Sunday, December 4, 2011

That Dirty Little Word

(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure.

Tell me why, why is it considered so bad in our culture, to be “concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure”.
Open yourself to a paradigm shift here. I mean, who else is going to be concerned with my personal pleasure and profit? Isn’t that my job? And why is it assumed that if I am chiefly concerned with my own personal profit or pleasure, that I “lack consideration for others”? Can’t I experience both at the same time? Why is it assumed that one cancels out the other?

This post isn’t really about the word selfish, although it does speak to it. This post is about another word. An archetype. Mother.

Some time ago on Facebook, I asked people to post what they believed was a “good mother”. I had an express purpose in mind. Today I begin to tackle that. Today, I begin to put into words what has been churning around inside me for some months now.

On a scary day in August, 1987, I checked out of an in-house treatment facility after 21 days. Part of my aftercare treatment was to be in a group with other individuals who also had also been in some kind of treatment. The man who facilitated our group said something all those years ago that I have never forgotten. His exact words were, “Another person’s reaction to my behavior says a whole lot more about them and their history than it does about me and mine.” Wise and helpful words for a severe co-dependent.

So, when I began to receive posts about the archetype of Mother, it was a great mirror into the personal wounds of many people, though I doubt they saw it as such. Without knowing, or perhaps they did know, they told of their own experiences; what they got from their mothers, what they didn’t get and wished they had, what they strove to give their own children, how they saw themselves as mothers, and as adult children.

I am a daughter of an un-mothered mother.  As a result, I doubt I was a very good mother to my own daughter in her young years. How could I be? Knowing what I didn’t get from my own mother, and having a strong desire to give what I didn’t get, does not make me a good mother. Did you get that? Read it again. 

Knowing what I didn’t get from my own mother, and having a strong desire to give what I didn’t get, does not make me a good mother. So then, what does make a good mother? And does everyone even need to know, especially if they are not mothers and never plan to be? I answer with a resounding YES! Here is why:

Ideally, our parents (if they got what they needed from their parents) equip us with the skills to become good parents to ourselves. So that one day, finally, we have our own internal guide to self-direction and nurture as we make decisions in our daily lives. To what end? That we might live with authenticity, integrity, and joy. Although that last one tends to elude many (now we are back to that dirty little word).

If, as most people I know, you did not have those ideal parents, then you did not develop that internal guide to self-direction and nurture. Add to that a cultural and societal message that says to be chiefly concerned with your own personal profit or pleasure means you lack consideration for others. Slap on a few layers of Hallmark cards with sappy, unrealistic sayings about mothers who never think of themselves, only others. Hold this up as an ideal and tell me you have a strong, healthy and balanced internal mother. Not possible. Not unless you are willing to:
1.      Look in the mirror (literally and figuratively).
2.     See all of you.
3.     Own it.
4.    Take action, meaning to begin the work of developing the internal mother.
Now some of you may have a visceral, somatic reaction to the word “mother”. If your mother wound is so great that an internal “mother” is offensive, then use another word. But what I am speaking of is the part of us that is life giving; the source of nurture and nourishment. The part of us that breathes life into our creative endeavors. The part of us that nudges us when we need to slow down, rest, eat, spend time with friends. That wise part of us that will lay us down with sickness if we do not heed that nudge to slow down and give self-care.

I can speak all day long about what a good mother does and think that I am doing that for my children, because I know how important those things are. But the knowing doesn’t make me a good mother. The only way to live it is to learn to mother myself. Remember the oxygen mask example on an airplane? We are always instructed to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first, be it a child or another person in need. But MOST women I know who believe they are “good” mothers, have no experience or practice around mothering themselves. Why? Because their own mothers had no experience of it either. Many women I know who are mothers of grown daughters don’t/won’t understand why their own daughters don’t see their own value, or take good care of themselves. How could mothers who have no knowledge or experience of it teach their children? That’s just it. They couldn’t and didn’t. It is now our job to teach ourselves. In that way we become “good mothers”. We must develop our own internal mother so that we may lovingly mother with patience and acceptance and often a tough love. We mother our own projects we are birthing. We mother our lives, our creative endeavors, our relationships. It has to come from within.

So to come full circle; it is my job to be concerned first with my own personal profit or pleasure. You may think those words sound ugly. Well, isn’t that what putting the oxygen mask on first is doing? I profit (I live) from giving myself air to breathe first. That gives me pleasure. The oxygen feels good. Life feels good. I breathe the air and I am alive, and it feels good! And then? Then and only then can I give and do for others.

So create your lists and descriptions of what you believe a “good mother” is and does. But then use that list to examine the development of your own internal mother. What kind of internal voices do you most often hear within you? What internal dialogue would you like to hear? Begin there, and place that life giving oxygen mask over your own face first. In this way not only do you create a life of authenticity, integrity, and joy, but you model it for those around you. What greater gift is there than that?


Julia Speer said...

Wow. My husband just pointed out a big ole Freudian slip. I had written that we are to put the oxygen mask on the other first, rather than ourselves. Just goes to show you how deeply ingrained this message is. Whew. So deeply ingrained that when I tried to correct the typo, I typed it wrong again in the comment post. Man, oh man. This stuff goes deep!

Michael H. Harper said...

I love when you said: "Knowing what I didn’t get from my own mother, and having a strong desire to give what I didn’t get, does not make me a good mother." It's exactly what Morpheus says to Neo in The Matrix: "There's a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path." I'm proud to watch you both know and walk your path today, Julia.

Linda Joyce said...

Another wonderful post, Julia.
I'll add my thoughts.
New paradigms for our culture show the positive possibilities of authentic living. I totally agree.

As it relates to mothering- my stepdaughter will probably tell you that I’m the stepmother from hell. How dare I want to raise her with values. How dare I not only want her to experience the world, but provide opportunity and pay for it? How dare I want her to grow into a woman of integrity? As the man said, this says way more about her as a person than it does about my step-mothering.

The deepening of my most recent life lesson is that I am not responsible for anyone's emotions, only responsible for my own. Love the thirty-something stepdaughter, sad that she think's I'm hell.
~Linda Joyce

lonelyroadoffaith said...

“Another person’s reaction to my behavior says a whole lot more about them and their history than it does about me and mine.”
I have heard this quote several times in my life. It felt really good to buy into it. Much research and life experience has taught me differently. What follows is one example from my personal life experience.
My husband and I work together at our home remodeling business. One day, we had to pick up some metal studs at a local drywall supplier. Upon entering the office, a large woman sat at her desk catching up on some computer work. Yes, she was very large, and quite honestly, I was shocked at her size. I noticed how the waist at the back of her pants could barely cover her so that her pink panties showed. When she got up to pick up a fax, I felt my eyes sweep over the length of her body. I didn’t miss anything. I found myself wondering how uncomfortable it must feel to walk in that body. I felt bad for her and wondered what pain she must be living in that would cause her to be so out of balance with her eating.
As we waited for a fax that would allow us to pick up our supplies, I realized that I needed to use the restroom. To illustrate the urgency of my need, I was having my period, and I needed to change NOW. I asked the woman if I could use the restroom.
“Oh, you don’t want to use that restroom; all sorts of truck-drivers use it. It’s really nasty,” she said.
“But it’s an emergency,” I urged, tilting my head as I looked at her so that she could understand the urgency.
“Oh, you really don’t want to use that bathroom. You know what, there’s a Quiktrip down the street. Just take a right out of the parking lot, and make your first left. You can’t miss it.”
My feelings were hurt. She was a woman, too. Couldn’t she understand the urgency of my situation? As I sat in the passenger’s seat of my husband’s truck, I tried to figure out what could have caused her to behave so coldly, so unfeelingly toward me. Then it hit me: I did.
You can bet your ass that she caught every sweep of my eye, every thought behind it. She had probably seen those looks hundreds of times. Because women are taught from childhood to be “nice,” we become passive aggressive. We don’t punch each other with our fists; we punch each other with our words and with our body language. I had hurt her; she was handed an opportunity to hurt me back, and she took it.
I could glibly state that her behavior was more about her than about me – which is really a judgment, but that would absolve me of any responsibility for my part in it. I most definitely played a part. There is a Universal law at play in every interaction with other people: Cause and effect. Although I do acknowledge that we may unintentionally be the cause – someone might detest my beliefs or my sense of humor, for example, and respond negatively to that – there is always a cause.
It is my ego that loves to believe that I bear no responsibility for what happens in my life, but my wiser self knows that I attract every situation whether intentionally or not. I did not set out to hurt this woman, but I did. I did it with my own judging glances; she could see it in my eyes. I was behaving as a sensory organ – responding to the visual input I was receiving, not as a manifestation of conscious spirit. I was out of balance. When someone hurts me because of my own behavior, I am sharply reminded to center myself.

Julia Speer said...

Lonely Road of Faith, I must respond. I see a great many assumptions in your story. There is an assumption that she understood your urgency. There seems to be an assumption that she understood your feminine problem. There is an assumption that you knew what she was thinking and knew her feelings, and even what drove her actions.

But the truth is that only she knows what she was thinking and feeling and what drove her actions. it is my experience that humans are very creative at coming up with convincing "story" around other people's actions. And it feels SOOOOO real and true because it is most often fueled by our emotions.

My comment about another person's reaction is not about refusing personal responsibility for what I say and do. It is about knowing where I stop and another person begins. It is about knowing that I am not a victim, nor am I superwoman, responsible for the world. I wrote that to speak to the action of stepping out of my co-dependent thinking.

The truth is that I can come up with all kinds of creative "story" as to why that woman responded the way she did. She could have had a negative personal experience with truckers, or that particular bathroom, or have her own personal beliefs about women's bodily functions. She could have even been ashamed to let you see the bathroom. Only she knows.

Even if your story is true, she is still responding from her own history. For example; perhaps she has been obese all her life and has suffered much verbal ridicule. Then she is responding from *her* history. Her part is her part. Your part is your part. Each person is responsible for their own piece. The beauty and growth is when I can look at a situation, identify what is mine and learn about myself from it, as you did.

I believe that many of us, myself included, came from a particular type of dysfunction where relationships were enmeshed. Coming from that place, it is freeing for me to become clear about where I stop and another person begins. When I do that, I am able to take personal responsibility for my own actions, step out of a victim place, and be free.