Maybe Knowing Thyself Isn’t All That Easy

Years ago, back in Florida, I spent hours sitting in community centers and church fellowship halls, drinking really bad coffee, and learning things that would keep me sober and sane. One of those ideas that I loop back to the most is that our self perception is slow to change. In fact, we’re often the last to notice that we’ve evolved and that old scripts no longer fit.

When my daughter was born, I had no idea that I had a temper–one quick to ignite & prone to explosions over minor things. My short fuse shocked me–and it was hell to navigate with a toddler who instinctively knew how to push every button I had.

I was a yeller.

And yelling made me feel better. In the moment, it felt cleansing. Like a good cry. But the look on my toddler’s face when I’d completely lose my shit was crushing. Kid’s got a will of steel, but after scaring her into tears a couple times (and scaring myself pretty bad in the process), my drive to be a stable and balanced presence in her life forced me to examine and work on healing the parts of myself that were brittle and quick to anger.

Because, of course, the kid was never the issue. I was.

So, I found Brené Brown and The Gifts of Imperfection. I am not exaggerating when I say that this little book changed everything about the way I parented. I learned to be in the moment. To offer myself grace and to release shame the moment it reared its ugly little head. But most magical for me: I learned not to take myself so fucking seriously.

Jane was three years old the last time I had an absolute meltdown that included screaming my fool head off. It’s not that I’ve never raised my voice again. Or that I always keep my cool. But I am always present enough to offer humility and an apology if my response to something is over the top. And when I feel myself inching toward that space where a meltdown is going to happen in 3… 2…

I walk away.

But, even all these years later, I still think of myself as having a wild temper. Which is an old script for me. It’s true that I have very human responses. No one is going to nominate me for sainthood anytime soon. But my responses, even when I’m angry, are well within the realm of healthy communication tactics.

I thought about this old-scripts idea again this week when Glennon Doyle released a podcast* about a recent discovery that shook her long-held perception of herself. I nodded my way through the whole podcast. Especially when she talked about sharing her new revelation with people close to her–and watching them nod along, without any surprise–and realizing that they knew. Other people knew this truth about her before she was able to uncover it, hold it, and examine it for herself.

And she knows people will ask how that can possibly be: how could she not have seen something that was so obvious to other people? How could she have understood herself so little?

But aren’t we all like that? Don’t we all just plug along with this idea of ourselves, going hither and thither to get things done, to get the kids where they need to be, to make sure we take care of the basics–and we fail to notice some pretty significant truths about ourselves.

I mean, hell, I think of myself as relatively introspective–yet, I still run these out-dated scripts sometimes.

Fortunately, I live with a human who understands who I am and what I will do in any given situation better than I do. Which is fucking annoying. But also really comforting. He sees me with a clarity that astounds me, if I’m being honest. All his perceptions of me are totally up to date. He’s not working with 2008 Kendra. He’s always downloaded the latest bug fixes and updates. And he reflects back to me exactly what he sees, in real time.

This is incredibly helpful.

Yes, yes, I see all the ways this could go wrong if he was a manipulative asshole sort.

But he’s not that. Thank god.

And what he offers me is real partnership in this life. Yes, we’re always building something together (our family, our home, a life), but we also hold a solid stake in continuing to evolve as individuals. And he’s invested in my evolution. And I’m invested in his. Which means challenging old scripts. And helping each other out of ruts. And bearing witness to the hard work of being human that sometimes must be done alone.

It’s messy, this life. But that’s part of what makes it beautiful. And real.

When I was a kid, I thought adulthood would be easy. That I’d have things all figured out.

I was so wrong.

But I’ve begun to think that the mess, the discovery, and the wild journey just might be what it means to be really alive.

*CW: Eating disorders & mental illness

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