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The Shield I Hold

December 31, 2013

Is it possible to get to a place where I’m truly comfortable with myself? Is that too much to expect from existence as a human being? I want to get to a place where I’m so comfortable with who I am that when someone criticizes me, comments on my behavior or suggests that I change, it rolls off my back and I’m able to smile and move on.

I’m not talking about constructive criticism like the font should be bigger on this poster. Or, you need to rotate your tires more often. I’m talking about, you should tone it down a bit, Marie. I’m talking about, you should be less you, kind of stuff.

It doesn’t roll of my back. I get defensive about it. My guard goes up and my spirit falls down. I thought I had gotten past that. I thought I was better.

A year or so ago I found myself at my favorite neighborhood hangout, Pamplona’s, after hours. The manager, one of the bartenders, a waitress and another regular were the only ones left and the alcohol had been flowing for quite some time. The bartender was pouring shots. I’m not sure why I was even there. But the conversation turned to dating, as it so often does. I was about 6 months out of my divorce and thought I was doing great. I guess my attitude was defensive and guarded and before I knew it, the entire scene turned into a Marie-roast. “You have fences up,” the bartender told me. “You’re not open. You’re cold.” Words to that affect. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard such a critique and not the last. And it threw me for a loop. Knocked me off my center. Though in retrospect, I probably wasn’t all that centered.

I was still seeing a therapist at the time and I discussed this little episode with her at great length. She wondered why I gave a rat’s ass about what a bar fly and a bartender thought about anything. Why was I giving it any weight? The answer is clear to me now. They touched a nerve. They painted a picture of me that I didn’t want to be. Whether their opinion should have weight or not, it was what they saw. And it wasn’t what I wanted to project or be.

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I’ve been having problems with one of my co-workers. She was supposed to be my boss. She hired me. She exists in the workplace in this pathetic state of overcompensation for insecurities that are glaringly obvious to everyone but her. “I’m the Marketing Director!” she  often says. It’s like screaming, “Respect me! Respect me!” which of course garners no respect at all and in fact has the opposite affect. She’s very quick to an obvious defensiveness. I tried to make a study of her for several reasons. It occurred to me that each time she gets defensive, it’s because she is insecure about something specific. It’s because a nerve was touched. She seems to be blind to this, of course. She seems incapable of self-examination, of self-improvement, of personal growth.

Watching her made me wonder about two things. One, am i doing the same thing? When I get defensive, is it because there’s a part of me that needs examining and change? Am I ignoring these aspects of myself because it’s easier to grab that shield and put it up? Two, if someone is behaving like a total cunt-face, what is the most constructive way of trying to tell them that? How do tell someone they need to change in a productive and loving way? How do you critique someone’s behavior in such a way that the result is change and growth and not defensiveness, anger, resentment or the grabbing of that shield? I was wondering this in terms of how to deal with her but now I’m wondering, “Have my friends been trying to do this with me?” Because the critique keeps coming up and I still get upset every time.

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Pickle’s boyfriend, Steve (I think that’s what he is. They’ve been kind of off and on. We’ll call him her boyfriend for now.)  was in town last weekend. We were all at the Blue Moon and this guy I had met before came up to me and said hi. Lebanese. Let’s call him the Lebanese. I was introducing him to Pickle and Steve. I guess I was trying to be funny or silly and Steve leaned in to me and said, “This thing that you’re doing right now. Stop doing it.” I pulled away and said, “Oh,” and kind of calmed down a bit and sat up straight on the bench that I was siting on next to the Lebanese and stopped talking. “Well not that much,” Steve said. I felt confused and admonished. Despite this, I talked to the guy for a while until he and his friend left. He asked for my phone number. Something about salsa dancing on Saturdays at the Hilton.

The next night, Steve made another, similar comment. We were having dinner with another friend after a card game at Pickle’s house. I don’t remember exactly what he said. Something about questioning whether I was capable of personal growth. It seemed a bit harsh at the time and I got quiet and finished my salad. Pickle looked at me and said, “You’re not going down the rabbit hole are you?”

I felt confused, sad and ridiculous.

Today it happened again. Pickle and I were driving to Atlanta with another friend and we stopped in Ocean Springs to see Will. Pickle mentioned Steve’s attempt to “take me down a notch.”
“I thought that might have some affect.” she said. “But I guess it didn’t.”
“I didn’t realize I needed to be taken down a notch.” I replied defensively.
She laughed and Will quickly quipped, “Oh, yes you do.”

I tried not to let this upset me. I was in the middle of a three day trip. But it did.

I’m always a little surprised at this assessment of my personality. I don’t see myself as overly aggressive or obnoxious, but I guess I can be. I’m my mother’s daughter. Maybe she didn’t see herself as she really was either. My internal self-image is one of a kind of quiet, shy girl. Sure, I like to joke around. I like to mess with people. But it never ceases to amaze me that I have a greater impact on people than I ever imagine I could or should. I don’t take myself that seriously. Why should anybody give a shit about what I say or do?

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So, I find myself wondering……do I still have work to do. Do I still need to change? If so, do I need to change my character or my behavior or do I need to reach a point of self-love that allows me to not care when people say that I should be different than I am?

I’m not sure. I know I don’t want to feel that way anymore. When someone like Steve makes some quip about me, as a person, I want it to pass over me like a light breeze. I don’t want it to send me into a spiral of self doubt and confusion. I don’t want it to hit a nerve. I don’t want it to be possible to hit any nerves. Is that a way of being that is achievable?

I don’t want to hold a shield anymore. I know that trying to protect myself is an action of fear. I know I should try to open myself up with love and self-acceptance. I would like to learn how to be vulnerable without being harmed. I want to enter the world all the time with confidence and peace. I want the fences down. I don’t want to hold the shield anymore.

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From → Rantings

3 Comments
  1. Whether anyone needs to be taken down a notch depends entirely on the situation and the audience. If you’re being loud and funny at a party or a bar, that seems like a right fit to me for the situation – but the actual friends you’re with may be more low key than you are. So to *them* you may be inappropriate while others would think you’re fine. It may be that the people you choose to socialize with are not the right match for your personality.
    Ultimately, there will come a day that you don’t care. I don’t know how old you are, but the older I get the less I care what someone else thinks, the more I’m fine with myself exactly as I am, simply because life is too short. You may find that’s the case for you, too.

  2. Nikki D. permalink

    I think as a woman in general it’s very hard to be vulnerable without the possibility of getting hurt. I myself am an extreme person- either the walls are up very high so the possibility isn’t there at all or if I actually lower them they are gone completely and I’m like a sitting duck.
    I would love to know how you get to that center balanced place. Keep posting what you come up with!

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