And (Of Course) How to Transform It!
by Daniel D. Maurer
I'm really, really sorry.
I know I must have offended you somehow. I mean, I've been sitting here in front of my phone for nearly TEN MINUTES so far. And what do I have to show for it?
No heart. No 'like.' Not even other reactions like the ones that Facebook gives us as an option during special times, like the rainbow or the cute purple flowers. (Those are some of my favorites.) Heck, you didn't even give me the little angry face to let me know how mad you really are.
But I'm sure of it now; you're pissed, and you're letting me know—albeit in a subtle, passive-aggressive way.
So I went over to Twitter, where I'm connected with you as well. I thought that since my accounts are connected, I figured maybe you chose to react in that place. However, even there—once again—I see no semblance of any sort of reaction whatsoever.
I mean . . . shit! I even went to Instagram. I barely use that platform. (Don't let anyone know, though. Okay? I want people to think I'm hip with all the Internets-techno-whizball-shit.)
And don't get me going about Google+. You haven't noticed me there for ages.
I know that you're giving me the cold shoulder, the silent treatment. It's fine, really. I've figured out why you're mad anyway. It was because of that impulsive, silly comment I made back in March on that photo of your cat. I hope you know that I was only being snarky and I didn't mean to hurt you. You didn't laugh or show the angry face at that comment back then either. But I know you were mad. It was your cat, after all.
So, yeah. That's gotta be it.
Thing is, I even deleted that one! But no. Oh nooooo. You've just got to stay mad.
Don't worry though. I won't unfollow you or block you. Nah. Then I'd really be up shit creek. I know that you'd hold a grudge and I'd never even see the ways you'd brush me off. I mean . . . I can just think of the things you'd be talking with other people about!
The thought is simply terrifying.
Always More Behind The Problem Than We Care to Admit
Well, I'm probably not that bad.
But I want people to like me. I mean, really, really like me. As much as I try to affirm the work others do, the fine writing they put so much time into, and the great photos they took of the family that authentically made me smile, I still have these thoughts rolling around in my head not unlike bingo-ball mixer-upper with an elderly judge behind it. You know, the guy who's there to tell me just what's not on the level with the myriad relationships I try to manage in cyberspace and IRL.
Here are the thoughts pinging around:
- AM I OKAY WITH THIS PERSON?
- WHAT CAN I SAY THAT WILL AFFIRM THEM?
- WHAT CAN I DO FOR THEM SO THEY'LL LIKE ME?
I have now bared my soul to you, dear reader.
I want you to know that I'm not a narcissistic sociopath who only uses you to further my ends. Really, I'm not! I genuinely do care about you. But there are other motivations behind my actions. It's not something I have entirely control over. I think it probably became fixed in my childhood years.
Don't worry—I'm not taking you therapy. Let's just say that my anxious demeanor pulls me in a direction to take the thoughts that come up and I feel compelled to put them at rest. Yup. #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike
Before I got sober, I'd deal with the anxious thoughts by encasing them in a impenetrable shell of opiate bliss. Of course, if I couldn't get painkillers, benzos would do fine. (Those always sucked though, because I'd take so many that I'd black out and wouldn't remember how happy I was after they wore off.) In a pinch, alcohol would suffice, but it wasn't my favorite drug by any stretch of the imagination.
And the times when I couldn't use? Well, those were few and far between in the last year of my active addiction. But they did happen.
Then, I'd try to manage.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous continues to be instructive for me, showing exactly how "we types" tend to think, and just how distorted our thinking can be. As a person who is generally anxious, I try to "manage" the whole world to fit into my preconceived notion to how things really should be. I'm the quintessential director in and on the stage of life.
Therein lies the rub: we cannot manage other people, situations, or what others are doing or thinking.
When I was still active in my addiction, I tried to manage the managing with more managing! I took pills and drank so that I could at least catch a breather from all the hustling and running around. It's exhausting, after all.
When I couldn't catch a breather, I'd manage by reading minds.
Anyone who's owns a similar brain to me knows what I'm talking about. You play out different scenarios in your head to see for yourself what's really going on.
Even after I've gotten sober, the impulse to manage tends to plague me.
For example, recently I had to cancel one of my speaking events. I felt bad about doing it, but there was no way around it. I'd double-booked for the day and I had to cut something. (It would be nice if I could clone myself some days.)
After I wrote an email apologizing for my error, I only got a quick reply telling me that it was okay, these things happen.
Of course my mind began writing a whole slew of various scenarios why the email reply was so curt.
- IS SHE ANGRY WITH ME?
- DOES SHE REMEMBER I DID THIS BACK IN 2013?
- WILL I LOSE MY REGULAR SPEAKING EVENT?
- I'M SURE OF IT—SHE'S ALREADY TALKING ABOUT ME TO ALL THE OTHER EMPLOYEES.
Invariably, I settle on an answer to one of the questions above. Sometimes, it's accurate. Sometimes, it's not. It really doesn't matter, because the fact remains that I'm. Not. A. Fucking. Mind-reader!
After the fact, I'll see my behavior as for what it really is: an attempt to calm my innate anxiety so that I'll be okay living in my own skin. The funny thing about mind reading is that the very action itself isn't calming, but further produces more anxiety. Why? Because after I settle into believing what "really is going on" I seem to run further scenarios through the processor to—you know—check to make sure I was "right."
Twelve Step Recovery serves to deal with the problem by removing the actor who's trying to play director in the first place, namely . . .
MY OWN BRAIN
I'm of the opinion that Twelve Step Recovery isn't perfect—and certainly doesn't work for everyone, nor is it an evidence-based solution—but I find great meaning in placing life's stress in the hands of one who is more powerful than the "Almighty Self."
Lately, one habit seems to be working. Whenever I have an anxious thought, based in fear, I remind myself that, most likely, it is a distortion of what's really going on.
I remind myself that, as much as I would like to believe I possess supernatural powers to read others' minds, I cannot know their true nature of their actions, much less than their intentions.
I then place my fate in the hands of my Higher Power. That whatever will be, will be.
Could something bad happen? Sure. That's life.
As a follower of Jesus, I believe ultimately that I rest fully within the hands of my creator.
Does this magically fix the ailment of Mystical Mind-Reading Syndrome? Not all the time. But habits take time and I'm striving for progress, not perfection. I realize this is cliché, but since Twelve Step groups are bursting with clichés . . . hey, why not? It does work.
Your solution may be different than mine. No, that's not right, it probably will be, fully as you conceive it or at least within the details. Acknowledging the illness is only the first step; action is where the rubber meets the road. Beyond that, I've discovered that a person builds resilience only when action is taken. Anyone has the capacity for resiliency to trauma or stress. However, without the actions to stop doing what was making us so miserable in the first place, we'll only find more frustration and difficulties.
Do tell. This whole blogging thing is so much more interesting when you comment. I want to know how you deal with your anxiety and your own Rx for Mystical Mind-Reading Syndrome.
THANKS! - Danno
About the Author
Daniel D. Maurer is founder of Transformation is Real and the author of four books, the newest of which is Endure: The Power of Spiritual Assets for Resilience to Trauma & Stress. Information about that one (and a GIFT for YOU) will be forthcoming! He lives with his family in Saint Paul, Minnesota.