Thursday, May 26, 2016

Is Disappointment Your Default Setting?

One of my earliest memories of feeling like a disappointment I experienced when my sister was born. I thought my parents must not have been happy with me, that I hadn’t been enough, not quite what they wanted, so they tried again.  At the age of two-and-a-half, I felt as though I was being replaced because I hadn’t lived up to their expectations.    

The next thing I knew someone was sleeping in my bed, wearing my clothes, getting attention from my parents and relatives that used to be directed to me.  My baby sister was adorable, had blond hair, blue eyes, and sucked her thumb.  “I can’t compete with that!” was what I felt. 

My second long-lasting assumption about life was that you show people you love and care about them by protecting them from bad things happening.  I’m not sure what exact sequence of events led to me adopting this belief, but I know it was also deeply ingrained at a young age.  I, therefore, surmised that the only way I could be a good big sister was to protect my sister from harm, hurtful words, and/or the malicious actions of others.  The trouble was that I couldn’t shield myself from such things back then, so I had no idea how I would ever be able to guard someone else from them. 

The combination of these two beliefs made me feel like a failure long before I knew what that word meant.  I hadn’t been everything my parents wanted, so they had another child.  I wasn’t a good big sister since I couldn’t protect her from bad things happening, nor did I refrain from causing her discomfort, so I’d messed that up, too.  The way envisioned it I’d gone from being the princess everyone loved to the daughter and big sister no one wanted or needed.     

Early on I also picked up on my dad’s disapproval—thinking it was because I wasn’t enough rather than realizing that’s how he felt about himself.  Eventually, I internalized that negative self-image and made it my own.  From then on, I rarely questioned whether such sentiments most often originated inside of me or from external sources.  I found it exasperating that I couldn’t do anything perfectly, so I just assumed that everyone was as disappointed in me as I was.     

I had an interesting revelation last week largely inspired by this suggestion and questions:

Notice how many times today you are disappointed with yourself and others. What standards are you measuring everything against? How are these standards affecting you and the people in your life?

Self-observation and reflecting on the above questions in silent prayer led me to the realization that my default setting is to believe that other people are disappointed in me.  I hadn’t really considered at length that my perpetual dissatisfaction with myself isn’t necessarily how everyone else feels towards or about me.

Considering this possibility I reviewed the past several months of my life to determine if there has been a pattern in my thinking.  I found that there has.  If I haven’t texted, called, e-mailed, written, or visited recently, I assume people I care about are disappointed in me for not doing a better job of keeping in touch or of expressing my love and concern for them.  Family and close friends I figure are disappointed in me for not being a more involved, supportive, helpful, and encouraging as a wife, daughter, sister, or friend.

The experience made me think of the last Hunger Games movie.  In Mockingjay Part 2, there’s a scene when Peeta confesses that the lies and truth get so mixed up in his mind that he doesn’t know what to believe.  While in captivity, he’d been tortured and brainwashed.  The further from that time he gets the easier it becomes to distinguish between what actually happened and what videos were altered to deceive him.  During this interim of uncertainty, Katniss suggests that Peeta ask someone he trusts for the truth.  Thus begins his habit of asking her if a memory, feeling, or impression he has is real or not real.  

Since my husband knows me incredibly well and has for close to 20 years now, I started by asking him.    

“Are you disappointed in me?” I braced myself for his response.

“No,” Kevin answered. “Why would I be?”

I felt both surprised and relieved.  As natural as it is for me to assume I’m a disappointment, many other people are confused that I feel that way about myself.  This was a definite “aha” moment for me. 

Through talking with Kevin and reflecting on interactions with other family members and friends, I became better able to see how my sentiments and perceptions of others don’t necessarily match other people’s attitude towards me.  Of course, I see how this ties into my default way of thinking that people would rather spend time with someone other than me. 

What’s the lesson in all of this?  Sometimes, it’s important to question our default settings to see if they are accurate, are helping us relate to others, and are worth returning to after we’ve wandered.

Questions for Reflection: Is disappointment your default setting?  If so, why is that?  When did you first feel that others were disappointed in you?  Is there a person in your life who has contributed to you feeling that way?  How does that person feel about him or her self?  Is it possible you may have absorbed how he or she feels and assumed it is how that person feels about you?  Are you perpetually disappointed in yourself or others?  If so, why is that?

As is often the case, I ultimately asked God if He’s disappointed in me.  His answer was gentle and loving.  If and when you’re ready, I suggest you ask the Lord the same question about yourself and listen quietly for His response. 

My Prayer: Lord, help us be open to how You see us instead of how we measure up in our own minds or in the eyes of those who are close to us.  Teach us to be gentle with ourselves and others knowing that we all make mistakes, are imperfect, and that the road to holiness isn’t paved with perfection but with grace.  
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