Last week I found myself in an uncomfortable situation………in Sri Lanka. I live on the east coast of the USA – Sri Lanka is 8 time zones away. I was aware by Sunday afternoon that I was not going to be happy at the retreat I was on, yet I was to be there for another 7 days. Ugh.
I spent 2 1/2 days bemoaning my fate, “sulking”, trying to make the best of a bad situation, and generally feeling bad about myself. All of the tapes implanted in my brain by my ex & family of origin were activated. The messages resonated in my head, loud and steady, in an unrelenting stream of condemnation. The few times I was able to clear my head and think about leaving, I was barraged by one of the most insistent messages: I am not worthy. I have used up any financial resources I deserve with the cost of my medical care, and I have no right to spend a penny more.
These tapes, stories told to us by our narcissist, become triggers. Once firmly implanted, the mere suggestion of any of these stories triggers an emotional, as well as a physical response. So it was that I found myself alone in my room for hours at a time, exhausted, despondent and trapped. Instead of problem solving I was overwhelmed, replaying all of my flaws that had led to this situation. Included were the stories that I am a drama queen, over-reactive, have inflated expectations and am impossible to please. And not worthy of the cost of leaving early.
Wednesday morning I woke up, went to breakfast and announced I was leaving. That day. My group leader helped me book a flight and arrange for transportation to the airport, and I went back to my room to shower, pack and wait. I felt terrible. I was a baby, a brat, selfish, and stupid for having gotten into the situation to begin with.
The drive to the airport was about 3 hours and I spent most of it choking back tears. When I got to the airport and found myself surrounded by Sri Lankans (what happened to all the foreigners I’d been staying with!) I was overwhelmed by terror. I had no idea what to do, which line to get into, which counter to go to, who to ask. If I hadn’t been so miserable at the resort I might have turned around and gone back! As it was, I decided I had earned, because of my flaws, this hellish experience, and I hunkered down and started asking questions. A few hours later I boarded my first of 4 flights home and, for the first time in 4 days, took a full breath. I was done crying but I still felt like a loser; a failure.
About an hour into the flight it suddenly dawned on me – I had navigated, successfully, a foreign airport! I had figured out which lines to stand in, how to check my backpack, how to exchange my money, how to answer the questions at the numerous security checkpoints, and I was on my home. I had done all of that by myself. This was the 1st genuine smile I’d had in days. That happy, tingling feeling started to warm me – you know that feeling when, after being smothered by doom and gloom, you begin to ponder the idea that there might be a positive lesson in all of this?
I settled in with my headphones, picked a movie and relaxed. I was on my way home – to my kids, my new home, my pets.n
I landed in Dubai at 2:15 in the morning. It is an amazing airport; if you ever get a chance to go you should. I successfully navigated this airport and, at 4:45 took off for Dublin. I landed in Dublin a few hours later.
Dublin was the most complicated aiport of all! The next time you get overwhelmed at the “security” at a US airport, fly to Dublin. Or any other foreign country. In these countries you go through at least 2 security checks before getting to the actual security check! Your carry ons are scrutinized at least 3 times, and you are questioned, at each check point, regarding where you have been and why. In Dublin, after navigating the 1st two checkpoints, those headed to the US are supposed to turn right to go through the US security; everyone else goes to the left. I went to the left, unaware of this. Fortunately I had a 4 hour layover, so I made it to the right section of the airport in time.
As I waited for my final flight a new idea started bouncing around in my head. Not only had I navigated all of this travel by myself, but I had actually taken action to meet my needs. I had shut off all the old tapes, at least long enough to book my tickets home. I had found myself in a jam and I had taken decisive action to get myself out of it. The last time I’d done this was when I was 26 and found myself in a job I despised. I stuck it out for a month, then quit. That was the last time I put my very real needs into consideration, and did what was right for me.
As this thought took root in my head, fueled I’m sure by a lack of sleep, it grew. It turned into this:
So what if I’m a drama queen, a baby, over-reactive, and all of those other tapes that run through my head. So what? Everyone I know has some faults, some character “flaws” that can be viewed as “negative”. Those people, aka everyone, take action to take care of themselves. Just because my character “flaws” might have led to my reaction, does not negate my reaction to the situation I was in. And, just because I’ve been told that I’m a drama queen and overly reactive, that doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to get myself out of a bad situation.
I’ve been reading Debbie Ford’s The Dark Side of The Light Chasers. I’ve not gotten very far so hopefully I’m not misrepresenting where the book is headed. In what I’ve read, Ford premises that we all have a dark side, aka character flaws, that we dislike. If we had the misfortune of spending intimate time with a narcissist, or other disturbed personality, these character flaws dictate who we believe ourself to be. If we were to list the top 10 characteristics of our personality, with #1 being the most important, the first 5 or 6 would be “negative”. The issue though, is this: Each “flaw” has a positive attribute. Do you “over-react”? This tendency to over react protects you from negative situations, so it’s as good as it is bad. The trick to a happy life is the examine your flaws and figure out what is helpful, or useful, about them. My tendency to be a drama queen got me moved out of a moldy room with no air conditioning to a room with air conditioning, imperative to my health. So thank you, drama queen!
This suddenly made sense to me. It is my “flaws” that have protected me on more than one occasion. It is my flaws that have made me successful in many situations. It is my flaws that have made me a good mother and a great employee.
More importantly, my flaws make me no less worthy than anyone else! Every person walking our planet has flaws, and mine are no more shameful than yours.
This new awareness answers many questions I’ve asked over the past 4 years. Questions like “is it ok for my boss to yell at me?”. As I look back on most of what I’ve struggled with I realize that the issued I’ve questioned all tie into my tapes, my triggers, my sense that my flaws are greater than my positive character traits. Everything I’ve wondered about leads me back to the idea that my top 6 character traits are negative, and these traits carry more weight than my positive traits.
I imagine I’ll write about this more in the weeks to come, as this experience feels really important. I feel like I’m finally able to experience a trigger and not only recognize that I’m being triggered, but examine it for truth. Is that trigger telling me the truth or a lie? Is the characteristic that trigger is tied to inherently bad, or is it multi-faceted? Is that character trait just as good as it is “bad”?
I am working with the premise that, assuming you are not a psychopath or sociopath, the majority of your “flaws” are there for a reason. They serve a purpose and, more importantly, they are nothing to feel shame about. Being human means being flawed. Being whole means accepting and embracing your flaws. Getting free of the narcissist means understanding the falsity of the triggers implanted.
Who knew my 1st real international trip could teach me so much!