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    Ms. Understood

            One of my biggest fears is that of being misunderstood. Knowing, in my heart, what my intent was, but then the impact of my actions creating undesirable emotions and/or consequences. For someone else and for me. It’s unavoidable that this will happen from time to time. For me, though, it pushes very big, very painful buttons.
            The installation of these buttons began in childhood. Even as a kid, I was aware, arguably hyper-aware, of my intent. That was probably a product of Catholicism (the old “god knows what you’re thinking and is always watching” spiel) and a natural introspection that I’ve always had. I could bullshit myself as much as the next boy, but I instinctively always knew when I was doing so, and I would usually cop to it if I were called on it. Unusual for a ten year old, but that’s how I was.
            While this attribute of intense self awareness and introspection has served me very well as an adult, possessing it as a kid made being a child much less....childlike. It contributed a lot to my less-than-care-free attitude as a kid. That and being told that if I wasn’t constantly careful, life as I know it could be over any second.
            My folks, god bless them, employed the Scare The Living Crap Out Of The Kid With Potential Dire Consequences technique of teaching me to be careful. It worked, but the price was awfully fuckin’ high. I could have used some more reckless abandonment as a kid. In some ways, I’ve made up for it as an adult, but it would have been a much less anxious childhood if I wasn’t constantly reminded that certain doom awaited me should I ever take my eye off the ball.
            Here’s a perfect example. We all know that kids have to be careful handling knives. Even butter knives. But in my family, the warning went something like this: “Be careful with that knife. If it slips out of your hand, you could poke both eyes out, blinding you for the rest of your life.” When it came to climbing trees, this was heard more than once: “Watch out climbing that tree. If you fall, you might break your neck and end up in a wheelchair. Permanently.” To a kid, the fear of being blind or completely immobile was about as bad as it got. I’m surprised I didn’t develop acute cases of aichmophobia (fear of knives) or dendrophobia (fear of trees) as an adult. I do, however, have spinomalophobia, which is a fear of wheelchairs. I’m kidding. I made that word up.
            Let me come off this tangent and get back to being misunderstood. If I combine my hyper-awareness of my intent with the reality that, being “bad” or making mistakes of judgement (which kids often do) often meant being mercilessly shamed, I can see why this is such a big button for me. It was bad enough being shamed and feeling worthless. It’s even worse, though, when a kid is aware that his intent was indeed pure and good, but is being persecuted into the ground for something he never meant.
            Most kids aren’t able to understand how trying to be good can sometimes end up with them being severely punished and feeling really bad. And if that’s never explained to them, this mystery of life that we label “misunderstood” becomes a total mind fuck, which it was for me.
            Most kids don’t have the tools to separate the act of being shamed from who they are, so they take it on and feel completely worthless. Enough of these incidents following a kid’s innocent fucks up, and a child can equate making a mistake with worthlessness. To throw salt into the already festering wound, if the kid’s actions came from a good, loving place, and the results are emotionally catastrophic, then the fear of being misunderstood takes on almost phobic proportions.
            So being misunderstood becomes synonymous with shame, which is synonymous with worthlessness, which is synonymous with feeling completely suck-ass-what-the-fuck-is-the-point-I’m-no-good-even-when-I-try-to-be-let-me-jump-off-a-fuckin’-bridge. At least that’s where I can go.
            This is an old tape that still plays in my head sometimes when I’m misunderstood. It’s my responsibility to work this out, and I don’t blame anybody but myself for where this sends me. It is, however, a very dark, painful place inside of me that hasn’t seen much light. I still need plenty of work on it. The misunderstood madness is up for me right now, and I’m struggling with what it’s bringing up for me.
            I’ve done enough work on myself so that I know not to get into victim mode when I’m misunderstood. And I take full responsibility for the fact that my actions create certain impacts, even unintended ones. But I also know that whoever misinterprets my actions has some responsibility in the misinterpretation. Like most communication, it’s a combination of sender and receiver.
            What I’ve also come to realize is that a man who comes from his heart is probably more likely to be misunderstood than one who comes from his head. At some point, maybe I’ll do a whole post on that, but for now I’ll just say that that potential fact doesn’t make coming from my heart any less desirable. Maybe it just comes with the territory. People aren’t use to a man coming from there, and therefore his words and actions could often be looked upon somewhat suspiciously, and need to be explained away using more common reasoning.
            “It couldn’t be that the guy is just coming from his heart. Nah. Most guys don’t do that. Could love really be what's behind his actions? There’s no hidden agenda? I don’t know if I can really trust that. He’s probably full of shit.” Who’s problem is that? If any of us have any hope of being better understood, it’s all of ours.

    ©2009 Clint Piatelli. All Rights (and a completely misunderstood amount of wrongs) Reserved.

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