Sometimes, if I am entirely honest, I have to admit that I like to create crises for myself. Maybe “like” isn’t the right word. I do get a certain kind of payoff from it though.
I have a well-worn pattern. It starts when I need to do something I am afraid of because I don’t know how to do it correctly. (I can be a bit of a perfectionist.) Other times, I simply “forget” I need to do something. That might mean I don’t give myself a system for remembering to take care of the task, or I simply don’t do it. It’s not an entirely conscious decision. It’s more like a habit where, if I don’t know how I am going to accomplish something, I simply move on. Maybe I’ll remember to do it. Maybe I won’t. If I don’t, then it might become a problem that bites me in the butt later on down the road. Or, I might remember to address the issue just in the nick of time, before it becomes significant. I might lose sleep because I’ll obsess over it at night when I can’t do anything about it.
I’ll give you an example. I know that I need to have my car inspected every year at the same time. If I were interested in avoiding a crisis, I would put a reminder in my calendar so that I could plan to take the car in before the inspection sticker expires. But I don’t. And so every year, I leave it to chance. I might remember a few days before it expires. If I do I’ll panic and cancel my plans so that I can get the car inspected. I’ll feel like a big hero because I remembered and I sacrificed myself to get the job done! Yay me!
Or I might get a ticket because my inspection sticker expired, and again, I’ll panic and cancel plans so I can get the car inspected before I get a second ticket. In this circumstance, I’ll feel stressed out about wasting money on a ticket and somewhat less heroic about taking care of the car. In either case, I think I get a certain thrill from the rush of emotions and a sense of self-importance.
This is a pretty tame example, one I am not too embarrassed to share. But there have been many, many others over the years and there were times when my passive-aggressive behavior caused some real serious problems (like the time I forgot to test an email address used for responding to a printed invitation, requiring my company to buy the mistaken domain name so that we could receive the RSVPs to that incorrect address – oof!)
When I take a step back and look at the situation, what comes across is that I have caused myself a great deal of avoidable stress and anxiety, and I probably came across to others as irresponsible and unreliable. It is a good example of a way in which I can fail at taking care of myself. I have engaged in this behavior for much of my life. I am not exactly sure why. Suffice it to say it must be some type of coping strategy that helped me survive my childhood.
As a teen and young adult, I was able to muddle through life creating these different crises. Once I became a parent though, things changed. As a parent, I realized that I was entirely responsible for the safety and security of my children. They were completely helpless and entirely dependent on me. My top priority was their safety. There was no room for my fabricated crises. For a while, I was able to avoid doing this. Yet lifelong habits are not something that one can easily walk away from. As I got more comfortable with parenthood, I recall doing things like cutting it close to the deadline for registering my kids for daycare or waiting until the last possible moment to get their annual check-ups before medical forms were due at school or camp.
I was able to get away with it for a while, but as the needs of my 2e child became more apparent, I realized that I had a very real, very unavoidable crisis to deal with and I no longer had the luxury of creating avoidable crises. Over time I realized that we had a situation that required me to find a focus and discipline that I had not required of myself in the past. I realized that I was accountable on a much different level. If I failed at being the parent my child needed, I wouldn’t be facing a parking ticket or an expensive typo. I don’t know what would have happened, but my worst fears for my child included serious antisocial behavior, addiction, violence, jail, depression, and suicide. Those were completely unacceptable outcomes and so I became motivated to learn what my son needed and how to get that for him.
I learned that one thing he needed was for me to stop creating problems and take better care of myself. Taking better care of myself allowed me to take better care of him. It would be impossible for me to teach my kids problem-solving, self-advocacy and how to understand and express their emotions if I could not model those behaviors myself.
They often say that your children help you learn what you need to know about yourself. In my case, that certainly is true. While the years when I was raising my 2e child were utterly overwhelming and terrifying, now that I have run the gauntlet, I love the person who I have become. I am by no means perfect – and I still create the occasional avoidable crisis – but I have learned so much about the importance empathy, openness, generosity and how to give people the benefit of the doubt. When I interact with people, including myself, with those traits in the fore, my life is better. I feel happier, the people around me are happier to be with me and there are far fewer crises to deal with.