“What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?” asks The Guardian questionnaire.
I would probably answer: ‘my recurring avoidance habit’.
I’m not talking about the big, bold stuff. I’ve done more than my fair share of demon-confronting disclosures and radical life-shifts. I’ve done a huge amount of emotional labour and often happily chosen jobs in which I get to nurture and support others.
But what still takes Herculean efforts of will is the apparently small stuff that goes into nurturing me. You know, Life Maintenance: Domestic chores. Money admin. Opening mail. Replying to mail. Keeping spaces tidy. Looking after health, home, body, friendships. The stuff you have to keep doing EVERY DAY. Before you lose yourself in chaos.
I have a base line. I shower and groom and feed myself and go to work and pay attention to my partner and care for my cat and see friends and loved ones. But behind the scenes, I have this secret life of constant self-reproach for stuff-not-done-ness. I’m on permanent ‘report’ with myself. Job not done, Rachel, I say. Again! Why must you make life so difficult?
Here’s a tiny but symbolic example of freezing.
This summer I painted my toenails orange for the end of term staff night out. Yay me! But, for the next six weeks till the school term restarted, I watched it chip away. Bit by bit, day by day. I could not, it seems, would not, follow the sequence of steps necessary to remove the shabby ghost of a night out: take bottle of nail varnish remover off the shelf; take cotton wool pad out of the packet; put remover on pad; apply to each toenail in turn.
I observed my feet as if they belonged to someone else. It seemed inexplicable.
Until I see that I’ve got stuck in a pattern. Again.
Much of what I feel compelled to avoid falls into the area of Self-Care. Early neglect sets you up for that. It gives you the message that ‘looking after you’ is too much effort, too difficult, not worth it. It produces a disconnect between oneself and one’s needs. You live in your head. You watch yourself waiting for the grown up to arrive and sort things out.
I’ve written about avoidance (and its cousin procrastination) before and will again, because like any sticky habit, relinquishing it takes continual practice. And you must remind yourself of this: At the precise moment when most tempted to soak yourself in shame for your ‘sinful ways’, choose patience and compassion instead. It feels counter-intuitive but will set you free and long-term that is far more likely to get the job done.