When I was a child my mother often accused me of “biting off my nose to spite my face.” In other words, I’d do something that would cause me to suffer just because I was mad about something else that had happened. While that gave me some sense of control, it was really a pretty self-defeating pattern.
Unfortunately many of us continue this pattern and others like it. I think the most common version I see is fear driven. There is an event or reaction or outcome that we are afraid may happen…or may not happen. That reaction or event is out of our control. And the fear of something bad or difficult happening makes us uncomfortable. So we try to take control. The only problem is that we can almost never force a good outcome. So we force the bad one, the one we are fearful of.
See if one of these examples rings true. You are afraid you won’t get the new job or promotion so you don’t apply. You are afraid your partner will have a bad reaction to something so you create a situation that assures you’ll fight about it. Or you are afraid you won’t be loved, so you push people away so they don’t love you. These are some of the classic examples.
So why do it? Because letting situations play out on their own means being vulnerable. Vulnerability often leads to feelings of fear and anxiety. And one way to reduce or eliminate those feelings is control. Creating a specific outcome, even a bad one, is a form of control.
But I’m sure you see the problem with this. Even though you’ve taken some form of control, you’ve guaranteed you will never get what you want. You won’t get the job. You won’t get someone who is kind and gentle in response to something you want to discuss. You won’t be loved. You have eliminated any chance that those things will happen. You’ve bitten your nose off to spite your face.
It all comes down to one of my favorite topics…vulnerability. Any time we are hoping for a specific response from someone else, we are vulnerable. You realize that while you want one response, you may very well get another. And in your effort to reduce that anxiety you self-sabotage.
There is a truth that is often hard to accept – if you want something you have to accept vulnerability. You have to open yourself to risk. You have to understand that when you reach for something there will be times that you won’t get it. People won’t always react the way you want. But the alternative is this – make sure you never get what you want just to avoid the anxiety. That hardly seems like the path to a happy life…