This morning my dear K came home from his third shift job just as I was leaving for work. We talked for a few minutes and ended our conversation in front of our home. A young woman, about our age, was shoveling out her car.
“I think I may help this poor woman,” he said. At that moment, my gut fell and I was less than generous. In that moment, I felt all of my long-standing fears of abandonment and self-protectiveness:
- I felt jealous: A stranger was going to spend more time with my partner than I get to.
- I felt annoyed: “But she’s part of the problem – parking on our street and not being responsible by shoveling directly after the storm.”
- I felt righteous: I shoveled our home and sidewalks four times over two days, shoveled my car out myself, did laundry and cleaned the house. Where is my help?
- I felt abandoned: But he’s helping her and not me. How come he can arrive home and help a stranger, but not contribute to doing dishes or cleaning the house? What about today? Will he make the couch back up? Stack the dishwasher?
And, as I left my husband after admitting to him that I was having feelings, I felt anxious.
- Why did I jump to the bad things first?
- Why jealousy in this moment?
- Where is my generosity?
- Will my partner think less of me?
- Should I go back to apologize?
In those questions, I caught myself self-flagellating, and I realized that I jump to those feelings and thoughts I’ve had the most experience with. For many years I felt abandoned, unrecognized, and unappreciated – especially in romantic relationships. I took on a savior-martyr, firstborn, do-it-all role, and I repeated it over and over. For two years I’ve been working on my default feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in therapy and practice. It’s scary and difficult work. Catching the default before it happens doesn’t come automatically. I find that I can more quickly catch the feelings and thoughts; however, I struggle with the behaviors: setting boundaries, advocating for myself, asking for support. And, it is when I do not work on the behaviors that I go to the less generous place.
This morning I went to the less generous places. And while I’m struggling with it, I’m glad that I’m able to notice what’s going on, process the experience, and think about how I can change my behavior in the future.
“Happiness is a form of courage.”
-George Holbrook Jackson
This growth is slow, difficult and dangerous, yet it is also courageous and brings much joy.