I first wrote this post for Heather Black Wood’s blog From Shadow to Seen. Per Heather, FSTS is “a project created by two women who were inspired to develop a venue that would encourage other women to share their short memoirs, poetry or original artwork with the world, thereby emerging from the shadows to be seen.” There’s more about FSTS at the end of the post.
By the time you get old, you will have been disillusioned many times. This can be a good thing. To illustrate from my own experience:
In my twenties, I was proud to call myself a perfectionist. One day my boss, smiling sadly, told me perfectionists fear criticism. The words rang true and he knew it. Humiliated, I slunk back to my desk.
But there were bigger lessons ahead.
I could always work with difficult people. They saw something in me, and nobody else would put up with them. Sure, it took a lot of time, so I had to bring work home because I fell behind at the office, but I felt good about myself. I felt special. Important. Years later, a therapist said I tolerated those people because I was trying to replicate my unsatisfactory relationship with my tyrannical and violent father. Normal people, said the shrink, wouldn’t put up with that treatment because they have good boundaries. They value their time. You don’t.
In my late thirties, I married a guy who was underemployed but I figured things would improve. Wrong. He was jobless for years, always with some excuse. He placated me by doing the laundry and making dinner, and telling me I was pretty and talented. Later I found out he was selling drugs and screwing other women during the day while I was at the office. When we had our last fight, he said he’d married me because he deserved not to have to work. “I earned you,” he said.
Filled with grief and feeling like a complete failure (and idiot), I divorced him. I still didn’t understand what I missed. Then I read the book The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. She said sociopaths target people who are mindlessly, hopelessly helpful. The ones who do it without thinking about it much.
Okay. That helped.
Finally, I see the light
Then I married a man who showed me you could be a good person without being a doormat. I realized part of the reason I had always rescued everybody was because it fed my ego to do so. I never asked myself if people were as good to me as I was to them, or why I was sacrificing myself for others without any reciprocity. I realized helping people gave me a sense of importance.
So in my mid-forties, I finally rejected the self-serving role of hero. Now, at fifty-nine, I’m an average Jane and that’s okay. Although my history is a bit grim, there may be parallels for your life.
If you often feel drained by other people, here’s a tip: when you’re asked to help or sacrifice, take a little chance, not an irrevocable commitment. Then look for reciprocity – time, effort, career help, etc. The next time they ask, respond accordingly.
I understand there’s a bit of risk in this approach. Not everything comes out evenly, and compassion is good. Also, the plan gets a little wobbly when you’re dealing with children or young people because they’re not fully formed. I cut them more slack than mature adults. Bottom line? Know why you’re doing something; dig deep.
You are every bit as precious as the next human. Treasure yourself.
That is what disillusionment taught me.
From Shadow To Seen seeks to engage and encourage participation in ways that inspire and promote artistic expression, understanding, and empathy. As we allow ourselves to participate and share our stories or works, it may move us forward—building a platform for exchange, enlightenment and hope. We hope the exchange will provide a quiet place where women may release a shadow and find themselves moving toward a more accepting light—emerging with a new found energy.