Ms Understood

Thursday 4 October 2007

I have always cared too much about what other people think of me. I hate being misunderstood. I hate knowing that people think things about me that aren't true. For many years I felt over-sensitive at my core, somehow. I think my father and his lack of love and validation had something to do with that. In the past, if someone criticised me, or rejected me in some way, even unwittingly, depending on how vulnerable I was feeling at the time it had the potential to make me crumble like a house of cards. It still does, in some ways - just not to the same extreme. Back then I felt unworthy and ashamed, and so if another person criticised me it was like there was very little buffer between their opinion of me and my self-worth. Their opinion held equal weight with my own opinion of myself - more weight, if it was a negative opinion, or a criticism or perceived rejection of some sort. There just wasn't enough inner reassurance to fall back on.

These days, when I compare how I felt back then to now, I feel more grounded, more firmly rooted. There is a garden where before it was quite barren - or at least, the fine beginnings of a garden. There are even a few plants growing up well enough to begin casting a bit of shade (if only in my own soul), developing a nice shape, getting plenty of nutrients and water, not growing too fast. Waters springing up in the desert, indeed. And so therefore, the opinions of others have more to compete with, and have begun assuming something more akin to their desired weight as opinions of finite, fallible people. They still affect me too much, however. There are still vast tracts of desert, plenty of places to lob hand granades that end up hurting beyond logic or fathoming. I'm looking forward to complete ground cover - that will be the day that I won't be able to give a shit about what people think of me even if I wanted to :)

Discovering that God was much more good and kind than I had ever hoped for has allowed me to go deeper into him. After all, I will only go as deep as it feels safe to. Actually, that's not quite true. I will only go as deep as I trust - sometimes it feels very unsafe indeed. Having that level of trust slowly grow over a period of years has been a great ride - and it is completely uncoincidental that the ride has also been a time of great ripping and suffering. I don't think the two can be separated, somehow. Going deeper into God involves shedding layers of myself, and the process doesn't ever lose its mystery. I sense that this is happening in me at the moment, in some big way, but I can't even really recognise what it is. It hurts very much, but the outgrowth is that afterwards, I get to go deeper again - how deep do I want to go? - and then the more I am changed.

The follow-on of going further on and farther in is that the opinions of others, while mattering to me less, also affect me more simply because I feel so raw from the ripping, and because parts of my heart are beginning to be exposed which I have covered in armour in the past. This is very scary. Sometimes it feels
as if my heart has suddenly started growing on the outside of my body, and anybody who wishes can come along and stab a pin into it, or brush against it carelessly, and the reverb will take months to stop echoing. Everything hurts more.

I feel like I need to develop a buffer which protects me from the world a bit better. Or at least, to know when to withdraw. Sometimes I feel like I have heart leprosy, and I don't always realise that I am too vulnerable to be "out there", so I need to learn to withdraw when necessary. It's hard to learn to do, however. But then ... perhaps it is not so much learning to do it as learning to listen to the deeper part of myself which always knows these things. This part is deeper than my rationality, and it knows so much more than I think it does. The thing is to stop, to listen, to honour, to acknowledge my limitations ... and to realise that sometimes, even when I do that, I will still get hurt.

My friend Jane is infinitely smarter and wiser than me in this area. "You need to look after yourself first before you can look after anyone else, as selfish as that seems," she says. And she is right. The problem with me is that after so many years of having to focus on myself, to go deeply inwards to cope with sickness, now I feel physically well I so desperately want to focus outwards. The problem is, now it's time for my heart to catch up. I need to guard it in the same way that I learnt to guard my energy levels when I was ill. Hard lessons all.

I feel like a baby who is learning how to comfort myself. I scream out to God to help me, to do something, and he says, "You do it." He leaves me alone to cry because he knows that to grow stronger I need to learn how to do this most basic of things, to comfort myself.

The paradox of things is, I feel stronger in my fragility than I ever did in my armour. It just hurts more, that's all.

This blog has been messy to write. I ended up writing a few different strands and then linking them together. Working it out as I go is so cool - I often discover much more of what is swirling around underneath the surface when I write without knowing where I'm going. Kinda like life, really! When I have a straight-through plotline of what I want to say, it feels flatter, and it takes more to tease out what I'm trying to say and I feel like I miss things. This way, it's all messy at the start, with all these seemingly disparate thoughts which are so often paradoxical, and untangling them feels discombobulating, but I discover so much more at the end if I am prepared to withstand the discomfort of not knowing. I don't think I have ended up writing anything particularly profound here, but there has been some sort of untangling in my own mind, and you can't ask for more than that.

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