Most of us are reluctant to turn the flashlight back on ourselves and look at the ways we might have screwed up.
After all, who likes feeling like they’ve messed up?
Like the balance of power has shifted in the story and all of a sudden, instead of the other person being so predictably wrong - it’s now our behavior that’s under scrutiny?
Back during the days when I used to not get along with my ex-husband David and his wife (and my co-author) Carol, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to mentally nail them for things they had done wrong. The slightest little mistake was grounds for a rant with my friends -- or a ruined afternoon, with me stewing in my anger and irritation.
Never mind the fact that there was also a part of me that was secretly enjoying the fact that they might have screwed up, such as getting a pick-up or drop off time mixed up.
And never mind the fact that I also did what I could to subtly help them get it mixed up, while also trying to claim otherwise.
It was childish, ridiculous behavior.
And part of me knew it.
But instead of looking at that reality, I chose instead to focus on them.
And they, in turn, were doing the same thing with me. (Something they fully owned up to later).
After all, how many of us, when we sense someone in our immediate environment out to get us, open our hearts in response?
Maybe if you live on a mountain in Tibet you do, but I doubt the majority of us mere mortals lean that way out of habit.
So there we were, judging the hell out of each other, blowing things out of proportion, taking lots of things personally, making ourselves and everyone else miserable... and the entire time, we’re all still feeling victimized.
Like something was being done TO us!
I have to shake my head and laugh at this now, because it seems so clearly illogical and insane.
I can’t speak for David or Carol, but when I had my first inklings of owning my own shit, it was like a blast of light shining through the curtains.
Once I started to see how I was fully participating in this impossible, never-ending, score-keeping behavior, I couldn’t STOP seeing it in all my actions.
And I suspected that they probably had inklings of this as well.
We all seemed so hopelessly, helplessly blind.
But we were not helpless.
Admitting to myself that I was deliberately trying to set them up, trying to make them fail, trying to make myself out to be the well-intentioned, blameless victim -- even if it meant occasionally putting the kids in the middle as leverage was life-changing.
I could throw up my hands and claim my innocence all I wanted in public, but now that I knew the truth of what I was doing, I could never go back and pretend otherwise to myself again.
The bottom line was....
Was it worth it?
Was it worth what I was doing to the kids to feel temporarily superior to David and Carol? To feel like the better, more loving, devoted parent? (One who still uses her kids as “leverage?” Right....) To milk sympathy from friends and family about how unfair it was, how stressful and awful their “two against my one” was?
To self-righteously funnel my leftover anger and grief about our marriage into something tangible, something that gave me the feeling that at least something was actually moving? Something was actually happening?
It wasn’t worth all the stress. It wasn’t worth how hard my heart felt.
It wasn’t worth the feeling that I was now living behind a large rock wall, thirty feet high, waiting for flaming balls of mud to be lobbed upon me at any time. Or constantly gathering up mud inside my own yard to lob back.
My brain hurt. My head hurt. My stomach hurt.
My kids were hurting.
So... when I clearly and irrevocably saw what I was doing, I made the decision to stop.
Whether they did or not, whether they apologized or not, whether they ever understood or not.
And I told myself the truth about my crappy behavior, without justifications, without trying to turn my actions back on them somehow.
I apologized at first to David.
And then, later, when things were better between us, to Carol.
And then, eventually, when my girls seemed old enough to really get it, I apologized to them too.
You’d think that all of that apologizing would make a person feel pretty darned small.
And it did, temporarily.
But that’s what humility does. It makes you small enough so that you can see the error of your ways.
It takes you out of your ego so you can get over yourself.
It gives you a chance to just shut the heck up and take stock of what’s you've created, shame-inducing and all.
When you own your own shit and when you apologize to people -- without any investment about what’s coming to you in return -- without any expectations of what’s going to happen now or how you’ll be perceived as “better” -- magic can happen.
Time and time again, I hear stories of huge turnarounds that occur between warring parties.
A heartfelt apology is made and ice melts. Handshakes are made. Smiles freely given for maybe the first time ever.
Maybe not immediately, but sometimes... eventually....
I firmly believe, though it sounds all new-agey to say, that you change the energetic field between you and the other person. You stop the tension, the pushing and pulling. The space opens up between you for something new to be created, even if there’s no way to anticipate what that might be.
It still happens.
Based on my own experiences, I recommend that the exes start with each other, in particular. It’s often the leftover angst and anger between them that can really fuel the competition between the women -- and all the offenses that come along with that.
When you own your own shit, it's true: you may not make one single thing happen as far as changing the other person’s behavior.
And you have to be willing to accept that.
But you will feel a MILLION times better about yourself and your own sense of integrity.
And you will be giving your children an AWESOME gift to emulate themselves one day.
You will have stopped leaking your self-pity and vengeance all over them, when they're just trying to be kids, doing their kid thing.
You will be showing them what's possible when the two people who brought them into this world put down their weapons and say they're sorry... and maybe cry for the chaos they've wrought.
You'll make it okay for them to love their stepmom, like they should be able to, since she likely loves them.
You'll show them what it's like when all the adults create something new and wonderful out of a weird and awkward situation.
And then truly, even though their lives may have exploded with the dissolution of their original family, you'll show them that life really can be okay -- and new bonds will form that they can lean on for the rest of their lives.
Won't you try it... and see?
© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved