The familiar – more foe than friend

It’s been another hard week. Lots of interactions in which I offered my energy and here I am, at the end of the week, depleted. And expecting that two days of passing out for hours will get me back on the mouse wheel, energetic and ready to run. My partner asked me yesterday how come I expect to get somewhere else when I trod the same path. It’s not the first time she asks, not the first time we have this conversation.

I get angry when she tells me this because I get ashamed. I get ashamed because, though my coach and I have worked on this, I still believe my value lies in the hardest work, bordering on exhaustion. Ok, am saying “bordering” to be nice about myself. He assigned homework – a mantra to repeat in order to unlearn what is written in the fabric of my brain: my value lies in my competence not in my exhaustion. And I feel the road I am on is curvy and uphill and many are the times when I take two steps back to maybe half one ahead. I carry with me an impostor syndrome the size of a huge and full backpack, dragging me down at every step, a childhood and young adolescence where only hard work was valued and lots and lots of fear was my daily bread. Still. And in a couple of years I will say about myself that I am “in my late 40s”. It makes me once again pause and think about the weight of our early learnings.

One of the books I am reading these days – when I can keep my eyes open long enough – is Susan David’s Emotional Agility. This really resonated this week:

It’s the comfort we take in the familiar and the coherent that leads us to continue seeing ourselves based on how we saw ourselves as children. How we were treated as children is then used by us as adults to predict how we’ll be seen and received today, as well as how we deserve to be treated, even when it’s derogatory and self-limiting. By the same token, information that challenges these familiar and therefore ‘coherent’ views can feel dangerous and disorienting, even when the disconfirmation shines a positive light.

Fear of success, or fear of even being ‘okay’, can lead to self-sabotage including underperformance in school, being a ‘slacker’, or ruining an otherwise healthy relationship because you haven’t ‘earned’ it. We undermine ourselves in the service of coherence when we stay in a dead-end job, allow ourselves to be dragged in a familiar drama or, in extreme circumstances, when we take back an abusive spouse.”

Emotional Agility, Susan David, pg. 168

And all of a sudden it all made sense.

Why, when my partner talks to me about the need to not exhaust myself completely at work, all my red flags go up and alarms start beeping in my head. It’s the unfamiliar she is talking about.

What do you mean, put my wellbeing first, before hard work? Like … how does that work?

And I realize I am climbing up the wrong hill. I am climbing up the hill of the familiar “if I work hard enough, people will not kick me to the curve because they won’t be able to find someone who does the job of three people; if I work hard enough, I will be worth it,” when in fact, I should start, before it’s really too late, to climb the hill of the unfamiliar and healing “I bring value, I am enough, I deserve to be ok”.

Photo by Mindspace Studio on Unsplash

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