dog hair, parents, and self-criticism

May 17, 2010 at 8:39 pm 8 comments

My dad and step-mom arrive tomorrow evening. There is possibly no one in the world that loves children more than my dad does, so you can imagine how he feels about grandchildren. It’s beautiful to see. He smooches and laughs. Have you ever seen a dog roll in the grass for the sheer joy of it? Grinning and  soaking up the grassy goodness of it all? That’s my dad with grandchildren. When he visits he needs food and time with them, nothing else.

But in anticipation of their arrival I feel uneasy. My stomach is nervous. I woke up like that today and wasn’t able to pinpoint where that might have come from. I went to yoga class and thankfully got a break from mind/body separation, but soon after the uneasiness set in once again. I thought perhaps it was just a feeling, not anchored in anything actually going on and was careful not to trap it or make it smaller or bigger by attributing it to anything factual, but as the day wore on it slowly became clear that my uneasiness has everything to do with my parents’ visit.

I’m not even sure about the full spectrum of reasons. I know that having anyone visit has always been tricky for me. It has taken me thirty-three years to decide that who I am is not weird or wrong or something to cover up when people enter my home. And objectively, I’m really not weird but somehow I always assumed something was different about me, even if I couldn’t identify it. So there’s that, people are coming to visit. It means cleaning a little more than usual, it means I’ll probably vacuum the van or tackle some other random chore that I might usually leave for a while longer. But there is something more.

Maybe I feel uneasy because I love my dad so much and I want him to be proud. I think I was raised unconditionally but I wonder how that can be if I still yearn for his approval to such a degree. Would I still vacuum the van if I had felt loved completely unconditionally? Do I want the van clean or am I trying to avoid criticism? These are the kinds of things that have been driving me crazy today. Looking at myself, my family, and my home with a critical eye, someone else’s critical eye, actually even worse, someone else’s eye that I think might be critical. It’s exhausting.

My own eyes criticize enough. We need more money, I could do the dishes more often, our dog sheds like an unnatural phenomenon, we still haven’t taken the snow tires off the vehicle, Echo’s hair is really tangly, my clothes aren’t new. I think these things already, but when I imagine someone else thinking them, or even saying them out loud, that’s when my stomach gets tied in knots.

They may notice these things, they may not. The stupid thing is that it doesn’t matter what actually happens or what they actually think. All my suffering comes from my own thoughts. My thoughts about myself and my thoughts about what others think of me. I’m so sick of it yet I don’t know how to stop either.

If someone thinks you’re fat but you think you look great, you win, right? But if you think you look fat and someone else thinks you do too, you’re screwed. It’s a weird example, I know, but the point is, if I thought we were doing this thing called life perfectly and my parents came along and looked at us with a critical eye and found something failing, I wouldn’t be that bothered. But if I agree with their criticisms what defense do I have? How do I feel better, confident, joyful, and present then?

I want to not care. I want to not even remember to worry about my dad’s pants becoming covered in dog hair. I want to vacuum, or not vacuum based on my own desires, not fear. I want to watch my dad throw Echo in the air, play tic-tac-toe with Xi, or give Bella a back rub without any other thoughts clamoring for my attention. I want that. How do I get it?

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Entry filed under: life lessons. Tags: , , , .

glory, glory periwinkle

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Amy McGregor  |  May 17, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    I care so much about what people think that although I am not willing to go out of my way to make my home presentable, I am fully armed with a few choice joking comments about how gross my house is- “I was just saying to Tyson that you know your house smells bad when you’ve been sitting in it for a few hours and you can STILL smell it!!” It’s my way of telling people- you can stop judging me now. I’m already doing it for you. I used to get cold sores in high school and every one I talked to I had to start out the conversation with “You can stop looking at my cold sore now!” Then again, I am the girl who’s first words to her best friend will be “you have a GIANT pimple on your face” I guess I’m just captain obvious 😉 I hope you have a great visit and I hope to meet your fam out and about.

    -Amy

    Reply
    • 2. nataliechristensen  |  May 17, 2010 at 9:30 pm

      I hope we see you too! We’ll be at Butterfly weds afternoon to re-celebrate Echo’s bday, if you happen to be free…

      Reply
  • 3. FLJ  |  May 17, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    Isn’t tidying or cleaning up the house when someone comes to visit just another way of showing that you care about them? I do the same when people come round (and spruce up my children too). I always thought of it as a way of showing that you value your visitors. I want the place to be nice because I care that you have a good experience here and I want them to know it means something to me that they’ve come (none of them would be naive enough to think the house is clean and tidy all the time). I guess what I am asking is where do you draw the line between caring about others thoughts for you because you care about them and the more “damaging” focus on others judging you or letting this judgment shape your behavior? Is there even a line or is all the same thing?

    Anyway, hope you have fun with your folks despite the dog hair.

    Reply
    • 4. nataliechristensen  |  May 17, 2010 at 10:48 pm

      I think you’re right. I think I would want to tidy my house anyway as a way of caring for my guests, that part comes naturally to me and is something I feel great about doing. But I sure would like the mental clarity to know that that is my main motivation. Instead I get all muddied up, and mix in a desire to protect myself from criticism as well.

      Reply
  • 5. Holly  |  May 18, 2010 at 7:27 am

    I get totally twisted up this way. If I had a solution I would offer it to you, but I don’t — and not for lack of trying! The only thing that helps me is trying hard to practice mindfulness. Like: Yes, I still care about this person’s perception of me. I accept that. Yes, I fear their disapproval, and yes I am imagining their voice in my head, expressing disapproval. They, too, were once my age, fearing their parents’ disapproval. And even now, if they were to judge my life in some way, it would really be an expression of their own fear that they failed me in some way, didn’t raise me right, etc.

    Reply
    • 6. nataliechristensen  |  May 18, 2010 at 7:54 am

      Oh man, I think you are spot on and I forgot about that angle. Any criticism my dad feels about our lives is certainly, or even only criticism of his own choices in raising my sister and I. Thanks for that reminder.

      Reply
  • 7. angela  |  May 18, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    oh my, so tough to not feel all twisted up over visits like these. just had the in-laws here over this past weekend, and i felt the exact same way as you described! i want to not expect criticism, but it always seems to happen in some form. this time it was a discussion over unschooling. just feel i always have to justify our actions when they are around, defend our ways. and i think making sure the house is spotless and the food tastes great is just to secure there aren’t little things to criticize on top of the big things.

    i really try to think their constant questioning is because they are maybe defending the way they did things, but being bombarded with having to justify everything is exhausting! i just take deep breaths and try to focus on the kids in the moment, isn’t that what these visits should be about anyway?

    enjoy your time, and just do what i do and kick the dog hair under the furniture!

    Reply
  • 8. Jessi  |  May 30, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    I am a life long pro at talking for others in my head when it comes to criticizing myself. Over the last two years of partnering with someone who truly embodies non-judgment-living I have begun to kick this nasty habit. During times of stress I notice that voice creeping back in ever so sneakily to get me when I’m down and when it does I try to step back. I try hard to focus on what needs to be done in order for me to feel GOOD.

    I clean when company comes over, it is part of how I was raised to show respect and appreciation for others who may not have the same love for my hairy dog or the level of tolerance of my messy tendancies. My mother always said that it wasn’t about impressing anyone, because who cares what they think anyway as long as we feel we are living good lives, but that it’s a mater of respect and curtisy to show that you appreciate other points of view (especially when it comes to being comfortable in someone elses home). She always reminded me to think of how nervous I feel when we visit someone else’s home, and how the home-made treats made me feel better or the dog that jumped on me all the time made me feel worse. It’s a way of practicing unconditional respect for diversity. Diversity in who we can be ourselves, in who we associate with, and in varying levels of comfort. Not everyone will appreciate a dog who wants to cuddle with you on the couch, so I ask mine to get down whenever there is company and he (even the dog) seems to pick up on this regardless of who the company is.

    As far as the nagging voice goes…I have found that in those times when I seem to be critical of myself the best option is for me to change my focus. I don’t run from the criticisms but instead take them at face value and offer myself the alternative point of view. Something like this:

    -they will think you are a slob or disgusting because of the amount of hair around the house

    –> yes someone else will notice it more than i do so i can appreciate their difference and clean to be a good host

    -they will think you are a bad owner if your dog jumps on the couch to sit next to them

    –> someone else might be offended by his overpowering desire to cuddle so I will remind him to get down while company is over, and I know I am a good dog owner

    -are you sure you’re a good dog owner?

    –> yes. starts thinking of list of reasons to justify this opinion: i take him for walks all the time, i cuddle, i care, i try hard, i teach lessons, i value his company, i value his safety, i anticipate his weaknesses so as to be prepared for issues that might arise, i appreciate and anticipate circumstances that arn’t as conducive to his energy or presence and plan accordingly, etc.

    in effect i try to hear the criticisms i’m giving myself, so that i can learn from them or be in the moment with my insecurities, and then i try hard (when i can be mindful) to find opinions that can’t be refuted to prove those criticisms wrong. or to give me encouragement as i’m working on the issues that my criticisms are bringing up such as:

    -you are fat

    –> i am overweight right now but i am actively working on losing that extra weight by making good eating choices, eating less, and being more active.

    as odd as it sounds that little criticism keeps me in check when my cravings for cheetos or pie kick in. so in those moments i can go through the cycle of thoughts and keep myself from over-indulging by being focused on the goals i want more than that piece of chocolate cake.

    i believe there is a reason for self-criticism. not only is it a way for us to learn and re-learn lessons by having a critical consciousness, but also to make us aware of those things that we do struggle with so we can actively work on them when the opportunities present themselves.

    hope this is helpful to someone else out there, maybe i’m not the only one who listens to that voice and actively talks back! would appreciate any feedback. 🙂

    Reply

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