Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘interpersonal advice

Sunday Musings: Do You Recognize the Person in the Mirror?

with 2 comments

Folks, it’s Sunday. That means it’s time for me to write something with a bit more depth, perhaps…or at least something more elliptical, as suits my mood.

Enjoy!


After my husband Michael died, for a few years I did not recognize myself in the mirror. That’s just a fact.

“But Barb,” you ask. “Why are you talking about this now?”

I wonder how many of us have had times where we didn’t recognize ourselves, as I can’t be the first (and probably won’t be the last, alas) to have had this phenomenon happen. And I wonder, too, if that fuels my need for stories. Because every story I’ve told has dealt with a realization, or a transformation, or sometimes both…and the person who starts the book has had to realize his or her inner truths by the end, or else.**

See, the thing about humans is, we often don’t confront problems until we absolutely have to. This is especially dicey when the problem is something you couldn’t have ever foreseen, such as the coronavirus (COVID-19), or the way-too-early death of your spouse. The latter hits you like a ton of bricks, and you literally aren’t exactly the same as you were before due to your grief and rage and hopelessness, though the essentials of you are still there and can be dug out again in time

But there’s the former group of people out there — I have occasionally been among them, too — where we know there are problems in our lives, but we don’t have a clue how to fix them. Maybe we’re trying to fix them. Maybe we aren’t. But we procrastinate, hoping that circumstances or perhaps a miracle from the Deity high above will bring clarity…and our problems don’t get solved.

Sometimes the consequences of refusing to solve problems — mostly because we don’t like the solutions we come up with — are worse than just dealing with the problem to begin with.

The easiest example I have of this phenomenon is with a non-working toaster. If you try to keep using that toaster, when you know it’s sparking from the elements being exposed (the wiring, perhaps, has gone bad), you’re going to blow up your house. It’s a lot easier to just go buy a new toaster than to keep using the old one, no matter how much you liked that old one because it always toasted the bread perfectly every time…at least, until the wires got messed up and started sparking energy off all over the place.

Of course, human relationships are much more difficult most of the time than this above problem. Still, as Mark Manson has put it — and many others before him — there’s something called a “sunk-cost fallacy.” The quickest way to explain this is, “I’ve been with my husband for seven years. Yeah, things are bad. But I love him, and I think he can change…”

(This example is drawn from my life. My first husband, later my first ex-husband, was a good man in many ways but utterly wrong for me. Just as I was utterly wrong for him. We eventually both figured that out and got out of the marriage, which was just as well. I found Michael later, and he was the right man for me. And my ex found the right person for him, so it all, eventually, worked out for the best.)

Now, I did go to counseling the whole time. I tried to learn more about myself, and why I had picked my ex in the first place. I also figured out, due to counseling, that while people can change, it’s up to them to do it. You can’t make them do it. You can’t even assist them in doing it. They will either do it, or don’t, on their own.

I’ve had friends married to alcoholics who’ve learned the same thing, mind. They know it’s not up to them to stop their spouse from drinking. They can’t. All they can do is control their own behavior.

So, what I learned there is, no matter what good points your spouse may have, it’s up to him to use them. Or not.

And sometimes, we love people who aren’t good for us. Or who once were, but stopped being so, and now have no intention whatsoever to grow with you in a long-term relationship or marriage, mostly because they can’t help being themselves.

The good news is, if you are in a situation where you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror because of your own choices, or because life hit you like a ton of bricks, you can feel better about yourself. Over time, if you keep working on yourself, and read books, and educate yourself, and learn more about who you are and what you truly want (rather than what you think you want), you should find people who will want to grow with you. And who will appreciate your uniqueness, just because they know they, themselves, are appreciated by you for their uniqueness in turn.

It does take a while. It’s not a quick fix by any means. But living your life, and continuing to be your best self, and remembering what it was about yourself that you liked before life hit you like a ton of bricks — or before you stayed in your marriage too long after it had clearly died (and everyone knew it but you) — that’s the best way to go about it.

If you can do that, you can find some inner peace. You will know you’ve done your best in whatever situation you find yourself. And you can pick up the pieces again, and start over (or at least afresh), because you have learned over time that you, too, matter.

Not just your significant other.

_________

**(Before you start on my gender-fluid heroine Elaine from CHANGING FACES, Elaine liked the pronoun “she” even when she was feeling male. There are people who like pronouns that don’t seemingly go with their outward selves, too, in this world, including a growing number who prefer “they” as they prefer not to be categorized for various reasons. Non-binary people, mostly, are in this category; gender-fluid people also can easily be in this category, though Elaine herself is not.)