Today’s card, from The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, comes from the category of Don’t Take Anything Personally. It says:
Relinquish Self Importance
Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness, because we make the assumption that everything is about me.
AAAAaaaaaaggggggghhhhhhhhhhh! Anything but that!
Seriously, the idea of relinquishing self-importance is scary, especially to anyone like me. I built a life around believing I was the most necessary and valuable entity in other people’s lives. I considered myself the main event, the most important, and the reason that others function in the world. I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but allow me to explain.
My childhood and early teenage years were a constant struggle to get the attention I felt I lacked. I learned very early that being unwell, or inappropriate, or otherwise making a spectacle of myself, was by far the best way to get that attention. When I was extremely young, my folks had absolutely no idea what caused me to have constant diarrhea; but I was only able to stomach rice cereal, skim milk, and bananas. As if that weren’t bad enough, my older sister had been a perfect child; and here I was, sick I know, squally and crying, I imagine — miserable all around. And I got attention for it. Hmmmmmmm, do we notice a clue here?
During my childhood, and until my diabetes diagnosis at age 14, I was not sick. But I was one in a large group of kids, and I imagine, (although I can never know for sure,) that my misbehavior was the vehicle I used to get my mom’s attention. I know she would say that I was an unhappy, angry kid who seemed to spoil anything I could for anyone else. In those moments of correction and punishment, I was the center of attention. And in any regard, even negative scrutiny was better than thinking I didn’t matter enough for anyone to care.
Of course, I am not saying that this is objective truth — I’m sure any of my siblings, and either of my parents, remember things quite differently. This is how I felt, and it was absolutely real, and incredibly sad, to me. I have written before about my relationship with my parents, and the way they raised me. I understand that they were doing their best, in what, for my mom, was a very, very difficult situation. I’m no longer angry; I finally understand what it means to do one’s best in the face of very difficult circumstances, and I know she did.
When I turned fourteen, I got to my diabetes diagnosis, and I guess I thought, in those first few days, that I’d be the focus of somebody’s care and thought. Actually, the only really noticeable change was that my family wanted nothing to do with me learning to be a diabetic. I’m absolutely certain that I was on my own, in this endeavor. So now I had a real medical condition, one which required my parents’ diligence and involvement, and I had long before lost any chance of that. I began to be more wild, in ways they didn’t know, (I think,) but at least I knew I was defying their rules, and their lack of involvement in the hardest part of my life. It was during this time that I started smoking, and to a much lesser extent at the time, smoking pot.
Then, it was time for college, and I didn’t have my parents to resent while I was there. I turned my efforts to the only other means I had — drinking, and sex. Drinking was easy, all over campus; in fact, I was able to drink very large quantities of beer, because I was always thirsty, due to uncontrolled diabetes, and I had always did have an iron bladder. And sex was even easier. I never had sex with anyone I didn’t already know, but I knew a lot of guys, and their friends, so I was never at a loss for a partner. I became very good at sexual techniques, and I was almost fearless. I wasn’t using birth control, but I already knew, somehow, that I was never going to have kids. Always being ready to have sex was a very good way to get attention.
This is getting to be a very long story, so I will abbreviate — for the next twenty years, I got involved, and then married to three different men. I am sure that I kept them busy, and/or puzzled, and that I never was mature enough to be married. Whether in marriages or in between them, I was just a needy, unhappy woman. Eventually, I realized that being married was a bad choice for me. At the same time, I started feeling sicker and sicker.
Ages 40-49 were a time of returning to my childhood role — that of an ill person — to whom someone must pay attention. On discussing those years, my doctors and I have determined that probably half of the times I was rushed to the hospital with chest pain, I could very easily have been having panic attacks. (I erased the word just, because I understand now the severity and the anxiety that makes it a panic attack.) I objected, at first, but my doctor explained that I was as sick as I felt, and that my heart and arteries around the heart really were a mess. I know that I was sick, but I also knew, on some level, that people were paying attention; that I was important. Sick and sad, but true. My apologies to my family: to my mom, who grew so tired of transporting me to and from the hospital, and so worried about what was going on; and also especially to my sister S., who was my rock when I was ready to quit. I didn’t do this on purpose, Mom, S. All I can say is I’m very, very sorry.
What a long strange trip. The whole half century, I wanted one thing: someone to pay attention to me. I was saturated with need, unreachable. Even when others did pay attention, it wasn’t enough. I had learned to be miserable before I could talk — I remain very good at it to this day. But some things have changed. I won’t stay in misery any more.
I love myself. I give myself the attention I need. I am nurturing the sad little girl inside me, and doing my best to assure her that she was and is loved, even when she feels like her best, (my best,) was really awful. I’ve changed that huge need for attention, because now I know that need has roots very deep inside me, and I know what they are, and I know what to do with them.
To myself, I am very important. To the rest of the world, I surrender that annoying self-importance, that need for contact and attention. Now that I can take care of myself, I no longer desire attention so desperately — instead, I am healing myself, and relinquishing, finally, the need to be the center of the universe. I think life should be easier, starting now.