Warning: contains naval gazing

I lost most of yesterday afternoon and evening to a welling up of pain. It’s left me feeling sore and disorientated today. I’m in a place of unpretty introspection. It isn’t what other people do that haunts me, it is the fear of having got it wrong, of not having given enough when it was needed, not being able to offer a sufficiently tolerant and open heart, not being able to take the knocks. I’m a creature of finite resource, no kind of saint, and alert to the ways in which I could have done a better job. Yesterday I was caught in a web of ghosts and mistakes, trying to figure out where I could have done better, in the hopes of not repeating any of it.

I’m fascinated by people who shrug of mistakes and failures, of any magnitude, and move on. I’ve encountered a few folk down the years who were remarkably untroubled by their errors of judgement and acts of unintended cruelty. I’ve met people who genuinely didn’t seem to care when they caused pain. I have noticed an interesting discrepancy though, because the people who feel they should be able to shrug off their mistakes and move on seldom take the same attitude when they feel hurt. If they are suffering, it matters and needs taking seriously. It has also been my experience that people who make less fuss about their own discomfort are often more compassionate when other people are hurting.

I’ve learned the painful way that guilt and regret are the things I am least able to bear. Being hurt by someone else is as nothing compared to what I carry over mistakes I cannot fix, things I cannot undo, or unsay. I have made a lot of mistakes along the way. Poor judgement calls, misplaced expectation, dodgy interpretation… Nothing a person would wind up in court for, just regular human failure born of not seeing clearly, not knowing myself well enough, not getting it right. I pick over these like a scavenger picking bones. If there is a means to put right, I’ll try and do it. At least I can learn, with a view to making new and different mistakes next time.

My most problematic reoccurring mistake goes like this: I accept people as they present themselves, so I fall foul of miss-selling. There are qualities I’m drawn to, and if someone fakes those, I can be suckered in. The bitterness that comes from realising it was all pretend, is horrible. I find it hard to forgive in those circumstances, but I realise it may often be the case that people do not realise they are faking it. They have learned the language of passion and intensity. They’ve learned what sounds dramatic, poetic, inspired and wild. They like the image. Perhaps they do not realise that all they have is a shiny surface. The shock of realising they do not know how to live what they are voicing cannot be comfortable for some of them. The ease with which the shrugging and walking away often follows though, suggests to me that they mostly do not care. They only ever wanted to look the part.

How I let myself get into one of these again? How was I bewitched by the surface appearance, by an illusion of authenticity? Is there some magical way of discerning between people who truly speak from the heart, and people who know how to sound that way? I haven’t found it yet. Do I become cynical and mistrustful, and keep at a distance those who do come into my life open hearted, honest and full of integrity, so as to also keep away the players of games? I oscillate. There are days (yesterday was one such) when I feel no confidence in my ability to relate to people at all, and the call of hermitude is strong. But there are those few souls who were not faking, who have brought depth and wonder into my life, and I would not have that if I’d carefully insisted on keeping everyone at arm’s length.

I’ve been told that I expect too much of people. I have unreasonably high standards, am demanding and unfair. I expect so much that I set people up to fail; they can never be enough to meet my outrageous demands. I’ve looked long and hard at those accusations over a lot of years. There is some truth in it. I can be decidedly all or nothing. I do ask a lot, but I ask no more of others than I ask of myself. Just occasionally, I find someone who isn’t affronted by how I am, someone who does not disappoint, or turn out to be more hot air than substance. In the meantime, what I get is the guilt of feeling that my being let down is a measure of my unreasonableness. The uncomfortable sense that I ask too much and judge too harshly, and that if only I could seek for less, I could enjoy the easy, non-committal, shrug off the mistakes approach of others. I would have to be someone else. Still, there are losses that I grieve, and mistakes that haunt me.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Warning: contains naval gazing

  • syrbal-labrys

    Isn’t it cruel that tho’ “guilty” of accepting people as they present, one can be simultaneously accused of having impossibly high standards?

    You are not the only one who falls into the tiger trap you describe; and I seem as unable to avoid the fall, and as baffled about how to crawl out!

  • kelitomlin

    I hear your words and can relate to the desperate frustration that comes from asking for what you believe is right, is deserved, is fair only to be told that it is too much or unjust of you. It is too close to being told that your needs are unimportant, simply not worth satisfying.

    I have found that these moments however are a good (albeit painful) indicator that a relationship is coming to an end, as it highlights that my fundamental beliefs about life and connection are different enough from the other’s to find any more common ground.

    Take heart in knowing that despite these encounters, there are the treasured few who do accept and share your expectations with you. It is likely the same people who will try and encourage you to go easy on yourself, rather than demanding that you should go easier on them.

    I hope you feel better soon. x

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you for sharing that. It would be a whole other thing to take it as a sign to walk away rather than a reuirement that I do more, but I am increasingly thinking this is the change I need to make, and let myself feel comfortable about making.

      • kelitomlin

        I am sure you will find the right change for you. Your blog (and this post in particular) prove that you consider deeply how your words and actions affect others. That same consideration can also to be applied to how we treat ourselves and how we let others treat us and our needs.

        I is of course a tough balance to find and hold but worth working towards regardless 🙂 x

  • Nimue Brown

    Oh, I’ve had a lot of those. I’ve had people tell me I am an ice-queen and that any emotional expression from me is therefore suspect, and probably contrived for purposes of emotional blackmail… and then had the same people tell me I’m an emtionally unstable drama queen. I have come to the conclusion the only thing to do with people who make so little sense, is to keep away. Sometimes, there are no right answers.

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