Monday, March 4, 2013

Being the better person

someecards.com - I'm tired of being the better person. One day, I want to be the bitch they claim I am.

I saw this card a couple of days ago, and I laughed uproariously. I showed it to family and friends, and we all chuckled. Then I thought about it, for a really long time. This is funny because it's true, and that's a very sad thing indeed.

During elementary school, I was taught that if I did the Right Thing, I would be treated fairly and people would like me. By the time I reached fifth grade, I had realized what a lie that was. Some people simply weren't going to like me, no matter what I did (or didn't do). Throughout middle school and high school, I felt like a failure, and did a number of (stupid, sometimes illegal, definitely immoral) things in a vain attempt to get people to like me.

Self-hate (1)
When I left home and struck out on my own, I held my head up high and said to hell with people who didn't like me. I was going to be Who I Was and if anyone didn't like it, then they ought not let the door hit their ass on the way out. The problem, of course, was that I didn't really like myself. In fact, there were vast swaths of my own psyche that I felt were horrid and inappropriate. I wanted to be someone else.

Skip forward a few years to marriage and early motherhood, and I can see that I'd made some basic attempts at bettering myself. I'd gone for counselling, taken meds, and had begun taking responsibility for my own actions. I moved away from the place where I'd partied hard, and tried to settle down to become a good mother and wife. I really was trying, and even though I failed miserably, I want to give myself the verbal pat on the back for what I managed in those years.

When I met Gray, I fell deeply in love. He was a very strong personality, and had no problems pushing me around when I needed to have a verbal spanking. He acted, for many years, as my own conscience. I would work hard with my therapist and discover what I needed to work on, and he'd provide the impetus to keep moving even when times got hard. A lot of people dislike Gray because of his ability to manipulate and push people around without their realizing it, but I actually liked it. It's a super power in a way, and he only uses it for good.

I'm happy and I know it (2)
The past two years, after graduating from seminary and starting out on my own ministerial journey, I have noticed that I'm generally happier. I'm not happy all the time, but overall, things have been better. When I examine my life closely, I see similar trials and tribulations; what's changed is how I approach those problems, and how I work through them. All that clap trap my therapist was telling me, was true! It just took a long time for it to sink in...

So now that I've reached this place of more balance, I find it easier to be "the better person." Years ago, if someone treated me badly, I would have no problem turning around and doing something equally nasty in return. They'd asked for it, after all. This is not so true, now. I see people who do nasty things as being ill. It doesn't make their actions any less obnoxious, but it does help me to be more balanced in my approach. I actually am a better person now than I used to be, and I'm just a little proud of that.

Still, there are people who push at even the best of us. Over the past 20 years, I've had an ex who liked to send me abusive mail... an internet stalker who would post private information about me in public... a long-term friend who went off meds and began considering me the base of most of his problems. I can look at these and all the other negative influences in my life and know that I need to be good. I need to understand that those people are damaged, much as I was (and am) damaged. I'm no better and no worse than they are; only my behavior can be better.

At times, though, I still want to relapse. I don't, and that's a good thing, but the urge is still there. When someone posts my private photographs on the internet, accuses me of abuse of children, or threatens my livelihood, I still want to strike back. It hurts, after all, even though I know none of it is true. I struggle with the knowledge that there are people out there who will believe what is written and posted, without ever checking with me.

Angry letters (3)
It's tough at those moments. My inner abused child wants to call out that I'm blameless, or that I'm the victim. Sometimes, I even go so far as to allow myself to think through a nasty response to those abuses of my character. The difference is that I no longer follow through. I can write a nasty letter to someone, and then toss it joyfully into the fire, knowing that it positively affected the only person it really needed to: me.

That is the bottom line, for all of us. Yes, we need other people around us, but there will always be nay sayers and negative people out there. We do not have control over them or what they say. We only control our reaction to them. Our attitudes make all the difference.

This doesn't mean it won't hurt. Sure it hurts. I recently lost an online acquaintance because she chose to believe the words of another over my actions. It hurt. The question I had to ask myself was whether or not I would want to have someone as my friend, who was willing to take idle words of one person over my long-term behaviors. The answer is no. I don't need to run around pleasing those who are fickle. I need only behave as I always have, and continue to be a better person. Others will like me, or they won't.

When I say "better person" I don't mean better than anyone else. The point of the Game of Life is not to be better than the Joneses. The point is to be better today than you were yesterday. If I get up today and manage a smile more easily than yesterday, then I'm a better person. Sometimes the changes are more striking, especially when measured over years instead of days or hours, but every little positive change helps. It adds up.

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1) Image by grietgriet / morgueFile
2) Image by Grafixar / morgueFile
3) Image by imelenchon / morgueFile
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