderful souls like my wife who are naturally nice and kind and generous. No self doubt or personal gain is involved. But folks like me with lingering insecurities feel pushed to be nice, kind and generous, which means sometimes it’s not sincere. This is the trap:
If we’re feeling dependent upon others for self respect, we know we’re vulnerable. Accordingly, our attention shifts to our own needs and defenses with the tendency to view the world as an EXCHANGE of good deeds for wanted approval. Giving doesn’t always come from the heart. It comes from wanting rewards. And at it’s worst, it’s about buying gratitude through manipulation.
My ninety-four year-old mother has a younger woman friend who doesn’t know me but she wants me to know her. Whenever we meet, maybe twice a year, she predictably says, “Irv…I love you…” And then, staring into my eyes, she waits for a reciprocated ego stroke.
I cringe inside and respond with silence. Whereupon I hear her follow up, “I mean I REALLY love you!”
Okay, I’m thinking, You need your fix. Here it is: “I love you too, Janet.” Can we close now?
“You’re so good to your mother…the best son! You make her proud. I wish I had a boy like you.”
“Janet, I’m three years younger than your husband…”
“I love you, Irv.” She waits for my hug.
Oh, the games people play.
But ya know, we don’t have to do it. “Show-me-you-love-me-even-if-you-don’t” never fills the bill. At some point, we all have to learn that forcing approval goes nowhere and only makes things worse. This you know. But motivations and emotions come from deep inside us and we have to find their home. This takes some soul searching but it’s all doable. If we understand why we rely on the opinions of others for self respect and move past that, what remains is just the caring, the empathy, and the sensitively to sincerely help our friends, our family and those neighbors fighting Transit Authorities.