At some point, long ago and far away, we made up our minds about how certain things feel to us. Actually, "we made up our minds" is not nearly as accurate as it would be to say that our minds were made up for us. Far from some intentional choice or fully aware expression of our agency, certain deep valleys of emotional experiences have been carved into our minds since we were little.
From frivolous favorites like preferring cupcakes to cake, to life-defining qualities like how we perceive and express love, our experiences and associations over the years become part of us and impact our thoughts and behavior through our conscious decisions, subconscious behavior, what is done to us, and everything in between.
That’s likely not news to most, but what can be surprising are the individual ways in which we might have gotten some inappropriate information at some point that led to a specifically off-base association within us. The very nature of these associations being potentially so deeply ingrained means that there are broad feelings that we may not be aware our signals are crossed on, even those of us who are very aware of our inner emotional lives.
My recent revelation about a place where I could use some re-wiring concerns hope and desire. I’m currently up for what would be an incredible professional opportunity, and although the empirical, on-paper facts indicate that I am a contender, and that the factors and time involved in making the ultimate decision are simply out of my hands, I’ve been agonizing over it.
"Waiting to hear" is a state of being that sucks for a few reasons, but I’ve been having an inordinately difficult time and wanted to investigate why. In looking closely at the natural frustration of releasing an outcome over which I have no control, what became clear is that another set of emotions was actually taking over in my mind.
I really want this thing to happen. It would be a great work opportunity in every sense, and I want it. And I feel terrible about that.
Somehow, at some point and probably cumulatively over the years as opposed to in one fell swoop, my brain and heart melded hope and disappointment together to the extent that simply wanting something, even something it makes total sense for me to want, is somehow a bad thing about which I feel embarrassed and ashamed.
What’s bizarre to me about this is that I don’t think I’m a “play the victim” type; to have such a strong automatic connection between hope and disappointment, to the extent that I can’t experience hope as a positive thing at all, would seem to me to translate to a “things don’t ever work out for me” perennial victim mentality, which I don’t feel at all.
Lots of things have worked out for me in my life, and lots of things have not — that’s life. But what I’m learning is that I haven’t been as active a participant in things working out well as I could have been, because I was busy feeling bad about even wanting them.
When I wrote here about wanting to share my life with someone romantically, I could only do it with umpteen disclaimers and under the banner of “Unpopular Opinion.” I believe in the power of our minds to manifest change, both good and bad, and even subtle shifts in perception can have huge impact on our well-being. So if I can’t feel good about wanting things I have every right to want, if my experience of desire and longing for things it’s part of the human condition to want feels shitty, if I turn my desire to have fulfilling employment in the career of my choice and hopefulness at a major prospect in that field into a way to feel bad about myself, it’s possible that my internal negativity impacts my behavior, which could affect the outcome.
Obviously, feeling like you don’t really have a shot at something might make you not try as hard at it, which could logically mean you don’t get it.
But what I’m finding is that the subconscious association I’ve had has manifested in my personal negativity echo chamber when it comes to hope, while my external actions are totally contradictory. I’ve worked my ass off for this job. I’ve had fantastic interview experiences met with great feedback, and I can honestly say I’m a very strong candidate. Ostensibly, my efforts and behavior say, “I got this!” On the inside, however, I feel like a fool for wanting it. And that feels normal to me.
In writing here about my romantic relationship recently, I wrote about trouble we were having, and said “I hope we make it.” I felt silly about that, like I should be “strong” and take whatever comes. I tried hard to make things work, and I did have hope, but I also negatively judged that hope. And we didn’t make it. I’m not blaming myself 100 percent for that, but it does make me think about our highly impactful psyches.
I’m still on my path to extricating hope from foolishness in my mind, but so far I think I took on the oversimplification that having no expectations means having no disappointment, and reversed it to mean that hope = disappointment.
Lots of people do that. I wish we didn’t, but it’s not the most unique stance. What intrigues me is how deeply that has become my “normal,” to the extent that for me, the simple statement “I hope it works out” feels shameful.
Logically, all the elements that would justify that hopefulness are in place, yet it’ll take some work before I’m there emotionally. It’s OK to want things. Hope is beautiful! It is good and necessary and it can keep us going. Unfortunately, connecting hope to being a fool is my normal, and the good thing feels strange, which in turn feels like a new kind of bad, because that old bad feeling is what’s ingrained, and there’s comfort in familiarity, however…bad.
That’s a lot of “good” and “bad” talk, and if it’s confusing, that’s because it can be! It’s sometimes confusing and also amazing how our minds can trump logical information in favor of an ingrained mental judgement or response. Negative patterns have an element of familiarity by virtue of being patterns, and familiarity is comforting because our brains are hardwired to match experiences and events to information we already have.
It’s part of how abuse cycles continue and how devastating addiction can be, and it just might also be what disrupts a romantic relationship that was otherwise going well, or what leads some of us to repeatedly choose partners who are not actually well suited for us.
Even when we’re smart enough to know how we were hurt in the past, and aware enough to try and do better, we might be resisting change at a core level because we have no mental blueprints for what “better” feels like, and what is actually better feels bad.
An anecdote: Like many of us, I shave my legs from time to time. It doesn’t feel great using a razor, and some little cut or scrape is inevitable, but I like the feeling of smooth legs, and shaving is a less expensive option than what I spend on other areas, so I do it, having been working through a huge box of decent disposable razors I got at a warehouse store for months now.
I recently went to a beauty company’s party and got a swag-filled gift bag containing, among other things, a super-duper fancy-schmancy “Ladies, Treat Your Legs Right!” kind of razor. I gave it a whirl, and I was disgusted.
The razor was beautifully and elaborately designed, and using it in the shower, it was really comfortable to hold and it felt great on my skin. There was no pain at all, and no little bleeding nicks to put a square of toilet paper on when I was done, like I was used to. Instead of thinking how great that was, my first thought was, Shit, it didn’t work.
I was so used to the pain and annoyance involved with this thing that I still deemed a necessary part of life that when I was able to accomplish it pain-free, I was suspicious and angry. My legs seemed to have been rendered hairless, but I couldn’t trust it. I even wondered if these razors had been a defective bunch and the losers at the company figured they could throw then into gift bags just to move the faulty stock.
I threw the cursed thing in the trash, and I even thought about taking another quick shower with one of the razors I was used to, just to be sure I’d gotten the job done. I didn’t have time to do that, and I was starting to get annoyed at how annoyed I was, so I just got dressed.
That’s when I felt just how great this razor was. As I put on a long, flowy skirt, I was awestruck at how silky-smooth my skin felt against the cloth. I wanted to run through the streets letting strangers feel my velveteen gams, but I thought better of it and just fished the magical razor out of the garbage instead.
I marveled at how strong my initial negative response was. I was used to at least a little pain and bleeding, so when this beautiful thing came along that seemed to work and actually made me feel good, I literally threw it away.
My feelings of hope have had an undercurrent of shame, and my initial efforts to hope joyfully feel dreadful. Even when I can feel that it’s OK to want things in a good way, I can’t fully trust that yet, but I don’t want to just throw it in the garbage. I’m trying hard right now to feel the hope, an emotion that I want and deserve to feel, as positive. I hope I get this job. And that’s OK.