The Introspective Salon
Everyone has traits, both physical and personality traits, that they consider to be flaws. To me, human flaws are traits that are changeable. Flaws aren’t static. My freckles or the texture of my hair, for example, are not flaws. While they may be flaws put up against the beauty ideal, they are not flaws because there is nothing I can do about either of those things (outside of drastic measures). Of course, this is up to interpretation. Some people might not consider skin lightening or hair extensions to be drastic, but that is outside of my realm of consideration. For my purposes, my flaws are the traits that I can change.
I recently watched a video by a blogger and Youtuber I follow, Laura with “How to Get Your Shit Together,” and she participated in this “perfectly imperfect tag” and shared three of her flaws. In the comments, a lot of people were saying the she was being too hard on herself and that her “overly emotional flaw” was just inherent to her as a woman and she shouldn’t worry about it. I highly, highly disagree. Not just because blaming emotions on being a woman is problematic, but also, if Laura considers being overly emotional a flaw, then she must not be happy about the effects that has on her life. She must want to change it! I think it’s great that she’s aware of it and I don’t think she’s necessarily being too hard on herself. I don’t know her true inner thoughts, maybe she beats herself up about it, but simply considering it to be a flaw and wanting to change it is not unhealthy.
Flaws are traits that might make us unhappy or make other people uncomfortable and there’s no reason why we have to live in that misery with ourselves or with others.
This got me thinking about some of the traits of my own that I consider flaws. What are some traits that I want to change, or am actively working on changing? I’m going to share three flaws, and talk a little bit about how I plan to change or how I am changing.
1. I am a TERRIBLE gift giver.
I actually get really stressed when people give me gifts because I feel a pressure to return it and I suck at knowing what to get people. One of the problems is that I’m frugal, so I don’t want to spend a lot of money on a gift. Another problem is that I think about it too much from my own perspective. If I feel uncomfortable about getting gifts, then so will other people, right? Well, that is just silly. There are plenty of people in my life whose love language is gift giving and would absolutely swoon if I got them a gift. I also want to make sure I get people gifts that they will actually use, rather than just little trinkets, and that can delay the whole process of buying a gift because I have to think about functionality and figure out what the receiver of the gift might need. Sometimes though, a little trinket or token of love and appreciation is enough.
I’ve been working on this by re-framing the whole gift giving process as one that’s fun, not stressful. I’ve been having a lot of fun compiling a Gift Ideas wish list on Amazon and thinking about the interests of my friends and family. With the holidays coming up, it’s a perfect time of year to work on this flaw.
2. I live my life by arbitrary rules that I make FOR MYSELF!
It’s absolutely ridiculous, to be brutally honest. As an example, a few months ago I was shopping at Maurices. I was trying on this sweater that had a floral edge at the bottom and when the sales associate asked me what I thought about it I was like, “Oh, I think I’m too old for this.” She was like, “But if you like it!” And I was like, “Yea, I’m just making up some arbitrary rule for myself.” I realize now, that I do that in all facets of my life! If I decide that some concept is true, then it is absolutely true. I decided that I was too old for that sweater. I didn’t make up my mind about that sweater for some other more logical reason like, oh I don’t know, I just didn’t like it! (which I didn’t). Rather, I decided it was true, that at 25, I was too old to wear sweaters with little floral edges at the ends.
I read in The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Depression by Kirk D. Strosahl and Patricia J. Robinson that this "rule governed behavior" is a big contributor to depression, so for me there is a lot of significance in challenging the rules I make for myself.
I’ve begun working on my rule-making flaw by creating a list of all these arbitrary rules so that I can become aware of them. These rules have become so routine that I’m not always conscious of the fact that I’m making a decision based on a rule, rather than my intuition or feelings. I also feel that it’s urgent to challenge this flaw because it doesn’t make me happy to follow these rules. It makes me rigid and inflexible. These rules keep me from living more spontaneously and accepting whatever may come and go. I think some sense of routine and normalcy is a perfectly healthy thing to strive for, but I don’t want it to get in the way of me living a full and purposeful life.
3. The last flaw I’ll share is that I am not very trusting.
I often assume the worst in people (outside of my closest friends and family) rather than giving them the benefit of the doubt. I don’t believe that my acquaintances or colleagues really care that much about me and this leads me to being cold and stand offish. If I don’t have an intimate relationship with someone, then I’m not quick to respond to their emotions (unless it’s blatant sobbing) because I’m quick to think they might be trying to manipulate me. I’m quick to think they’re not being sincere. I haven’t had the best luck with friendships in my life, and I know a part of that is because I have not been willing to open up, but regardless of the reason, it has led me to distrusting people. I think there is some value in staying guarded with people who aren’t really involved in my life, but I also think that I could stand to be just about as open as I am in this space, in real life. The idea that few people read my posts allows me to open up here, but if I open up to someone in real life and then they open up to me in return, wow, scary stuff.
Vulnerability is so much harder when there’s a risk of expressing raw emotion and possibly crying in front of someone, or having someone cry in front of me.
To be honest, I haven’t been doing much of anything to work on this. Well, I don’t know. Maybe these blog posts count. It’s like a gradual ladder of vulnerability, at least on my end. It doesn’t really allow me to be open to other peoples’ emotions, though. So, in real life, I haven’t done much to confront this flaw. I am aware, so that’s a step, but I am scared to work on it because, well, it’s very scary for me.
To demonstrate JUST HOW SCARY THIS IS, I'll share that I have this friend, who I have known for TWENTY years. We went to church together. We went to school together. We lived in the same town for most of our lives, and even now that we don't we still keep in touch. This is a woman who I feel close to. She officiated my marriage! And yet, only recently, as in the past few months, have we been opening up to each other. And I have known her for TWENTY years. It’s clearly a big challenge for me to be vulnerable with even my closest friends! I have made progress, but currently, I’m not really taking any active steps toward changing. Every time I think about it this flaw, I find some way to justify it. Oh, that’s just how I am or oh it protects me from pain or looking like a fool. Even now, I’m thinking that this flaw isn’t that big of a deal and I don’t need to work on it, but being emotionally distant doesn’t make me happy. I can change it. I may never be flamboyantly open about my emotions, but I can share a little more about myself and encourage others to share with me, too. I can learn to trust people a little bit more. I can look for the good in people rather than assume the worst.
That's it. Those are the 3 flaws that I hope to change. I'm not going to share any of my physical flaws because I don't think that's the point of this exercise. There are things about my body that I'd like to change, too, but at this point in my life working on the internal stuff, the head stuff and the heart stuff is way more important. Plus, I find, that when I work from the inside, eating healthy and staying active become a more natural part of my life rather than a lifestyle I feel like I have to force.
Go forth, will you, in a gentle pursuit to change the flaws that make you most unhappy.
For the past week I have been feeling incredibly restless. I seem unable to focus on much of anything, even a Youtube video or a television show. I’ve been finding it hard to even look forward to picking up a book to read because I’d rather do something more mindless. I’d rather pick at the dry skin on my right thumb until it is even. (Which is a fruitless goal because it will never be even until I stop picking at it!)
Doing mindless activities is usually my response to restlessness. My thumb becomes a minefield of hangnails when I succumb to this. Zoning out is a way for me to avoid my real feelings, like maybe my life isn’t where I want it to be. Maybe I wish I was more successful. Often times I think wow, I’m getting my MFA, a degree that will be unlikely to land me any particular job, and I’m working part-time so I should be seeking other opportunities! I should be seeking other employment! I should be volunteering! I should be writing an obscene amount of things and shoving them out into the world! I should be solving all my personal problems now while I have the time! I should be learning a new language! I SHOULD BE DOING ALL THE THINGS!
I mean, why wouldn’t I want to avoid all those thoughts? They are heavy. They’re exhausting and they make me feel like shit. They make me feel lazy and unaccomplished.
I have been trying a new strategy against these thoughts the past week, though. It’s nothing novel, I got the idea from this workbook I do from time to time called How To Be Happy (Or at Least a Little Less Sad) by Lee Crutchley. I’ve been utilizing the “Worry Window” when my thoughts start to get really big and scary and mean. For 10-20 minutes, I give myself time to just write down any worries that come to mind. When I first did it, I was like oh I can’t do that for twenty minutes! Well, I did do it for 20 whole minutes and I could have kept going, but I stopped and I told myself the worries were for the window. I could choose another time of day to do a Worry Window, but for the rest of the day I wouldn’t think about them. It was incredibly helpful to banish all the worries to the window.
The window has also had an unexpected result. As I write my worries, I find I contradict the most irrational ones, just naturally. If I write down a worry about how I don’t make enough money or what if I’m not a good wife, my mind automatically reverts it. Even though I’m writing very fast and constantly coming up with new worries, I’m still re-framing the most irrational ones in my mind. This is also great because then I can parse the wilder worries from the more pressing ones and make a plan for the worries that have more grounding in reality.
Another benefit to the Worry Window is that I am finding themes. The biggest theme that permeates my windows is MONEY! I write down a money worry about 10-15 times. A large portion of my Worry Window just looks like this: $$$. I’m also very worried if I’m a good wife or a good sister. I worry that maybe people find me annoying or that I push people away. I worry a great deal about the future. It’s useful to see these themes emerge because then I can prioritize what worries need action most and I can come up with a plan. Most of the worries that are appearing frequently are fortunately ones that I can act on. I can make a plan for saving more money, for instance. Or, I can spend more time with my husband. I can call my sisters more often.
Worrying about what others think about me is an irrational worry that keeps coming up. Maybe, uncontrollable is a better word in this instance. We all worry about this and I think it serves a purpose, but ultimately, there’s nothing I can do about that. I can’t control what others think about me and I can’t expect everyone to like me. I can, however, control what I think about myself. The more I learn to like myself, the less I'll care what others think.
Determining these worries that are out of my control will help me to figure out where to put my anxiety fighting efforts. It will help me to know what worries I can try to leave behind, and the Worry Window has provided a great opportunity to re-frame my negative thoughts. In the window, I confront my worries, rather than zone out and try to dismiss them. Hopefully, my thumb will heal as a result.