I have to get this out of my head and into words.
Today I had to attend one of those mandatory things that happens at work sometimes where every person on the payroll has to go sit for two hours learning life lessons such as the value of diversity or the importance of respectful disagreement or why not to put too much paper in the printer at once. Today's lesson was Emotional Intelligence. It had a long title but it came down to "how not to be an ignorant jackass." So I sat down with two snarky colleagues and prepared to learn nothing, because I'm a delightful snowflake and clearly the seminar was directed at the four or five total sociopaths in this building but they couldn't very well say "you four or five people need to learn to work better with humans" and so--much like my "everyone needs a shower" declarations when really it's just one smelly child--we were all forced to sacrifice two hours of our time to the Emotional Intelligence seminar speaker.
Note: I've been reading The Bloggess's new book and may have assumed her voice for a few days.
So we start talking about emotional intelligence and it really becomes quite clear that this is just an infomercial for the collected works of Daniel Goleman. We talked about developing self-awareness ("how am I feeling right now? Why?") and self-management ("I need to not flip out at this waste of time.") and then I had an epiphany.
We were asked to think about and possibly share our triggers that really make us flip the flip right out. Many of us talked about dealing with students that assume we have nothing better to do than to answer questions that are clearly in the syllabus, that email us daily to ask about when we're going to have something graded, who email us every day to remind us that they need a letter of recommendation before the end of the semester, who send their parents after us when we make them commit to the rules they agreed to on the first day of class, etc. I had noted that I lose my ever-lovin'-mind when I hear my kids or students whining about how something isn't quite "fair" by which they mean it's not quite as awesomely generous as something someone else may have had once. Ungrateful. I hate hate hate ingratitude. It sends me right up over the edge of insanity.
As everyone else was talking and I was seeing this theme. This lack of appreciation for how busy we are, how hard we're trying, how much we've already done. So I suggested that maybe many of us could agree that a lack of appreciation for our efforts is a really big trigger. There was a lot of agreement (until the one guy said he couldn't care less about appreciation, he just lost his mind at rude drivers and so there you go.)
So I thought all day about why appreciation is such a big deal to me. Why do I get so mad when I think someone doesn't appreciate what I've done and seems ungrateful for it? It's not that I expect endless praise or songs of gratitude. Even just a neutral acceptance without a word is fine, or a little "thanks!" every now and then. No, it's when my efforts are met with wailing and gnashing of teeth that I want to burn the whole house down and stomp away. Why?
I interpret those moments as distrust. When a student nags me to write something that isn't due for a month I think I'm annoyed that they don't appreciate how busy I am, but it's really I'm mad that they don't trust me to take care of it. When the kids are wailing that they haven't had dessert in three days or that fruit salad isn't a real dessert I think I'm mad that they are just spoiled obnoxious and ungrateful (and I am) but way way down I feel it as distrust in my ability to know and meet their needs. Those are the times that really send me through the roof with annoyance. When they break something I bought them or leave the house a mess it's not about trust--I'm straight-up annoyed that they are ungrateful and unappreciative of what they have. And in those cases, I don't lose my mind. I just get annoyed.
And this is a totally reasonable feeling because the child that does this every minute of every day (Jorge) is the one that trusts me the least. He assumes I have it in for him and want to make him miserable. And so of course he whines that it's not enough, that it's not as good, that it's less. But now I see. Now we aren't really arguing about if he has enough dessert or socks or minutes of stories or time with the laptop to be fair. We're arguing about this deep deep fear: do you really love me? Can I trust you to be loving me as much as I need? Do I need to fight for it for myself if I can't trust you to just give it to me?
And I'm not saying the right response is then to just give him everything, or even to buy into his warped view of equal and fair as the same thing or to always give him an advantage--but maybe, just maybe, I can address it deeper down. Trust me. I do want the best for you. I do want you to be healthy and happy and whole. I do not want to burn the house down, darn it.
And then, woah... I realize that this is such a giant trigger for me because this is my most vulnerable fear. I'm the primary wage earner in this family and my job is probationary and I stress constantly that it won't last. I worry I'm failing the kids by being gone too much, distracted by work, grumpy and worried about work.... I worry I'm failing my husband by being too busy and distracted to listen to him. I worry I am letting everyone down all the time. I'm a fraud waiting to be discovered as merely mediocre at my life. And so those little pokes and prods of "you aren't enough; you fail; you can't be trusted to do your job, to parent, to function" get RIGHT THERE at my very worst suspicions.
Thanks for the free (in fact paid to attend) therapy today, job.
(We also talked about being aware of other people's emotions and helping manage those within a group. I recognized a lot of what the counselor is doing with M within the contexts of this emotional awareness and management material, too, which was interesting and validating. But, y'know, busy chewing on TRUST here.)