Thursday, June 16, 2011

Perspective In Maturity.

An Al-Anon member reminded me of a joking comment made by a mutual program friend ... he'd sighed heavily, and stated ruefully, that he'd come to the understanding that he wasn't the center of the universe. The rest of us at the table burst into laughter, but most could relate. When new to program, we may feel as though our feelings matter more than anything else around us.

Perhaps we believe that the strength of our feelings should cause people to treat us differently, make allowances, change a long-held policy or tradition. We may have been in pain for so long, that we don't know any other way to operate apart from using our feelings as a starting point for all of our decisions, justifying our behavior with our feelings.

We feel what we feel...

... and that's as far as it goes.

That feeling needs to begin, and end, with us. A feeling does not give us the right to demand change from someone else. It does not justify childish, manipulative or
vindictive behavior.

I speak from experience; I used my abusive childhood both as a shield, and a spear. I heard an AA member say something at an open meeting which stayed with me. He said that no-one cares what kind of misery we may have undergone then; what they care about, is whether or not we're a kind and loving person now. I couldn't shake that remark; it leapt into memory when my feelings were roused and I was about to behave unkindly.

I slowly, over time and practise of the Al-Anon program, began to understand that while I could live the rest of my life carrying that same rage and fear, I also had the option to let it go. How did I let it go? The same way we let anything go - by deciding to open my hand, relax my grasp, and let it fall away.

In program, I have learned that I have the right to my feelings. I've also learned that using my feelings as markers is not the best way to operate, since my feelings aren't always stimulated by the higher parts of my being. Sometimes they are the lizard brain, or the inner child demanding to be heard. I don't want to be a three-year-old all my life, I want to mature and grow. That means that oftentimes I need to feel my feeling, and then let it pass before I take any action - speak, write, or whatever the feeling is telling me to do. I can feel my feeling, observe that I'm feeling my feeling, and then share it with another member.

Not recite the way in which I arrived at that feeling: "I said this, and he/she said that, and then I said.." but share the feeling: "I'm feeling angry/lonely/frustrated/hurt."

Or recognise my feeling, and decide that it's all very interesting, but not worth verbalising, since if I am truly honest with myself, I can see that this is my inner three year old speaking. It's not the best idea, to let small children give me life advice. Before Al-Anon, I allowed my inner child to tell me what to say and do, because she was in a rage, or furious with hurt and pain, and wanted to have a temper tantrum to release the feeling.

We label certain behaviors "childish" because they are most often demonstrated by those young in years. When we have many years under our belt, and still act in that way, we have a problem. And we are a problem, to those who must deal with us.

I feel what I feel. That's fine; I let that happen, but I do it quietly, and without a lot of fanfare nowadays. If after a few day's contemplation I still feel strongly, and I can honestly say that I am not trying to change something or someone, I may speak up. I try to refrain from splashing my feeling about with much noise and drama.

Maturity has various components - mental, emotional, behavioural. That same AA guy I mentioned earlier, said something else that stayed with me. He said, "It's so hard!" is not a reason, excuse or justification. It's hard for all of us. It's just as hard for the person who has to put up with you, and your shortcomings. Think about that next time you start feeling sorry for yourself."


  1. GREAT post! I'm embarrassed to say that part way through it I caught myself thinking, "I wish so-and-so could read this".... so true that MY feelings don't give me the right to demand someone else act on them.

  2. Acting on my feelings generally resulted in a lot of problems. I like to inventory and pause when agitated. That pause really helps.

  3. Great post, and I would just add... I'm learning there is a difference between trying to change someone else, and setting a boundary, which defines what I'm willing to do/experience. I find that when I get angry, accompanied by wanting to change someone, I often benefit from considering whether my feelings are a signal , not to judge or try to change him/her, but to set a boundary. I had an amazing exchange with my daughter, who had texted me asking me to handle a phone call she had promised to make. I started to feel irritated, and started to travel the road: "She SHOULD BE handling this...." And then I reframed the thought to define what I was comfortable with. As a result, I politely said to her: "I'm sorry, honey, I'm at work and can't do that. I think it can wait until you are free to handle it." I avoided sounding snotty or aggrieved. And guess what: she agreed ... and made the phone call!