Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ostrich Lessons

"In popular mythology, the Ostrich is famous for hiding its head in the sand at the first sign of danger. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder is noted for his descriptions of the ostrich in his Naturalis Historia, where he describes the Ostrich and the fact that it hides its head in a bush.
There have been no recorded observations of this behavior. A common counter-argument is that a species that displayed this behavior would not survive very long. Ostriches do deliberately swallow sand and pebbles to help grind up their food; seeing this from a distance may have caused some early observers to believe that their heads were buried in sand. Also, ostriches that are threatened but unable to run away may fall to the ground and stretch out their necks in an attempt to become less visible. The coloring of an ostrich's neck is similar to sand and could give the illusion that the neck and head have been completely buried." (from Wikipedia)

Why do I include this here? Because I think I've recognized a pattern in my own thinking and behavior that is very much like hiding my head in the sand.

If I am feeling at all vulnerable or unsure of myself, at times I find it almost impossible to say what it is I want or need. This can be little stuff, such as expressing a preference in which restaurant to go to or what movie to see. Or it can be big stuff - such as seeking medical attention when ill or admitting I need help on a major project.

For a number of reasons, I learned early on not to ask directly for what I needed. This became crystal clear for me recently when a wise friend said: "For me, asking for what I wanted, or even admitting what I valued, cost me as a child, opened a potential point of manipulation. Even though that dynamic hasn't been in my life for over 30 years, I can still feel it's power sometimes." Oh yeah. Those words ring so absolutely true for me as well.

So I am trying to pay a bit closer attention to this and do some work around what it means to me to say to myself, let alone others, that I need help, or that I want a particular thing. There are people in my life today whose love and support are worth gold. But they are not mind readers. If I do not TELL them what it is I need, the chances of them being able to help me find it are pretty slim.

I remember the first time I encountered gift registries that allowed engaged couples or expectant parents to go into stores and specifically pick out what things they would most appreciate as gifts. I was appalled. It seemed unquestionably greedy to me for someone to say "this is what I expect you to get me." But over the years I've learned to look at it completely differently, and now I appreciate those registries every bit as much as I used to abhor them.

I understand now that gift registries are all about giving people a way to say "these are my tastes in color, in style, etc" in a way that in no way implies any guest is OBLIGATED to get those item. Instead, it is merely a way of giving family and friends a tool for gauging what the person already may have and what they still need. It's not bad or wrong or selfish to say "here are things I would like to have." That's not demanding. It's giving information. That can be a very good thing, particularly when getting something for someone whose home you have never seen or who you want very much to support but have no ideas of where to begin.

So I'm considering the concept of shifting my attitudes and behavior around how I relate to my own needs, desires and preferences. When asked what is I want to do or given an opportunity to express a need I hope I can quit perceiving those moments as exposing me to potential harm, manipulation, rejection, or mocking. Instead, I can think of it as a chance to open up my own personal gift registry. I may get what I ask for (help with a project, lunch with a friend, willingness to spend time together or deepen a relationship.) I may not. But either way, the more clearly I manage to articulate what it is I need, the more likely it is that I will find a way to fill that up, whether by my own efforts or with the help of others. Hiding from my own preferences and desires and ignoring my true needs out of fear is simply not useful.


Amazed said...

When I read your journaling, and the questions you pose, it makes me wonder about "the past" that helped mold these vulnerabilites. Have you ever read "The Color Code" by Taylor Hartman? It is a personality test, to determine what kind of personality you are. I know it may sound silly, but it really helped define who I am and why I react or act the way I do....and helped me to understand the other significant people in my life. From that book I learned why I felt treatened by some stronger-personalited friends and how I learned to stand up for myself if something really mattered, and if it didn't matter enough for me to voice my opinion, then I needed to "get over it." And, I too have learned that others are not "mind-readers" (especially husbands!) Instead of a golf bag for Mother's Day (I do not golf), I got an art print I had really wanted (well, not the one I wanted...the one I wanted was smaller and the same price as the framed one I got.....okay, "we're still working on communication!" Anyway, T. Hartman actually lives in my Stake...look up the book. It is fascinating.

Belladonna said...

I remember hearing several different people make comments like "she is such a yellow" or "that guy is totally blue" when the book first came out. I have not read it personally. Perhaps I'll pick it up sometime. I'm always on the lookout for a good book. Thanks for the recommendation.

Jen said...

"For me, asking for what I wanted, or even admitting what I valued, cost me as a child, opened a potential point of manipulation. Even though that dynamic hasn't been in my life for over 30 years, I can still feel it's power sometimes."

I completely agree with this statement!