WASHINGTON, February 11, 2014 – Parking my car under a tree in the parking lot outside my office, I noticed smallish black acorn-type vegetation dotted all over my hood. In an attempt to be practical, I thought that if I drove fast enough, the wind would knock them off, so I sped down the street. Sadly, they didn’t budge. As I drove down the road, I thought to myself to just get rid of them when I get home.
Parked in the comfort of my own garage, I did my best to get off those little buggers off, manually. They would not budge; they were stuck. I had to scrape and pull and wiggle them back and forth to remove them. And a lot of them were still there. Frustrated a little, I looked at my hands and saw that they were all purple. That’s when the worries started to hit: if my hands were stained, what about my car’s paint job? What once was a small annoyance started to get me mad.
At that moment, like a reaction, I wanted to find the person or people who were responsible, to blame someone for my misery.
My first thought was to blame the landlord. It had to be the landlord’s fault! Shouldn’t he have known not to have these types of trees planted above the parking spaces? Look at the damage they can cause just sitting there – of course it’s his fault! The more I thought about this, the madder I felt. My mind swiftly constructed an image of an evil landlord who was playing a cruel joke on his tenants.
It took a moment, but I then realized the tricks my mind was playing. This reaction was my pattern. Something happens that frightened me – the prospect of my car’s paint job ruined – and I immediately looked for someone to blame. That evening I told my husband the full story. He told me that my car would be fine. What a relief.
As usual, my husband’s rational thinking made me feel better, and it helped when he told me he would get the car fully cleaned the very next day. But although the car problem had been solved, one issue still remained: my reaction to blame a fictitious evil landlord. I felt uncomfortable with my own psyche. Of course the office landlord did not actively decide to plant berry-dropping trees next to parking spaces in an effort to ruin the cars of his tenants. People are rarely so cruel, and the landlord would have so much to lose by doing so. So why did I need to make a villain out of him in the first place?
That instinctive reaction was borne from what I call my old training – the same development process that we all go through. When we are little, perhaps five or six years old, we make observations about how the world treats us. At that age, our problems are magnified. The issues important to us and the tactics we developed as children to handle them become permanent fixtures on our subconscious.
As I thought about it, I realized that when I was young I did not feel safe. I was the middle child of three, stuck without a father at home and with a mother who was often overwhelmed. I fought constantly with my siblings and used my arms and legs and feet to get my way. I guess I was always ready to protect myself, because as a child I felt like an enemy was always around the corner.
This defensive stance stuck with me, for better or for worse. But as I grew into adulthood and studied to be a therapist, I began to see how my training as a child has given me my world’s view. I can’t help but feel someone is responsible for my discomfort when I am afraid. But now, as an adult, I can accept my subconscious reactions and deal with the repercussions rationally.
In all likelihood, you too may react or behave illogically when confronted with a discomfort reminiscent of one you grew up with. Perhaps you also cannot help but blame someone for your misery. But if you acknowledge your trigger and if you can identify how your defense mechanism works, the next time you encounter your unique issue, your situation might be more easily managed. And once understood, your once strongly held conclusions may just become unnecessary.