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Sunday, July 14, 2019

It's Hard to Say I'm Sorry


I realized something about my dad and I think this is something that many people have problems with, including me to some extent me: Difficulty in saying I'm sorry.  By that I don't mean difficult in feeling contrite or an inability to understand when they've negatively affected or caused pain or problems for another. What I mean is difficulty in acknowledging contrition, regret or sorrow to another.

A little backstory. My dad had a difficult childhood growing up. I don't know much because he didn't talk about it. But from what I know from my dad was that his dad was a deadbeat dad and he was taken from his mom and at early age. He was shuffled around in foster until he finally found a 'permanent' foster family during the 2nd half of his childhood. He was raised by an old school, old German heritage dad. By that I mean, was very demanding, very domineering, very much into making sure a boy was toughened up.  In other words, his foster dad was not particularly nice and very sparing with approval. In any case, my dad learned at an early age not to rely on others, that he had to be a tough guy, and apparently to have an unhealthy outlet for his angst. I surmised based on a conversation I had with him near the end of his life that he was sexually abused as a child too. Anyway, my dad was domineering, prone to deal using alcohol and other outlets, and had an angry streak that all of us and especially my mom had to face. I got the sense in his later life that he regretted some of his behavior, especially where my mom was impacted. My dad would ask how my mom was doing later in his life, so clearly he still cared about her. Anyway, my dad had a hard time opening up and I think he didn't really 'know' how to say I'm sorry. Maybe it was facing up to the impact his actions, maybe it was shame? In any case, it occurred to me why he had a difficult time talking about and acknowledging where he had harmed others.

The two biggest culprits from what I see are
  • Fear of appearing/being weak or diminished.
  • Shame

Fear of appearing/being weak or diminished
  • When you are in a position of authority it can be very difficult to acknowledge harm to others for fear of your authority being undercut.
    • A person in authority is 'not supposed' to make mistakes, especially ones that hurt others.  They are supposed to be above human frailties.  Much of their authority is thought to come from their wisdom and strength, including strength of character.   To acknowledge mistakes that harm others, can be to some effectively admitting they are no better than the average person.  When their position in the family or society 'demands' that they are to be held to a higher standard, to acknowledge mistakes is to effectively to say that aren't fit for their position of authority.  So, by ignoring the need to acknowledge their mistakes (even if they are the worst kept secret)-- imagine Harvey Weinstein--they are effectively trying to artificially hold on to a level of authority.
    • The irony of it is that sometimes by admitting mistakes a person in authority can actually improve their authority.  Good leaders lead by example, both in the good and bad circumstances.   A good leader for example shows grace, shows kindness, shows toughness, but a person can be a good leader by leading the way in showing contrition to another.  Open contrition when you've harmed another can be difficult.  If you see others you look up have the strength to show contrition publicly even at the risk of their authority, it can make it easier for the average person.  After all, if my 'heroes' aren't too big to admit they are wrong, why should I be?
  • When you admit to others you have harmed that you have harmed them (and show contrition), it can change the dynamic of the relationship. 
    • The power dynamic can flip.  For example, no longer are you the safe, strong parent/friend/sibling/spouse to listen to, but someone who can cause them harm.  In other words, "why should I listen to you, you are not safe?".
    • In fact, one who acknowledges harm can be the 'jerk' who is striving to be accepted again.
    • You may have had some legitimate issues,complaints or concerns with another, but acknowledging harm to them can undercut your ability to advocate for yourself.   If you have proven to be hurtful to another, they might be like why should I care if I've harmed you?

Shame
  • If you already don't feel worthy or worthwhile, then the shame of acknowledging harm to another can be hard on an already damaged/fragile esteem. 
  • Sometimes the embarrassment or humiliation of owning up to your harm can be hard to swallow.  I believe this is especially true when you are acknowledging harm to someone you perceive as hard to gain approval of, difficult and/or unforgiving.
    • To me personally, as a child, I faced the humiliation associated with a deeply dysfunctional house.  So, I was trained early on the avoid situations that could cause me humiliation.  In some case, that included acknowledging mistakes or being hurtful.

I believe in the case of my dad, I don't think it was that he was unaware of the affect of his alcoholism and mistreatment of family members including my mom had on the family.  I don't think it was that he didn't feel regret or remorse.   I frankly don't think that he was ever equipped with the tools to effectively deal with the emotions and psychological issues that fully acknowledging mistakes he made and harm he'd done to others would have forced upon him.  I believe not only wasn't he equipped, but in some ways it was reinforced to him that showing emotions was not what a man does.

I've been hurt and I've hurt people in my life.  In some ways, I guess in varying degrees that is the story of most people's lives.  While we see on crime shows, people who appear remorseless, I believe most people feel regret, remorse or contrition at some point in their lives.  Ultimately the question is can you acknowledge "your side of the street" as they say in AA?


Thursday, July 4, 2019

Chasing the Elusive Cup

Anyone who is familiar with sports in general and hockey in particular realizes that the Stanley Cup is the possibly the hardest championship hardware in sports to win.  Literally some teams have gone decades without winning the Cup.  My team, the St. Louis Blues, just ended the longest Stanley Cup drought in the NHL by winning this year (2019) and it wasn't for lack of trying over the years.  Anyway, it has been a few weeks since they closed out the series and hoisted the Cup and I have been jazzed up about it since.  If I am having a bad day or just sad, I just go to clips from game 7, read one of the personal interest stories or watch a little of the parade and that's like a bit of an adrenaline shot into my arm.  The mood lifts for a bit.  So, it occurred to me, the elation of their victory and everything associated with it, IS my current drug of choice.  As I've been a huge fan of the Blues for decades, I have devoted countless fan hours, fan passion, fan intensity and in many cases fan cash into the team.  While fans love their team, let's face it, we all seek to see them win a championship.  We devote more time, energy, intensity and money into our team when they are winning.  We do it for love, but we also do it for the ultimate high of reveling in our team's championship run and victory.  For the most part, this is a healthy 'drug'.  But, it got me to thinking...  Are we chasing the elusive Cup and all it promises?  Have we got a taste of the Cup in our lives and are we seeking it at a high cost?

It's very simple from what I see...

Chasing the Cup
  • We are chasing the ultimate high, the ultimate lift, the ultimate diversion, the ultimate medication.  We are chasing a dream and all its promises.  Sometimes it lives up to the promises, but sometimes it doesn't.
  • We spend countless hours in pursuit.   With our favorite hockey team, we attend games, we listen to/watch broadcasts,  we follow the team, we read the stories, and we just generally think about how we'd love to see them win it all.   In other words, we sacrifice monetarily, timewise, emotionally and in other ways while we ride our team's journey in hopes of getting the ultimate high, the Stanley Cup.  If drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, shopping, obsessive eating or something similar is our "Stanley Cup", we will pursue our Cup usually sacrificing much (or in some cases all) in hopes of 'capturing the elusive Cup' high.  
  • The first Cup, like the first buzz for an alcoholic, like the first high for the drug addict, like their first love for a love addict, can be the ultimate high.

Trying to recapture the Cup
  • Once we've had a taste of the 'Cup' and we've receded from the high back to the stresses, the worries, and the daily grind of our lives, we wish to taste the Cup again.   We wish to live it again.  We wish to have the good feelings, the good vibes, the thrill and ecstasy of victory.  In short, we wish to replace the feelings we have with the high.
  • The Cup gave us an illusion of what it could always be IF only...   In our mind, we know we can't live the Cup.  We know there is no shortcut to happiness/contentment except living the life we are supposed to.   In other words, we can't seek the feeling of the Cup in our lives with shortcuts like drugs, alcohol, etc.   We have to accept that life is work and there are some nice points.  We have to enjoy the nice points, but we can't live in them, demand them or just seek them the wrong way.
  • We can't throw everything else aside in our pursuit of the Cup.  It is a noble goal to pursue the Cup in our daily lives, but we can't sacrifice everything else in hopes of capturing that elusive feeling, that fleeting high.  It doesn't mean we can't pursue the high points, but we've got to enjoy the journey along the way and make sure we aren't sacrificing too much in the process.   
  • It's nice to have those good feelings--the first/teenage type love, the unexpected good night playing the slots, the vacation in paradise, celebrating with a night on the town.  But we have to keep things in perspective.  Some experiences in life come only once, come rarely and/or randomly, or are costly/unhealthy to grasp for.   If we celebrate a little too hard the Stanley Cup and we feel really good in the process, we need to accept that we can't live the celebration.  If we win at the casino, we have to enjoy our good fortune and not come to expect that it will happen readily.  If we enjoy our trip to Cancun, we have to realize that is something we can't just try to seek yearly.  If we remember our first love and how good that felt then, we can't seek to duplicate it, when the responsibilities of adulthood, family and relationships become work.
    • That doesn't mean we can't have the good feelings again.
    • We just have to have perspective and the bigger picture.
    • We have to realize that some things cannot be repeated no matter how much you want to.
    • We have to realize that some good feelings, experiences will happen again, it just may not come in the time, form or certainty that is hoped for.

Now before I wrap it up, I don't want to leave with the impression that we need to kiss all happiness, good times, experiences, or certainty to the curb.  We can still go to our favorite restaurants or watch our favorite movies from time to time, for example.  We can still have the joy that the certainty of repeating pleasant experiences will bring us.   It is more an understanding that of cost...
  • Which experiences are healthy to seek repeatedly?
  • Which experiences can we 'afford' to seek repeatedly?  (cost is not always just money)
  • Will we be willing to accept when it is time to switch it up and not try to hang on for dear life to the known?

Just some thoughts.   It is good to seek the Cup and if you get your Cup, much of the time it is okay to seek it again.  But, don't be blind to everything else in pursuit of it.