This is a post which takes considerable personal courage to write.
And I'd like to begin by saying that I believe that when one is ready for answers, the answers come. When a heart is ready to know the truth, the eyes are tenderly opened.
Dianne called me one afternoon, apologizing profusely, as she always does, for interrupting my day. Hers is always a blessed interruption, to be sure. I welcome them. She told me that she had a book that she thought might be helpful for me, and would I like to read it? I never turn down a recommended book. Well, hardly ever. She said she would conceal it in a paper bag and send it with my son the next time he worked for her. Great!
When I picked up the Teenage Boy that weekend, sure enough he had a paper sack with him, along with another new candle and a bag of beef jerky. And that grin, of course. "Here," he said. "She said you could read this." And then he pulled it out of the bag. "Something about porcupines", he said. I held my breath. I knew the book, and I hoped this moment didn't become awkward. He slid the book back into the bag and set it down. Exhale. That was close.
The book is one I've long been aware of, and have wanted to read: How to Hug a Porcupine: Dealing with Toxic and Difficult to Love Personalities, by Dr. John Lewis Lund. Dianne was so in tune.
It was just last week, after sending my three Big Kids on the airplane to spend Christmas with their dad, and after taking sufficient time to recuperate from our holiday here, that I settled onto the couch with a blanket over my lap and feet and cracked it open.
But as I read the first chapter, I started to get this sick knot in my stomach. So much so, that it was actually painful for me--internally, viscerally--to keep reading. I wanted to throw up, I wanted to break into heartrending sobs. It was me. There I was, sliced open and flayed on the pages, dissected beyond denial. It was me.
"Ironically, many toxic personalities are well-meaning. They sincerely believe they are acting in a loving way and that the end justifies the means. Frequently these people send the message, "I am doing this for your own good," or "some day you will thank me for this." These people either minimize the detrimental effects of their negative approach upon the other person or justify it as necessary. They fail to recognize the magnitude of their negativity. It not only attacks the issue or behavior, but the very essence of the person. In their minds, the intensity of their negativity is appropriate. They lack a fundamental sense of proportionality. They use a twenty pound hammer when a five pound hammer would do. Most of them lack the knowledge and the skills of positive reinforcement. They assume the negative is the only viable approach open to them."
Oh, it goes on and on:
"Most toxic people view themselves as helpful. They are not hypercritical; others are hypersensitive."
"Even when confronted with the truth of their blatant excesses of toxic behavior, they will persist in viewing the 'real problem' as the inability of others to handle the truth."
And then the most painful:
"A toxic personality is one you cannot please. He or she is incapable of giving total acceptance. You will never be good enough."
I could hear the voices in my head. Voices that echo many of these same sentiments from my husband, and from my Teenage Boy.
Voices that say, "You only notice the negative."
"Nothing I ever do is good enough."
"You beat it to death."
"You are so critical and judgmental."
I closed the book only a few pages into the first chapter. The realization weighed so heavy upon my heart. I did think I had an acute ability to see things as they are. And maybe I do. But not everything needs to be said, and just because I see it doesn't mean the one afflicted with the challenge doesn't see it too, and they don't need me to point it out. Love them less because of it. Oh, boy. I cried and cried. I prayed and cried some more. How could I be so unloving and wretched? This is the way that people have felt about me probably my entire life. And it's not who I want to be.
I got up the courage to come back to the book over the next several days, and as the truth began to seep into my soul, I also began to be filled with hope that not all is lost. I may have quills, but I can shed them! And the others in my life who are prickly are still worthy and deserving of love. I read carefully. I read the chapters on porcupine children and teens. I read the chapters on healing and love, and how to learn the art of giving and receiving criticism. I did more than read, I drank them in. And I am learning, which is what can happen when one sees truth and accepts it.
I thank God that I see it now! That I can be humbled and changed. That I can learn replacement behaviors. That I can become an emotionally safe person for my children, and my spouse.
I thank Dianne for feeling the inspiration to pull this book off of her shelf--probably thinking it would have a completely different benefit in my life--and having the wisdom to share it with me.
I thank Dr. John Lund who is teaching me that I must own my life, and nobody else's. I must give everyone permission to have whatever kind of life they want to have, and in owning my life, I can choose how much I let others affect me. I thank him for teaching me that my goal should always be to be my "Highest and Best Self," to learn to decide for myself what a good person would do in any given situation.
While I feel deep sorrow and remorse at how I have mishandled the emotional trust placed in me, and how I have hurt those closest to me, I do not take upon myself all the blame for any of the troubled relationships in my life. There are issues in them that are real and that stand separate from my issues. But I do claim my role, and sometimes that role has been toxic and has hurt those whom I love. Sometimes I have not been an emotionally safe person. That is my new goal. Apparently, love can move mountains. Criticism only moves people away, even when you mean well, and even if it's true.
Dianne may have just changed the legacy I leave behind.
Watch your step, I'm shedding quills.