Everyone who starts to do personal growth work has something, somewhere, that holds them back.
- Chronic procrastination.
- Doubt and worry that lead to anxiety.
- A pattern of self-sabotage, such as telling the most unsupportive people of your plans as soon as you’ve gotten excited about them.
And here’s a big one that particularly affects intelligent people, everywhere:
Gee, really, sarcasm? –I’m sure someone is already thinking this (sarcastically).
But yeah–really. Sarcasm is a huge defense that keeps people from getting where they truly want to go.
I’m a midwesterner transplanted into all of the California hippy-dippy goodness that I embrace, today. I grew up in a neighborhood that could rightfully be called a ghetto–gunshots, prostitution, pimps, metal detectors when I went to school in the morning, drug houses up the street.
I gave my first police statement when I was in middle school (after witnessing a neighbor who had been turning tricks fighting off her pimp, who was trying to stuff her into the back seat of his car).
I know, I know–you had no idea you were going to read this, did you? That fluffy cutesy picture where I’m standing in the field of bright yellow mustard flowers in wine country with beaded bracelets and flowy hair is pretty at odds with what I’m describing, isn’t it?
The rough neighborhood I grew up in often left me feeling scared, defenses up. It was my first training ground in practicing courage, only this was of the white-knuckling variety. I was taking no bullshit. Anyone tried to mess with me as I was walking down the street, I knew how to give them just the look that would make them back off. I learned how to drop the f-bomb like it was hot, rapid-fire style, just like the people who go nuts on reality television and have to be bleepity-bleeped out in the cutting room.
What came along with that?
Anyone who tried to talk to me about the power of love was, in my mind, a complete idiot. The defenses were that high up.
When Love Isn’t Safe
I turned to sarcasm–and anger–because love wasn’t safe.
Love was too vulnerable.
Look at my neighbors with “love” when they were waging dog fights across the street? Fuck that–I was calling the police on them.
And when one of their dogs staggered onto our porch, heaving, bleeding, and its owner came onto our lawn to retrieve the dog, even as it lay on our porch, in pain?
Even in high school, I wasn’t afraid to say: “You’d better get off this property, bleepity-bleeper.”
Nope, no love–at least not for the crazymakers in my neighborhood. I’d give water in a bowl I ate out of to that injured dog, before I’d let that bleepity-bleeping bleep-bleep step one foot onto my porch to retrieve the dog he’d half killed by putting it in a dog-fight.
And if I was walking down the street and men cat-called to me from their car? Guess which finger I was holding up–I’m sure you already know.
Love and compassion for them? As I learned to say with an appropriately timed eye-roll: “Bitch, please!”
Love for the people buying drugs at the house up the street? Sometimes I thought, in my anger and rage at hazards brought by drugs, “I hope they over-dose; they’ll get what’s coming to them.”
If anyone suggested that I was being sanctimonious, I barely paid them any mind. I knew I was right; the druggies and prostitutes and dog-fighters were wrong.
As long as I never sunk to that kind of low with my own behavior, I reasoned, I had every right to judge people to the point of thinking of them as lesser than me. I was engrossed in what Eckhart Tolle describes as a classic case of the Ego playing a game of “Better Than/ Lesser Than.”
But the truth, inside? I was at war with myself. The anger and rage was feeding on itself, on others, on situations, on circumstances. I was seething with blame.
I never went crazy and hit things or destroyed property. I turned it outward with tongue-lashings that left people surprised and friendships destroyed, or I turned it inward with crippling depression. That’s the thing about patterns–they can stick around even when you’ve left the neighborhood and the threat is no longer there.
You don’t have to have grown up in a neighborhood like mine to relate to this–plenty of people reading this right now are stuck in patterns, whether they’re patterns of anger or despair or anxiety or feelings of worthlessness, and they feel utterly lost and stuck. When you’re in that place, the idea that you could ever look at the world differently feels impossible.
I know that feeling.
I was smart enough to know that I was internally at war with myself, and that it wasn’t working. So–I leveraged my skills. I used every over-achiever bone in my body to become A Better Person.
There was just one tiny-big problem: I couldn’t become A Better Person without dealing with all of this…love, compassion, and forgiveness “stuff.”
It became quickly apparent that I couldn’t become A Better Person and still do this sanctimonious routine where I judged other people’s choices to the point of deeming them a “less worthy” human being. I didn’t have to like or agree with behavior, true, but if I wanted to see my own life improve, I couldn’t set up divisions between myself and other people.
I needed to love them, to love me–and in loving me, I’d be loving them.
Those drug users? They were me; I was using the drug of anger and aggression to feel powerful in a world that felt chaotic and unsafe. Those dog-fighters? They were me; I was fighting with my words.
Whatever I saw “out there,” I could find in myself, too–and that’s when I realized that the first person who needed love, compassion, and forgiveness and all the rest of the “fluffy stuff,” was me. That is, if I were to survive, these were my tools.
Sarcasm = Defense
What stood clearly in my way? A pattern of sarcasm.
Oh, you wanted to talk to me about loooove, did you? Kissy-kissy boo-boo loooove? Aw, isn’t that sweet. When you quit being such a Pollyanna and want to come back to the real world, let me know. Until then? Barney and Co could kiss my–
Sarcasm was my defense against love when the talk of love and compassion and forgiveness felt too vulnerable.
Sarcasm helped to keep at bay the vulnerability of opening my heart, truly.
Sarcasm was the equivalent of that person who starts making inappropriate jokes at a funeral, unable to deal with their grief.
Whatever your particular pattern is that keeps you from the connection you want, here’s what I know:
Everything about changing it will feel “all wrong,” especially at first.
Also, you’ll probably feel stupid, or changing will seem like a good idea at first, before it then seems utterly lame. There are lots of lies we tell in order to avoid change.
But if you’re like me, and you see that the patterns in place are parasitic, and destroying the host itself, and that the walls are closing in, and that the old defenses are no longer working, and mostly–
–mostly, that there is no where else left to run–
then I have this to promise you: love, compassion, and forgiveness will be waiting there to welcome you with open arms.
No matter how many times you’ve bashed these concepts, not been in integrity, or turned away, when you’re ready to let the defenses come down, you’ve already got the only three tools you need, just waiting to be used–as soon as you’re ready.