Monday, January 05, 2015
The Underbelly of Obsessive Thinking
Here's something I have known about myself for decades, and it trips me up every time.
When I do something to someone that hurts their feelings, I get concerned. This is natural, of course. I worry I could have done it better, found a way to make it less hurtful (yes, I am, after all, a Midwestern woman), or avoided hurting them altogether.
Then it gets complicated. Turns into obsessing. Quickly.
From this point on, my thinking contorts into a manifold, manifested obsession. It's a bit hard to track, seeing as how it is so complex and a bit dark and full of shame/blame, but it looks something like this, with all these thoughts turning and churning over each other in no particular order:
I could have done something else to not hurt their feelings.
I wonder if they are ok.
Could I do something now to make it better? (This especially happens if they are silent)
You know, I need to forget about this. (Usually with an edge of aggression)
If they would just tell me how they were feeling/express their feelings it would make it better.
Underneath obsession, there's anger.
This has taken me years and years to find, and is often the hardest bit to track. After all, concern is a Midwestern woman's currency! It makes sense to stop at concern. Only when the concern is obsessive, I can sense (usually after 12-24 hours) that there's something else going on there. We are not talking about "Gee, I hope she's ok. I worry about her." then letting it go. We are talking about these thoughts above and more circling my mind like vultures over a kill.
What's the anger about?
When I first found this anger, it felt pretty righteous - important, clarifying. Often, in the case when I have hurt someone, I have done it in order to hold my ground, make a boundary, state a need or take care of myself. This kind of hurt, in particular, merits protecting. If I turn it into being about the other person, about their hurt, and avoid some understanding that I did right by myself, I miss a lot of the point. However, lately I've been feeling the undercurrent of deep aggression under it and finding this:
I can't believe this person who I hurt is hurting me by being hurt.
Ouch. This part is icky, feels shameful and awful to admit. Seriously? Can I be so self-obsessed so deep down? Jesus. Really? And yet, I know from lots of practice and therapy that what is going on there is self-protection. Realizing underneath the anger that is under the hurt (follow that?) is more hurt. In other words, I am hurt. I am hurting. And I need to be with that.
This doesn't mean not being with the other person's hurt. It doesn't mean avoiding responsibility. It means finding the fine sand that is under the foundation of concrete of who I think I am. Especially when I am in a vacuum - which is when this happens most, when the other person won't talk to me about it - tracking these kinds of thoughts to their core, instead of around and around like buzzards in the air - is crucial.
Here are the core feelings: I am sorry to have hurt someone, I feel hurt by how they are responding.
It is there, at the stem, at the root, that I can feel, really touch them and let go.
If I don't take the time and care to be curious about my own motivations, it doesn't matter what the other person says to me eventually - I will use it as ammo against myself or them. This is what obsessive thinking is - gunning myself because they won't show up to receive my aim. All in an attempt to protect myself from grief.*
*www.melodybeattie.net - Melody Beattie has worked with the original five stages of grief and added two, including obsession. Powerful stuff, including her belief that 90% of codependency stems from unresolved grief.