March 30, 2015

Feelings of Acceptance

"I told you so," is the oft-repeated phrase issued usually in a passive-agressive (hostile) manner by someone who struggles with the need to control and dominate other people. I don't think I have ever heard these words issued in a positive way; rather, they always follow on the heels of a mistake, an error in judgment, or simply an issue of ignorance. On occasion, they have come after an uncontrollable circumstance, which makes the hostility of the speaker, even more apparent.

I love this quote by Ursula Le Guin. I think she nails the sentiment of the person on the receiving end of things. She reminds the sender that never will that remark be taken in any other way than as a condemnation.

I hate it when I hear "I told you so" because it reminds me of all the years I heard it growing up. Even now, as a 52 year old, the phrase turns my stomach and makes me feel so small, so little, so insignificant. Why do people feel that they have to be "right," and why must they denigrate another person in this way?

I know the answer. People who say "I told you so" do it to make themselves feel better, to feel in control, and to feel as though they "know best." If you know a "know it all," it can be difficult at times to tolerate their smugness. They simply know what is best, and they never make mistakes. Or so they would like you to think this is the case.

In truth, they are just as fallible as the rest of the human race. The only difference is that they hide their mistakes from the world, and they cover up any flaws with their incessant perfectionism; their need to control themselves, their world, and everyone in it; and their use of a biting and often hurtful tone of voice that makes sure everyone around them knows how to live up to their expectations as well as what will happen if they don't.

Unmet Expectations

Today, I was on the receiving end of a dose of the "I told you so." Actually, the words came last night, but the lingering affects of the phrase hit me hard first thing this morning. It is difficult living with a "know it all," even worse, it is near impossible to live with a controlling "know it all." Controlling people can be devastating personally and their behaviors can cause long-lasting interpersonal relationship harm (generational harm).  Let me explain...

I have blogged about my need for achievement a number of times. In fact, I have labeled myself an "over-achiever" more times than not. I accept the fact that I am wired and driven to excel, yet, I often do not point the finger at the reason why I strive for achievement because to do so would require a closer examination of my own father-daughter relationship.

I would characterize my relationship with my father as strained. Over the course of my life, I have run away from my father's controlling and punitive approach to parenting, and I have made decisions in my life that were not always in my best interest, in order to avoid his criticism and condescension. My father is a good man, don't get me wrong. He has always provided a stable home, and he has been "present" in our home. However, he has not been a kind or considerate father. He has been stalwart, rugged, and determined. He has always done his best to provide for his children, but he didn't cultivate a close personal relationship with them because he never had that sort of relationship with his own father. Instead, he was a distant father who expected performance, routine, and order. In short, while he was in our lives, he was rarely "in our lives." I think this was the norm for many fathers who were raised in the 1930s. It was just the way life was back then, and often, through hardship and difficulty, they learned to overcome and achieve results through effort. As a result, they came to expect this behavior from their children. Hardworking parents wanted hardworking children. If the children were lazy, disordered, or fragmented in their personality or style, this caused a disruption in the smooth-running machine that characterized their home.

I grew up a child of the 60s and early 70s. These were my formative years. I tried very hard to be liked by my father, to be approved by him, and to be appreciated by him. I know that my father loved me, and I know that he does now. It was just that to earn my father's love and respect, one had to prove themselves through hard work and effort. It meant that one earned good grades, worked hard in their jobs, and provided for their own needs as soon as possible. Mistakes were to be avoided at all costs, and failure to take responsibility for needs was never an excuse. Expectations of behavior became the unwritten rule in our home. You performed or you were not approved.

My father's tone of voice can be sharp, biting, and critical. It can also be loving at times. Generally, though, what you hear underneath is more of discontentment and disapproval. Daughters need their father's approval. They need their unconditional love, and their affirmation of their self-worth. Even the most absent of fathers are still vitally important to their daughter's emotional well-being. In fact, studies have shown that father's play a significant role in their daughter's psychological well-being -- even more so --- than their physiological well-being.

Scripture gives specific commands to fathers, especially telling them not to exasperate or frustrate their children. The Bible says that fathers are to love their children, to teach them well, to provide for them, etc. But in all the "doing," they are specifically told not to cause them to lose heart (to become disheartened). This charge goes for Mom's too, especially single-mom's like myself, who can assume the dual role of mother/father, and who can frustrate their children without even being aware they are doing it (ouch!)

Dealing with Expectations

I read many blogs and articles online that stress ways to deal with expectations, expectations we set for ourselves and expectations for others (or vice versa). In my view, I struggle with the expectancies I set for myself as well as the expectancies I perceive are being set by others that affect me. Typically expectancies are set by the following individuals or groups:
  • Yourself
  • Your family
  • Your peers or school
  • Your work
  • Your social involvement
  • Your society (culture)
For the most part, the first four seem to cause the majority of interpersonal problems for us. We set our own banner high, we jump through hoops, and we keep impossible task lists in order to meet or exceed our own expectancies. In short, we perform to prove to ourselves that we are worthy, valuable, and affirmed. Second, we learn early on how to navigate the family rules and social mannerisms in order to be accepted by our families. Our first social relationship is our family, so we learn many valuable interpersonal relationship skills in the family unit. We also learn many bad behaviors, and we learn how not to communicate effectively through dysfunctional family dynamics. Our peers reinforce social boundaries, and our school experience often taught us "right from wrong" based on an arbitrary standard of performance (good athlete or smart student; bravo!). Lastly, our work environment reinforced ethical practices and social conformity. We are judged daily by our peers and bosses and we are either "approved" or "disapproved" based solely on our work ethic (how hard we work, how well we do our job, etc.)

Human beings live in a world predicated on expectations of varying degrees. We live by these unwritten rules of performance and social manners, and at times, we can become so fixated on meeting these standards, that we forget that we are not mice running on a wheel, but rather we are human beings in need of love, of affirmation, and of valuation.

Jesus Christ Died to Meet All Expectations

WOW! What a statement to make, especially here at the beginning of this Holy Week! Well, think about it - whose standard did He die to meet? Jesus died on the cross, taking on the sins of the world, in order to meet one IMPOSSIBLE STANDARD, the standard set by God, a holy and righteous God. Yes, He was perfect, and in His perfection, He met the standard set by God, and through His sacrificial act of atonement, He brought freedom from the penalty of sin to the entire world. He died to save me from the penalty of sin and of death. In doing so, He met the highest standard, and He gave to me the right to be set free from all other worldly standards, all other standards set by men and women. In essence, by meeting God's standard of performance, of judgment, of righteousness, I no longer have to meet anyone else's standard for my life. No one has the right to judge me, to determine or approve me, or to set my personal worth but God. As a blood-bought child of God, I am no longer my own, but I belong to the One who has stamped me "APPROVED, WORTHY, AND VALUED!"

Stop and say that to yourself...

God has stamped you and me as "APPROVED, WORTHY, AND VALUED!"

Today, I was dying inside. In fact, I lost my cool, screamed and stomped, and even slammed the door in the face of another's expectations. I blew up, the simmering rage inside of me, boiled over, and I let loose a tirade of angry, of hurt, and of painful words. I realized once the feelings came out, the emotions exploded, that what I was angry at wasn't so much the situation I was in presently (a car battery and my son's car), but rather it was year's of hostility, of anger toward my father for all the pain he caused me as a child. Yes, I lost my cool at 52 for an incident that took place nearly 48 years ago. As a child, I wasn't able to deal with my anger toward my father. I wasn't able to express my dissatisfaction with his imposed standard for our lives. I had to live the way he wanted us to live, and I did so with discontentment for 21 years -- until that is -- I married and moved out of my father's house. Even then, I still felt the sting of disappointment, disapproval, and dissatisfaction. Even from a distance, I felt unworthy. I did my best to "prove" to him that I was good enough, but I never felt that I was acceptable. I pushed those feelings down deep inside, and I turned them into hard work and effort, the two things my father respected most.

In hindsight, I see it all clearly, and I see what I have done to myself. I also see what I have done to my son, what I have done to him, by inadvertently placing pressure on him to perform as well. I did it to him, and now I see that it is why he has chosen some passive-aggressive behavior as his way of telling me he is angry and discontented too. I am so sorry for doing this to him. I never wanted to hurt him in the way that I was hurt as a child.

Learning from the Past

So what does this mean for me today? I think the best thing is that I have realized that my need for approval stems from my relationship with my father. Although we have a cordial relationship, and we currently share a home, our relationship is strained as I stated earlier. It is not loving nor affectionate. I tolerate him, which is something I need to understand more deeply. I need to release all these angry feelings, and to accept the fact that I am no longer responsible for making my father pleased with me. I serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and I work for Him alone. I still need to be cordial to my dad, respectful to honor him, but I am not required to meet his standard of behavior and manners any longer.

I need to ask my son to forgive me for making him feel pressured. I need to let him know that he is accepted, approved, and worthy. I need to make sure he understands that I do not expect him to perform for me. I accept him just as he is, and I love him unconditionally for the young man he has become and is becoming daily.

Thank you, Jesus -- this has been an unpleasant day, but I have learned a valuable life lesson through the experience. May I live out what I have learned today, loving people, affirming them, valuing them, and expressing my appreciation for them every single day. May I do this to please the Father, and to demonstrate His great love for His creation. May I do all this in your Name, and through the power of your Name. You alone are worthy, you alone are good, and you alone are holy. Thank you for your life, for your love, and for your lesson this good day. Selah!

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