Monday, December 28, 2015

My New Year's Resolution for 2016

I've spent a lot of time thinking about my goals for 2016, things I want to do and stop doing. For a while, the list just went on and on forever - I wanted to not accept any obligation to in-laws, to write so much on Facebook that everyone's newsfeed is flooded with only my stuff, to take serious steps on becoming the untamable, never-been-disciplined kind of person I want to be, etc. The list went on and on until I had this sudden moment of clarity. I don't know how it happened, but it hit me that everything I wanted fell under the same category. As widespread as my individual goals are, there is one umbrella goal that covers almost everything that I want to do:

Going forward, I will not take any actions or refrain from any actions based on guilt.

What this means:

1. I am not doing overtime at work anymore. I never wanted to do OT, but I did it out of guilt because everyone else was doing it, and I will never do it again unless I personally decide that I want to do it for the extra money.

Ever since I stopped doing OT and established (to myself) that I was not doing it anymore, I started liking my workplace and my department a lot more. Partially because I got a new job in my department that is soooooooo much better than my old job, but another huge part of it is because I've established that I won't do OT when I don't want to (which is pretty much always). I really resented my workplace and my department when I felt pushed to do OT, and now that I've decided not to take that action based on guilt, I love everyone and I feel much better being at work.

Of course there will be times when someone continues to guilt-trip me into doing something that I don't want to do, and I'll have to decide whether to tell them to back off or to get out of the situation altogether, but the first step is to simply not take the action based on guilt.

A very important lesson that I learned from this experience: When you do something once, people automatically expect you to do it more. Now, this is not necessarily a problem. If, for example, I validate someone's feelings once, and that person remembers that I validated their feelings and knows that they can trust me and come to me again with their feelings, that's a good thing. That's what I hope will happen. The problem comes in when I do something once, not because I want to, but because I feel guilty about not doing it, and I'm hoping that by doing it this one time, I will earn some kind of credit, brownie points, or social approval that will lead to people accepting it when I say no the next time they ask. That does not work. That's just not how things ever play out. I know that now, and going forward, I am not going to do anything on the basis of guilt, thinking that it will make people more respectful of my choices later on. It just doesn't work that way.

2. Branching off of what I said, I am not going to do things that I really don't want to do in order to see people or make them happy. Last summer I did something that I really, really did not want to do because it was my one opportunity to see a certain friend and I felt guilty saying, "I'm not going to see you because I don't want to do this type of event." Going forward, I am not going to do things like this. If I really don't like something, I'm not going to do it, and other people can accommodate me and do something with me that I am willing to do if they want to see me.

I've done a lot of things like this throughout the years - things that really made me miserable and brought me horrible flashbacks and left me feeling bad for months on end after the event. I did these things because I felt guilty always saying no to things that other people wanted to do. I am not doing this anymore. If I don't want to do something, I'm not doing it. If you want to see me, I'm sure we can find something to do together that we are both okay with.

This does not mean that I won't do favors for friends. If you need help editing a paper or moving into an apartment or if your car breaks down at 3:00 AM, of course I will help you. But helping you is something I would do out of care, not out of guilt. When I do a favor for someone, like helping them move or picking them up when their car breaks down, I know they appreciate it.

When I feel unappreciated is when I do something for someone that, to me, is a huge favor that I'm doing completely for the other person, but to them, it's not a favor at all. This is what happens when I go to an event that I really don't want to go to. Whenever it's a fun social event, even if my friend knows that I really don't want to be there and I'm just doing it to be nice or spend time with them and accommodate what they like to do, they never appreciate it as the huge favor that it is for me. They instead complain that I'm leaving early, not participating enough, or otherwise not doing enough for them when I'm already doing something huge for them. I'm done with that. I'm never doing it again. If something is really important to a person, like a birthday or graduation, I am willing to accommodate a little bit by still attending the event if I'm not feeling well, but I still have my limits. I am not doing something like going on a camping trip even if it is to celebrate a close friend's birthday or graduation, nor am I going to be super guilty for not attending and feel like I have to do everything they want to do after the fact in order to make it up to them. That part of my life is done.

I've always thought it would be fun to go to the trampoline park my birthday party, but I always come back to the same conclusion: some of the friends I want to invite would not go to a trampoline park, and having all my friends come is more important to me than doing a particular activity. When I do plan a particular activity like going to the trampoline park, I do it knowing that not everyone will come. I make a choice that doing the activity is more important to me than visiting with my friends who will not do that activity, and I'll just have to visit with my other friends another time. If you have an event that I'm not interested in, that's fine. There is nothing wrong with that. But you need to accept that by doing that, you are making the choice to do something that won't include me, the same way I'm aware of who will not go to the trampoline park. There is no longer an option of pushing me into something that I've said I won't do.

3. In-laws do not get special treatment. By in-laws, I mean a significant other's family and friends, regardless of whether or not we're married. When a friend (not a romantic partner) introduces me to their other friends or family members, I don't feel any kind of obligation to make those people like me. I will be kind and respectful to them, but I'm not going to tiptoe around and try to make sure they like me. I see meeting new people as a chemical reaction - we both pour what we've got into a pot and watch what happens. Maybe something nice happens, or maybe there's an explosion and we both know not to try that again. In any case, I'm just watching to see how the reaction goes - I'm not in any way altering what I'm adding to the mix in order to make the other person like me or to make things go smoothly. But for some reason, when it comes to in-laws, everyone expects you to make more of an effort to get along with them and make a good impression so that they like you. I am not doing that anymore. Not at all. I will treat in-law relationships the way I would treat any others. If I meet new friends through a friend of mine, I don't feel any obligation to spend time with those people. If my original friend has an event and invites all of us, that's fine, but I would not feel like my friend and I had to purposely spend time with these other friends together. If I didn't feel a strong connection with these other friends, I would still be nice to them when we saw each other, but I would not be willing to spend tons and tons of time together just because we had a friend in common. Likewise, if I don't feel a strong bond with my in-laws, I am not willing to spend lots of time with them just because they are my in-laws. I went to lots of events with my ex-boyfriend's friends and family that I really did not want to go to, but I felt guilty not going. I felt like I was obligated to spend a certain amount of time with these people, and like the OT situation, I figured that if I did it sometimes, there would be less pressure and guilt-tripping to do it other times. I am not accepting that kind of obligation anymore. In-laws are friends of friends to me, and like any friends of friends, we may or may not click and become friends on our own. Like any friends of friends, you are not automatically my friend just because we both have a close relationship with the same person.

Ultimately, I am only willing to hang out with people who validate my feelings and my choices and don't pressure me to do anything that I don't want to do. If you want to spend more time with me, these are the requirements. I do not accept any kind of guilt-tripping in the form of "You never come over! I never see you anymore!" from in-laws. If you want to see me more often, you need to change how you treat me so that I'll want to see you more often. End of discussion. You don't get an exception because of who you are.

4. I want to be perfectly comfortable saying, "Meh, I don't like that flavor," after I've been demanding something for a long time. This is reference to a cartoon that criticizes people for saying, "Meh, I don't like that flavor," when someone offers them a cookie. You know what? That is perfectly legitimate! You know what? I don't like chocolate chips OR raisins OR nuts OR mint OR chocolate cookies, and I STILL love cookies, I still crave cookies, I still have just as much right as anyone to want cookies even if I don't have as many different types of cookies that will satisfy me! I only like about 10% of all the cookie flavors in existence, but that doesn't mean I don't love cookies and can't want cookies. And the fact that I'm complaining on Facebook for months on end about wanting cookies does not mean that I don't have the right to reject cookies that I don't like. I am very demanding and also very picky. Everyone judges people really harshly for being both of those things at the same time, and I am not gonna take that anymore. When I complain about not having cookies, I mean the kind of cookies I like, and the kind I like only, and I reserve the right to reject cookies I don't like no matter how much I complain about having no cookies.

Summer 2014, someone fell in love with me and I was not in love with them back. I did not know this person at all and I had a huge problem with them expecting me to give them all this time and attention when I did not even consider them a friend. I wanted to cut ties with this person and stop being friends, but I felt guilty about that. I felt like I should try to make it work even when my intuition was screaming at me to run the other way. The reason I felt guilty walking away was because I had been talking so much on Facebook about being clingy and needing constant care and attention and cuddles, that even though I meant that I wanted those things from people I was already close with, not strangers, I was afraid of how people would judge me for turning down exactly what I said I wanted, because I didn't specify that it had to be with someone I actually liked and felt a connection with. I tried to make the friendship work when I didn't want to because I felt guilty about saying "Meh, I don't like this flavor." I will never do that again.

Winter 2014, I went to a very emotionally triggering event with a friend that left me depressed for months. I had a feeling that this event was a huge emotional risk, but I talked myself into it because I was lonely and wanted to see my friend. But it wasn't just that I wanted to see my friend so badly that I was willing to take the risk. There was guilt at play as well. First of all, I think that I denied how great of a risk I was taking with this event - I tried to convince myself that seeing my friend was more important because I felt like it should be more important, even though deep down, I knew perfectly well that the potential risk was much greater than the potential benefit. I also felt guilty saying, "Meh, I don't like this flavor," when I had been crying on Facebook for a long time about not getting enough attention and being so lonely. I thought I would be judged really harshly for saying no to something that I knew would hurt me, because it was human contact. It was spending time with a friend, which was what I said I wanted to do. Even though this was all private messaging and no one else ever had to know that my friend invited me, I still felt guilty, and I really, really hurt myself as a result of that guilt. This is not acceptable and it will never happen again. If I am screaming on Facebook that I want something and someone offers me a flavor that I know will make me feel bad, or that I just don't want for any reason, I will say no thanks and I will continue screaming for whatever I do want.

Thing about it: If you were really hungry and also really allergic to peanuts, and a friend made you peanut butter cookies, you could thank them sincerely and appreciate that they did something nice for you, but ultimately, you would not eat the cookies and you would still be hungry and need something else to eat. Going forward, I am not eating anymore poisoned cookies in order to not feel guilty about being ungrateful.

5. I will inform people that I charge for acting services. You can read my rates here: http://yourownkindofmusic.blogspot.com/2015/07/i-now-charge-for-acting-services.html
I don't honestly expect to make money this way. What I'm doing is letting people know that the service is not free. I will not pretend to be something I'm not out of guilt or politeness or just because that's how I'm "supposed" to act.

Look at the prices on my list. Let's say you wanted me to be polite around your parents for a 2-hour visit. That's $50. Now, would you ask me to hand you over $50? Not a loan - a gift. Would you ask for it? Would you ask for me to hand over $100? What about $800? That's what 8 hours of pretending in an uncomfortable environment will cost you. See, now you're probably hesitating. You'd probably think long and hard about it before asking me to give you so much money. You probably wouldn't ask for the money as easily as you'd ask for the service. That's why I'm assigning a dollar value to my services - to show you they are NOT free.

Sure, maybe it's someone's birthday, but would you ask me to spend $800 on their birthday present. Sure, your grandma is visiting, but would you expect me to pay your grandma $75?

Going forward, I'm going to actually let people know my prices and make it clear that this is not a free service.

6. I will hand out my business cards. I made two sets of business cards. One says: "I will never suck it up, tough it out, grow up, or get over it, but thanks for asking," and the second one says, "yes it happened a long time ago, no I'm not over it." I printed these and have not handed them out to anyone. This year I want to look for opportunities to hand them out and do it.

7. I will never pretend to be more okay than I am out of guilt, nor will I refrain from posting what I want about my feelings out of guilt. When something bad happens, I am NOT okay, and I will not be okay for a very long time. Yes, I need a ton of support, and I appreciate that support very much, but I will never stop posting bad things or pretend that I'm all better in order to make anyone feel good that their support worked. I am not responding to any kind of guilt trips about the fact that people have given me so much support and I still feel bad. If I still feel bad, that's how I feel and I will write about it all I want. I also will not respond to guilt trips about people being worried sick over me. If you are worried about me, there is probably something to worry about. I don't do false alarms, so if you're worried, then yes, something is very wrong. But I am not going to refrain from expressing myself in order for other people to not be worried, no matter how long a problem has gone on. Summer of 2014 may have seemed like a long time after the breakup, but it wasn't. It absolutely wasn't. I was still in a crisis and I should have been treated that way, and no one should have ever expected me to be better when I clearly communicated that I wasn't any better. I'm never going to act better than I feel so that other people can feel better about the support they've given me.

8. I will never put my own feelings "aside" because of anyone else. I will support my friends as well as I can when they are going through hard times, but if I am having a crisis at the same time that someone else is having a crisis, I am not automatically going to put my crisis aside to exclusively support them. We all have things that we continue doing. Even if you're trying to be really supportive of a friend, you're probably still going to go to work, go to school, buy groceries, take care of your children, etc. For me, the thing that's most important to me - more than work, school, or anything else - is expressing myself. I am not going to refrain from posting about my problems because someone else is having a problem at the same time. Summer of 2014, I desperately wanted to transform myself into Amelia, but I pushed that aside and went back to being good-girl Nikki until December because of something that was going on with someone else. That was a horrible experience. I was still in a crisis and I literally dropped my own crisis and acted like it didn't matter as much so that I could support someone. I went several days not posting anything when I wanted to be posting bad things every chance I got. I will never do that again. Going forward, I only offer simultaneous support, which means supporting people while also posting whatever I want about my own problems and doing whatever I want to do to myself.

9. I will never stop talking or writing what I want because there are bigger issues in the world. I am not keeping anyone in my life who tries to guilt-trip me in this way. If anyone sends me a message like this again, I am automatically de-friending them. Also, you probably haven't noticed this, but I have gone through periods of time not posting stuff specifically because there bigger things going on and I was worried that people would judge me for writing about my own stuff. I'm done with that. 100% done.

You know something? 2008 was the first presidential election that I voted in. What do I remember most about the election? I remember feeling silenced. I remember feeling completely alone and isolated because everyone around me only wanted to either talk about the election or complain about other people not talking about the election (I think these people not talking about the election were imaginary because I never met them). I remember scrolling through my newsfeed after Obama had been elected, reading everyone's messages of how happy they were, finding one classmate from high school who posted "I have a cold :-(" and actually crying because I was so jealous that she was part of a social circle where she could post something entirely about herself on election night.

I don't ever want to go through that again. I will post whatever I want from here on out. It will be very difficult, and I may need to purposely post personal stuff on days of important events whether I feel like it or not, just to get myself used to doing it. I want to write everything guilt-free with absolutely ZERO sense of there being more important things going on.

10. I will post links to articles when I am interested in sharing them. There have been several times in the past year when I found an article about an important issue that I really wanted to post, but I felt guilty posting it side-by-side with other things that were strictly personal, but that I was clearly more passionate about. I felt like people would be even more judgmental about my posting so much about my personal life if they actually saw it side-by-side with a bigger issue and saw how much more passion I have about my own issues than I have about bigger issues. I'm done with this. I care about what I want to care about and that's a done deal.

There are memes all over the place about our displaced values where you'll see a news program featuring something like, "Breaking News! A celebrity got her toenails clipped!" while the subheading mentions people dying in an earthquake. Yes, this is a problem. But you know why it's a problem? Because it's on a news program! News should be about actual news, and devoting the news to celebrities' toenails when there are more important issues is a problem because their job is to report the news. If I saw something like this on someone's personal blog, I would not think it was a problem because blogs are for people to write whatever they want, and it's not as if that person is being paid to report the news, or is claiming to be a news reporter.

I am NOT a news reporter. Going forward, I will be posting articles that I think are important, and I will being posting them side-by-side with things that are 100% personal. I make no promises to talk about current events, no promises to post things that are "relevant" such as posting election stuff around election time, and no promises to be a news reporter and prioritize what is most important. I will post articles that have nothing to do with current events, even on days when other huge things are going on. My posts about my own life will always sound way more passionate than anything I write with an article link. I am not a news reporter, and I am not accepting any kind of pressure to re-prioritize what I care about.

11. I want to get comfortable saying that things are private, or that I'm not sure if I should share them. I know I share pretty much everything on Facebook and my blog, but this is specifically for people that I don't share everything with, such as extended family, coworkers, and friends' parents. My current mode of operation is that when someone asks me a question or brings up a topic that I don't feel I can discuss with them, I make up a small lie to get out of having to answer. For example, if someone asked me if I made a New Year's Resolution this year and I didn't want to tell them about it, I would just say that I hadn't made one, rather than saying that it was private.

Sometimes, I don't want to discuss a particular issue with someone because I don't trust them and I think they'll do something mean with the information. If this is the case, then lying to protect myself is still the better option, as they will probably probe a lot if I tell them that something is private.

More recently though, this hasn't been the case. More recently, it's been an issue of feeling like I'm not "supposed" to share certain things with certain people because of societal rules. I'm trying to be done with that altogether and share what I want to share, but when I feel too uncomfortable doing that, I'm not going to lie. I want to look people in the eye and tell them that I'm not sure if I should tell them, and give them a chance to tell me that it's okay.

I never like lying. There's something about saying, "I can't really talk about that problem while we're at work," that just feels so much more authentic than saying, "Nothing's wrong, I'm fine." Even if we never get to talk about it, I just want it known that the issue exists. This feels like a first step in being more myself with people I'm less comfortable being myself around, and there's even a chance that the person might care enough to assure me that it is okay to talk about.

12. I will not do anything to purposely pretend to be something I'm not. There are times when I'll do things that I don't really want to do or say things that aren't completely true in order to avoid hurting someone's feelings. That's fine. I'm okay with that. What I'm not okay with is when my primary motivation is not really about the other person's feelings, but about what they think of me. While I was dating my last boyfriend, the majority of the times that I ate foods I didn't like was not because I truly thought someone would be hurt - it was because I wanted to present myself as less picky than I actually am. I also used to try to squeeze my things into my smaller backpack when I was staying at my boyfriend's family's house even when the larger one would have been more convenient for me because I was trying to act like I was the kind of low-maintenance person who would not pack a lot for a weekend. Basically, I picked up on the fact that people were judging me for certain things and subtly took actions that inconvenienced myself in order to show them that I wasn't really like that. Even though I absolutely was like that. It's like, anytime I notice someone judging me for being extremely picky, high-maintenance, demanding, lazy, clingy, unwilling to function unless every one of my needs is met, etc, I find myself trying to act like I am not that way. I am done with that. If I sense that someone has a problem with me, I will continue acting the way I'm acting. Or I may even be upfront and say, "I'm not willing to function unless all of my physical and emotional needs are met, and I am not accepting any kind of pressure from you to not be that way." Going forward, I will say this kind of thing to ANYONE, including my friends' grandparents. Absolutely no one gets a free pass.

Again, if there is a reason for me to do something - say, if a friend told me that the car was pretty full and it would be more convenient for them if I could squeeze my stuff into a smaller bag, I would be fine doing that. But it needs to truly be about the other person, not about how I look to them. I've spent the last few years lying to myself on this issue, telling myself that I was doing things to avoid hurting people's feelings or to make their lives easier, when deep down, I knew it was really about me. Going forward, I'm going to ask myself, "Is this really about them, or is it about you?" and act accordingly.

13. I will not avoid or back out of confrontation. When I was in college, I had a friend who I was close with until she got a girlfriend and started ignoring me. Even though we were living on the same campus, it was impossible to get in touch with her by any means - phone, email, or just knocking on the door. I was really lonely. I knew that she wouldn't notice if I just disappeared. One day I ran into her at dinner and I told her how much I missed her and how miserable I was, but she was distracted and not paying attention to me because she and her girlfriend were going to see a musical in town that night. Now, I happen to love musicals, and my friend knew this. I asked her, "Is it a date?" and she said no, that a few of her girlfriend's friends were joining them. She didn't take the hint to invite me along, so I said, "Can I come?" She said yes, but I was still very upset that she didn't seem to care whether I came or not, and it hadn't occurred to her on her own to invite me after I had expressed how lonely I had been. I was so upset that I really didn't feel like going anymore. When the time came that I was supposed to meet up with them to go to the play, I decided not to show up. I decided to wait and see if I got a phone call, if anyone noticed or cared that I wasn't there. I normally tend to show up when I say I will. It would be very unusual for me to not show up at all. So if I'm not there, it could mean that there's a major problem. I should also mention that I had told my friend at dinner that night that I wanted to jump off the library tower and I didn't think anyone would even notice. So when I didn't show up, I really should have gotten a phone call or something. But I didn't. No one noticed or cared that I wasn't there.

I had a plan that the next time I saw my friend, I was going to point out that she was ignoring me and use this example as proof that she wouldn't notice if I just disappeared. I was planning to. But then when I saw her the next day, I completely chickened out and made up a phony excuse that I was too busy to go to the show and apologized. She reacted as if I didn't even need to apologize, as if I hadn't broken a commitment, as if she didn't even remember that I was supposed to be there. I wanted to confront her, but was too scared.

This is an extreme example, but I've backed out of confrontations that I've planned a lot since college. Last year around Christmas time, I was so upset that I was going to delete my entire book and no one even cared or responded. Then later that day, I posted a FB status that said I was on page 105 of my book, for the sole purpose of getting attention and proving to people that they were flat-out ignoring my issues and weren't simply too busy to be on Facebook. I wanted to trap people and say, "GOTCHA! You don't care about my problems and you're not being there for me, and you're clearly ignoring the status about deleting my book if you're just gonna like the one about what page I'm on." I didn't yell "Gotcha!" I still really, really wish that I had waited for more likes and yelled, "Gotcha!" but I didn't. This was another example of putting my issue somewhat aside to make other people less upset. I will never do that again. I will never back out of this kind of confrontation again. I want to confront people about stuff from now on and not feel guilty. And if  any future situation ever gets to the point where I have to do what I did with ditching play in order to prove a point, I will absolutely go through with the confrontation and not back down.

14. I will not keep perpetual guilt-trippers in my life. There have been a lot of people in my life who constantly made me feel guilty about things. (This does not apply to any of my current close friends). Whether it was about joining clubs, going to important events, "missing out" on social experiences that I never wanted to have in the first place, or just being guilt-tripped about being the kind of demanding, entitled, clingy, never-gonna-function person I am, there have always been people who were just perpetual guilt-trippers from the start. I have no intention of making or staying friends with anyone like this, even if we are related somehow or have already known each other for a long time. If you regularly try to make people feel guilty about their actions or inactions, regardless of how good your intentions are, I want nothing to with you.

Time for a truly guilt-free year.

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