Wednesday, October 26, 2016

How do you forgive yourself?

I got upset with the youth minister at my church when I was in high school.
Because she labeled me an "overachiever."
I don't know that most would take offense to this, (and obviously she wouldn't have said it if she thought it was a bad thing), but I did.
Just this past week, I took an online Enneagram personality assessment.
My result?
[Pause for a fun story regarding the Enneagram test: shortly after I started attending my church, Bethel, and was already falling head over heels for it, our pastor started talking about the Enneagram test and I panicked. I texted my brother to ask him to look it up, to make sure it wasn't some crazy Scientology thing. Hahahahahahahahahaha!!!! I don't know. I think that's hilarious.]
So I took the test and lo and behold, I'm an achiever. I thought I would be a helper or a peacemaker, but nope. (In fairness, I think I was like a tenth of a point away from being a helper).
I've long struggled with my highly motivated personality. What's more, I think I've struggled without largely being aware of it. Until just recently, where I find myself feeling guilty nearly every day.
Let me explain.
If my research is correct, I do believe that high-achieving personalities are usually haunted by some sort of Peter Pan-esque, guilt-ridden shadow.
Why? Because, (again, if my research is correct), we constantly feel like we could be doing more, or doing better.
I got so upset when I was 17 years old and a mentor deemed me an overachiever, because in my book I thought that a bad thing. I thought that meant I couldn't relax. I thought the "over" to indicate "too much," rather than "exceeds expectations."
Today on my lunch hour I went to the dollar store. I bought construction paper, so I could continue to make handmade Halloween decorations for a door-decorating contest at work. I bought candles (because I have an obsession, even though I have about 20 of them at home), candle holders, and decorations and candy for our office Halloween party.
I then went to McDonald's and got a spicy chicken sandwich, a Diet Coke, and a salad. I moved a Pringles container filled with crumbs out of the cup holder to make room for the soda, and placed it among the various stuff on the floorboard of my passenger seat.
I drove back to the office parking lot, rolled down my windows, killed the engine, and let guilt wash over me.
For WHAT?!, you may ask.
Well, let's break it down:
1. I felt bad regarding the money I just spent. I spent just under $20. This was a second trip to the dollar store for me, so altogether I had spent about $40 on decorations for an office party, for which I don't believe I'll be reimbursed. I also bought candles and candle holders, which I don't need, and when I am at home all I feel is how crowded my bedroom is and how I need to get rid of things.
2. I felt not guilty, but overwhelmed, by the fact that I still have to make door decorations. Have I gotten some joy out of beginning to make these decorations? Yes. Am I looking forward to making my own costume? Yes. But do those things take time in an already busy week/month/season? Yes.
3. I felt guilty for the breaded sandwich, covered in mayonnaise, that I was eating. I continued to feel chubby and unhealthy. I didn't even let my mind go to the reminder that I haven't done a workout for my upcoming half marathon in over a week.
4. I felt disgusted by the filth in my car. Why hadn't I thrown out the Pringles can two days ago, when, incidentally, I had chips for lunch (activate retroactive guilt mode for decisions made on Monday).
5. And finally, I berated myself for everything I need to do in my own life to look more like an adult. Clean my room, clean my car, mail a box of stuff that I should have mailed weeks ago. On and on.
I texted Alex from my guilty lunch break, and he texted back: "#1 - be kind to yourself."
My favorite writer, Anne Lamott, preaches the importance of "radical self care." Do whatever it takes to not beat yourself up.
I asked myself this afternoon -- and I of course don't have the answer -- How does one forgive herself?
This in-my-face-every-day guilt thing is new to me, and I've gotta say, I don't care for it one bit. On some level I guess it's motivating, but mostly it just feels crippling. It does nothing to get me off my keister and TCB. If anything, it glues my keister in place, in its usual after-work location: my bed, pinned off to one side because the rest of the bed is covered with all kinds of junk, like the rest of my floor, closet, and desk. It puts my keister in time out to fester over all the things that I don't take care of on a daily basis.
While studying psychology in college, I found relief in identifying myself as an "anal expulsive" personality type. All...ahem, rectal associations aside...I could finally categorize both my generosity of spirit and the disorganization of my physical environments into one, cohesive place.
In a sense, I could forgive myself for being as I was. I was textbook-defined. If it was good enough for Freud, it was good enough for me.
...But that was a decade ago.
And I find myself feeling more guilty than ever. And it's not like I'm an axe murderer.
I'm feeling guilty because I'm participating in an office decorating contest, and over-extending myself to do so. For spending a moderate amount of money to contribute to camaraderie at the office party. For taking some time out for me during my lunch break, eating slowly and listening to music instead of spending the time making my car spic and span. For eating a fattening sandwich, even though I ordered a salad to go with it.
And just. how. backwards. is that???
Again, I don't have an answer to my big question of the day -- how does one forgive herself, particularly for things that shouldn't make one feel guilty?
But I think I'm now in hot pursuit of it.
When I was 17, I'm not quite sure why I wanted to only be thought of as a run-of-the-mill, average achiever. Perhaps I didn't want others around me to feel like they were achieving less than I was. After all, I rarely, if ever, want people to feel badly about themselves on account of me. I always want to build up, not tear down.
Maybe I thought that trying to over achieve meant that one was...greedy? It wasn't enough to be Homecoming Queen, now you have to go and be Student Body President, too? (By the way, I held neither of those titles).
To be honest, I don't know what was making my brain tic the way it did in high school.
But I guess I can say that part of me still doesn't want to call myself an achiever. I want to be successful, of course. I don't want my creativities to be wasted. But I could certainly do without the accompanying guilt.
So while I don't know how to forgive myself just yet, I do believe that in being unkind to ourselves, we're doing our psyches no favors.
Tonight is the Rachael Yamagata concert. It will be my fourth time seeing her live. I spent $20 a ticket, one for me and one for Alex.
I don't feel guilty for that purchase at all. (By the way, I firmly believe Ms. Yamagata is worth so much more than $20 a head. But I love that she makes her music available to the peasants).
I've looked forward to this night ever since this same week a year ago, when I saw Rachael in the same venue that she'll grace tonight.
I love, love, love this woman and the songs she writes. I love her growly, catlike voice. I love her silliness on stage. I love how I sometimes wonder if she'll cry during her more sad songs, and I love that I'm not afraid to go there with her.
I love when her fingers strike those familiar keys, and I know she's about to drape us with the opening lines that are etched in all of our hearts: "If I could take you away..."
I can't WAIT. for tonight. But I can. Because I don't want it to be over yet.
I told Alex I want to see Rachael's opening act, because I want to savor the whole show, and that includes the anticipation of Rachael taking the stage. "If that makes sense," I wrote.
"Sure," he responded.
He gets it. He gets me. And I get to snuggle up in his arms wrapped around me tonight, swaying to tunes I've let ease into my bloodstream, comforting me over and over with their beauty and truth.
I'm not sure how to forgive myself. But I can focus tonight on taking care of myself. Because berating myself isn't going to get anything done. The best I can do this evening is go out and listen and sway and hoot and holler with all I've got. Because nights like this don't happen too often. And I don't want to miss it because I was too busy dancing with the enemy.
Step aside, Guilt. I've found a new dance partner - and her name is Music. Her name is Love. Her name is Peace.


  1. Reading this I feel like we're the same person. Haha. What Anne Lamott book would you recommend for the idea you mentioned above??

    1. Aww, twinsies! I'm not sure which book she mentions radical self care in....but I always recommend Traveling Mercies. And if you're looking for a small book, "Help Thanks Wow" or "Stitches" are good. But TM is the best of the best. :)

  2. I'm the loyalist (a 6) on the enneagram.

    1. Sounds about right. One of the most loyal friends I have!!!