Tuesday, January 7, 2014

He doesn't say what I expect him to say ...

"It's not that I don't want you to pay me," I told him.

"Just don't tell me you're paying me ahead of time, and then I don't mind if you give me whatever you think it's worth after I'm done, since I'd do this to help you anyway."

Nick fell silent for a moment and the phone-line hissed as he exhaled. "I can't figure you out. Why can't I just tell you I'll pay you to help me as my manager?... Might have to sleep on this one and talk about it tomorrow." 

As he pondered over his dilemma, I tried to figure out why he was so confused. Why is it so difficult to understand that I'm actually de-motivated by money,... by official transactions of any kind, really? 

Of course, being my perspective, it naturally makes sense to me ... or, at least, it did until I asked myself why I think this way. 

Is there a difference in how I would invest my effort between me volunteering to help him out with paperwork and calls and him asking me to do these things for pay? 

Wouldn't I be doing the same work for the same reasons, with the bonus of a financial reward? 

It's not like him paying me actually makes me less willing to help, does it?

I don't mind him paying me after the fact, so why can't I accept the agreement?

I don't remember what Nick finally said that made me realize what was going on, but it suddenly clicked in my head. Sure, this way of thinking is normal for me. I've been doing it for years, in all sorts of situations. It's one of the reasons I don't have a regular income ... aside from the state of my health. 

But it isn't necessarily normal to think this way. (Really?)

I have been actively avoiding any official responsibility for helping Nick, while putting in as much effort as I would if I were working for him. I do the same when I help any of my friends with their businesses.

This mentality is actually one of the emotional landmines I've been running into for a longer time than I can remember. 

It doesn't come with panic attacks and nightmares, but rather such a subtle effect that I've been looking at my resistance to "promised pay" until after I've completed my "volunteered work" for years without understanding that it's even a problem. 

It's easy to disguise this landmine as spontaneous generosity, since I do enjoy helping people. I've explained it that way for years. Most people look at me funny, then shrug and go along with it. They don't care if they're paying me for work I've already completed, since they intended to pay me all along. 

However, if my "enjoyment of helping" was the full story, then I wouldn't struggle to keep working when people pay me in advance or ask me to be officially in charge of something. I wouldn't feel so overwhelmed at the mere idea of responsibility. 


X (and I) supported ourselves with an online business for several years, early in our marriage. He called it his business, but all the less glamorous aspects gradually became my responsibility, since he had no intention of putting in the time for them and I was conveniently available to help for free. 

I had struggled with housework from the beginning, and two toddlers overwhelmed me further (especially since his mother had apparently been capable of having small children while maintaining gleaming glass and chrome furniture. You can imagine how the comparisons went from there.) 

I often dropped into a fog of timeless incomprehension that I have now learned is a symptom of complete emotional overload that would have set off emergency alarms with anyone trained in psychology.

However, building the business was interesting, and I offered to help early on. I enjoyed the article writing, site design, e-book construction, copy editing, etc. At first I was glad to supplement his efforts, because for once he was grateful for me. Even if he was upset about a mess around the house, he would be pleased with my help on the websites because he hadn't expected it of me, and my help was valuable to him. 

Then the workload grew heavier and heavier. I began to struggle to keep up as X gave me long lists of things to write, research, build, edit, confirm, and on and on. 

His anger about the state of the apartment continued, even when he knew I was spending long hours working on "his business" ... yet he continued to leave those chores to me as well. If X stepped in to help it was with the expectation that I would then maintain the area he cleaned to his standards, in return for his grand gesture of assisting the hopeless. 

His gratitude for my unexpected help with the business quickly became a long list of expectations, and then demands I couldn't fulfill because I didn't know how. When he didn't make as much money as expected or when something went wrong, X raged at me, sometimes for weeks. Some things came up again and again for years. 

Every failure and inability became a weapon against me, and I believed I deserved it. Eventually my health degraded to the point where I couldn't even try to help. Even though he still blamed me for failing him, I felt relieved. I was suffering anyway, but at least then it was for something I hadn't even tried to do, not for doing my best and still not being enough. 


Last night as I spoke on the phone with Nick, he asked a question that suddenly made me remember those years and years of effort. As I did my best to explain those experiences to him, he surprised me by getting it ... even before I completely understood why I was remembering those times just then.

"Oh, I've been accidentally triggering those feelings, haven't I?" His voice was so gentle that I almost cried. "I could sense something was off in your hesitation, and I think that's it."

Even now, as I type, my eyes fill with tears at the memory of that moment. 

"It's okay." He continued. "You just need practice." 

My mind immediately progressed to how I would learn to be confident enough about helping him that I wouldn't feel overwhelmed by any task. I would keep trying!

What he said next was completely unexpected. "Just tell me 'No' as much as you want...."

"What?" I couldn't have heard him right. 

He continued quietly, "I have a hard time saying 'No' sometimes, too, but it helps to practice." 

I couldn't figure out what to say to that. Why would I tell him "no" when I want to help? 

"I'll just ask you to explain how to do it until I feel confident," I suggested.

"Hmm ... that's fine, too. But I want you to say 'NO' as an experiment. Find opportunities to say it, and see how I respond." He sounded so calm--so accepting--that I could hardly believe this was a real conversation. "You can tell me you don't want to do anything, and I'll understand. Tell me 'No!' until you really believe that it's okay and feel comfortable saying it." 

I'm still realizing the implications of his words.

He didn't say what I expect him to say! 

"You can do it!" 

"Keep trying!"

"I'll help you learn how!"

Instead, he told me I could stop any time. 


In contrast, I realized again that what I expect of men ... of people in general ... is really, truly awful. 

Inevitably selfish expectations first. 

I insist on being spontaneous in giving my time and effort because I don't ever want anyone to stand over me, expecting I do more than I thought I was offering to do, yelling, angry, upset because I haven't done it right or didn't finish in time. 

I don't want to disappoint anyone, because that disappointment calls up the old pain.

It's easier to make sure nobody depends on me for anything.


The truth is, I really don't HAVE TO do anything? 

I can change my mind, stop, say "no" ... and life will go on. I'm still trying to understand how this realization could change my world. Nick is probably going to have to remind me a lot, until it sinks in. 

It's okay to take responsibility for helping someone and to still say "no more" if it becomes too much. 

It's okay to set limits even when I'm officially being paid to manage online communications. 

It's okay to ask for help. 

It's okay not to understand how to do something and even to choose not to learn how if I don't want to. 

It's okay to say, "I can't do this." 

It's okay to be overwhelmed. 

It's okay to be Nick's "official manager" and it won't prevent us from being friends. 

I can act from generosity even if I'm being paid.... or, at least, that is what I think I'm discovering. 


Just the thought of having someone depend on me makes me so terrified that I want to run and hide. 

I have a commission right now that I want to complete. It's an interesting project. And I haven't started,... because it is a commission ... so I'm afraid there are expectations I won't meet.

The worst that can possibly happen is she'll say it's not for her and then I won't ask her to pay for it. She is definitely not going to be angry. Why would that thought stop me? I do this type of thing for free all the time.

I think I'll go play with that project now. It should be fun. 

Let's see if I can get past this fear.