Since I was a kid I really liked ginger ale, however, since I try to minimize my sugar intake and it is full of sugar, it’s not something I usually have in the house. But while at the grocery store last week I saw it on sale and spontaneously bought it (thanks to good product placement). So when my teen saw it in the fridge she asked ‘what’s the special occasion?’ jokingly. I immediately said it was on a special, even though I don’t think she expected an answer. No big deal, right? But why did I have to explain why I bought such a simple thing? Would it have been somehow unacceptable had I bought it at full price? Certainly not to my daughter or anyone else I care about.
Unfortunately, no matter how many times I tell myself that I don’t care what other people think of me or my choices, I am apparently still stuck in this cycle of trying to predict people’s thoughts and planning an acceptable response.
I first had a clue this was an issue for me when our kids were little, about 15years ago when we decided to buy a minivan. We only had a small car and it could not fit a 3rd booster seats in the back seat, so I could never drive any of my kids’ friends anywhere (since they use booster seats till they’re almost in high school these days this was very frustrating). That was my justification for the minivan. But when we finally found one that met our needs, it had leather seats. Oh, and they were heated leather seats. How could I justify this? Well, it was a used van with low mileage, in good shape, in our price range and there weren’t many around. But leather? And heated? That seemed like a luxury that was beyond me (at the time I was a stay-at-home mom married to a corporal in the army). My husband convinced me that it was a good van for us so we did end up buying it. But I couldn’t justify it no matter how I tried. So although I didn’t recognize the feeling at the time, I never felt good about that vehicle and was relieved when we sold it several years later. Now that I look back, I can see that the feeling was shame. I had unconsciously decided it was an unnecessary luxury and one I did not deserve. No one ever said this to me, or even implied it, but somehow I did not feel deserving of such a vehicle and therefore could not feel good about having it.
I don’t expect to understand or agree with other peoples life choices nor do I expect them to explain their choices to me. I believe in a “live and let live” philosophy, and yet that’s not the end of the story. I still find myself trying to justify myself even when no one is expecting or asking me to. In fact, I wholeheartedly believe that most people really don’t care about what I’m doing or buying, they have their own lives to worry about after all. But knowing that is obviously not enough to end this pattern.
So why am I sharing this? Simply because I can no longer deny it’s impact my overall mental health and I am quite sure I am not alone. This pattern of thought implies that we do not feel worthy just for being ourselves. That we feel a need to justify why ‘we do what we do’ and that our personal feelings are not sufficient reasons. As if there is some imaginary board of examiners that will decide if our choices are acceptable (whatever that means to you) and if we get to keep our ‘good person’ status (or whatever your preferred status is). I know this sounds ridiculous and intellectually I know it’s absurd, but unfortunately, that doesn’t make it less real.
Have you found yourself wondering what people might think when making a decision? Or justifying your choices even if they do not affect anyone else?
PS. I am not looking to get your support or seeking reminders that I am worthy. This is just an old pattern I’m aware of and working towards changing.