Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons."

Oh, how I need this reminder, virtually everyday.

Up until a certain time in my life, I was so afraid of conflict and of people not liking me, that my general philosophy was "if someone says that something I thought or said was wrong, then it probably is."

This also stemmed from a general lack of belief in myself, my abilities, and my own intelligence.

All it took was one wayward glance and a contrary word, and I'd immediately wave my white flag. I didn't believe I had what it took to argue or to be right. God forbid if someone became angry at me - it would send me into a spiral of fear and shame from which there was almost no return. If someone got angry at me and I was actually the person in the right, chances are I couldn't see it, either. All of my energy would be focused on fixing the problem, whatever that meant, in order to achieve peace with the other person.

I'm still like this, a lot. Being at odds with someone is enough to keep me up at night until the problem is resolved. Or, it sends me into a fit of depression so bad that all I can do is sleep and wake up and worry. One thing was definitely certain in my marriage: we would never go to bed angry at each other. I couldn't possibly bear it. Problems had to be fixed, or else I would be haunted all night.

Recent events in my life over the summer confirmed that this is a personality flaw from which I'm never likely to recover. I found myself in a few different conflicts. Every time, I ended up barely functional for days, paralyzed with worry, depressed, even making myself physically ill over it. I could focus on nothing else - I'd try to shake it off, try to convince myself "whatever will be, will be," and even try to talk myself down by saying that, even if it didn't work out, I'd be okay. Nothing worked.

On a positive note, I think it says something about me that I tend to value peace and friendship over being right. The fact is, I've never made friends easily, and those I do have, I cherish deeply. I strive very hard to work things out. I feel the loss of a friend like a physical pain, and it takes a long, long time for me to recover. I'm still recovering from a friend who effectively dumped me about two years ago, even though he treated me very poorly, took advantage of me financially for months beforehand, and treated members of my family badly as well. I've moved on, but the betrayal has stuck with me and makes me very gun shy.

Despite this emphasis on valuing my relationships, I've been working hard on the "as far as possible, without surrender" part. Throughout the years, due to my leanings toward compliance, I've ended up doing a lot of things I didn't want to do because I wanted people to like me. In fact, it's shaped a lot of the direction of my life. It's partially the reason I went to law school (though I've come to terms with that and now found a career I love), and why I'm living in Illinois. It's also affected smaller decisions - money I've spent, trips I've taken, how I've spent my time - that have impacted my quality of life and, honestly, my list of regrets.

Another thing I've learned is that not surrendering is actually a way to draw people to you. I always thought being compliant was the right way - but people respect you more if you stand up for yourself, even if they do not always agree with you.

One good thing about this past summer is that I did avoid "surrender" on many occasions. Many times, I just wanted to give up and retreat into my hole. But I also knew that, at the heart of the conflict, I was just trying to be happy, and it was okay for me to want that for myself, and to do what I needed in order to get there. I think I'm stronger for it, and have started finding a way to be at peace with conflict when I know there's nothing I can do. It's still a long road, but it's part of being who I am and doing things I want to do with my life.

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