Perfectionism 2 Peace | Part 4 – Feelings: Friend or Foe?

“Just because you’re grumpy, doesn’t mean you have to treat me badly.”

I was about 8 months pregnant with my second child and utterly exhausted after ‘one of those days’. My husband had come home from work, just as I was finishing making dinner, and I hadn’t greeted him when he came in. I’m sure my eyelids were half closed and I felt like a zombie. That was all that sparked the comment above.

“I’m just tired, I wasn’t treating you badly,” I said in a weary voice.

“Yes, you were. You were treating me badly, and I don’t like it,” he insisted.

“I was not treating you badly,” I replied, a little irate, “I am REALLY tired.”

“Look, just because you are in a grumpy mood, doesn’t mean it’s ok to treat me like this,” he went on.

“I was NOT treating you badly!” I shouted, quite angry now that he seemed completely selfish, did not at all care about my feelings, had no concept of just how tiring it can be with a 2 ½ year old when you are enormously round with another baby who is sucking everything out of you.

I was getting enraged. Why wouldn’t he drop this? That shout practically drained my remaining energy reserves, I didn’t think I could output at an even higher decibel level.

“Yes, you were!” he retorted unwisely.

That was it. I felt completely under attack, like a wild cat caught in a corner, hissing and spitting at the man with the big stick, trying to get him to back off, all the while knowing he was stronger. I mustered one last burst of energy, and screamed, “I WAS NOT TREATING YOU BADLY! NOW I AM TREATING YOU BADLY!” and in my head there was a frightened little voice begging him, “Please, please don’t say anything else, I don’t have enough energy to do that again!”

In my last post, I mentioned that the truth wouldn’t “feel” right initially, maybe even for a while. It was a frightening day when I was told that my feelings can, and often do, lie to me – that they are often about what happened years ago (like when I was 3 or 4 years old!) and not what was happening right now. I felt kind of like an astronaut drifting further away from the shuttle. I honestly thought that I could rely on my feelings to give an accurate reference frame for reality.

I had always lived subconsciously believing the maxim ‘You can’t trust anybody’. Now, suddenly, I couldn’t even trust myself! What was real? What was illusion? It was like being in ‘The Matrix’.

Mirror or Generator?

I remember telling my husband on several occasions “perception is reality,” meaning that even if he never intended to hurt me, if I felt hurt, then his intention was irrelevant! My reality was what mattered (you can imagine what he thought about that!). The same reasoning applied if I felt unloved, undermined, left out, unwanted, rejected, attacked… if I felt it, it must be true, mustn’t it? In the opening scenario, I felt under attack, but I was not really in any sort of danger. The reality was, my husband had misinterpreted my body language and was questioning my actions.

Feelings are supposed to reflect reality, but often they produce it. I had created my own version of reality in which I was in mortal danger if I was found to be in any way at fault. I had to win or else I would die. So I expended a lot of needless energy in counter attack, defending, as it were, my very life. But the reality was that I would not die. At worst, I would be embarrassed.

This imaginary life and death struggle would overtake my grip on reality whenever there was anything that had a hint in it that I was not perfect and had failed somehow, or might: Criticism of any kind, the kids complaining, my husband grizzling about something I asked him to do, people questioning my choices or ideas, and implications I was at fault.

I had to learn to challenge my feelings – to ask myself, “Is this feeling real? What am I telling myself? Is it the truth?” and then give myself a truth coach like:

  • I will not take the kids’ complaints personally. They do not mean I have failed. They are not an attack on me.
  • They are not being difficult on purpose, they have their own struggles they are dealing with.
  • Criticism is not the same as rejection. I can afford to disappoint others now.
  • Others are allowed to think what they want about me, I’m still ok.
  • Just feeling attacked or afraid does not mean I am in danger.

Once I was able to take a mental step back and really observe what the reality was, find the truth I needed, and start seeing clearly, my feelings started to reflect reality, and I found myself over-reacting less and less. At first, it was all I could do to keep quiet and just process things (sometimes that is still all I can manage). It was hard to stay silent and resist the urge to defend myself. It was scary and very disorienting. Over time however, my tongue became untied and I was able to respond calmly more often. Priceless.

More Helpful Truth Coaches

My feelings are not a reliable guide to reality.

So what if I fail… they judge me… I’m not perfect… my opinion is not valued… etc

How I think about things is always within my control.

Previous Posts:
Introduction
Part 1 – A Wounded Heart
Part 2 – You’re Not What You Think You Are
Part 2 – You’re Not What You Think You Are (cont.)
Part 3 – The Truth Will Set You Free

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