Monday Confessional: Overcorrecting The Heart

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mc A while ago, I wrote these "Monday Confessional" posts. Then I stopped. This kind of follows a pattern in my life where I come up with an idea and try it out, and then I hate it for a while, and then I realize it might not have been that bad. So after over a year of hiatus, here's the return of my Monday Confessionals:

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I vowed to myself a while ago that I wouldn't let any one person determine my happiness or worth.

I may have overcorrected.

This is what happens when you overcorrect: you make a mistake or have some negative experience, and in trying to fix said mistake and prevent said situation from happening again, you go too far. Overcorrection is frequently linked with driving.

It happens like this--you're driving down the road, and suddenly your car hits a slippery section of road and begins to slide, out of your control, to the right or the left. This can be a heart-stopping, terrifying experience--you might be going fifty to sixty miles per hour or more (to be fair, it's scary at any speed) and headed right for another car, a telephone pole, a concrete median, or a menacing ditch. In these moments, your gut, your instinct, your body will tell you to slam on your brakes, grab that steering wheel, and jerk it in the direction you want your car to go.

That's overcorrection. And that simple reaction to a bad thing happening and trying to get out of it causes thousands of accidents and deaths every year.

I think that's where I am.

Wanting to avoid slamming into the tree that's threatening to snap your car in half isn't bad. Wanting to avoid placing anyone on a pedestal and pinning my happiness on them isn't bad, either. It's good, actually.

It's a lesson everyone has to learn if they're serious about having healthy relationships. If we think a person--a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, friend, boss, coworker, fan--is responsible for our happiness, we'll find ourselves wanting. We'll find ourselves, at some point, the opposite of happy--we'll be miserable and disappointed because no one can be our happiness. No one can live up to that responsibility.

After I hit enough telephone poles, relationally speaking, because I placed my hopes and dreams in a person, I decided to hit the brakes and turn that steering wheel away from disaster. It was my gut reaction, my instinct. At first, it seemed to work.

I told myself there is no person out there who can fix me and my issues. I worked on living my life in a way that allows me to pursue my passions and what breaks my heart. I committed myself to decrease my focus on my problems and increase my focus on helping and encouraging the people around me without the expectation of being treated the same way in return.

I became independent. Which is great. Mostly great. I go where I want to go, when I want to go. I don't need someone else's permission, nor do I have to wait for someone to join me to feel validated in going. If I want to go camping in the Adirondacks, I go. If I want to visit Niagara Falls, I go. If I want to drive to the beach at 11 p.m., I do it. If I want to see a movie, I don't need to call anyone and figure out which nights and times we all have free. I can just see it by myself. Some of you might read that and think of other words to describe me other than "independent" (loser), but if you have the freedom, both of schedule and self-confidence, to see a movie by yourself, then you've made it in life as far as I'm concerned.

All of which can be good. But sometimes, we can take independence too far.

When your car starts to slide out of control, experts say to fight your instincts--fight the urge to turn the steering wheel hard and fast or slam your brakes. They say to let off the gas and the brake pedal, to slowly and carefully turn the steering wheel in the direction you'd like to go until your car settles back on track and into the proper lane.

Which is easy to do when you read about it, and much harder when you're making split-second decisions at seventy miles per hour with your heart in your throat.

As I've corrected myself toward independence, I may have had the steering wheel to the side a little too long. Perhaps I've pumped the brakes a bit too hard. I haven't stopped at simply being independent and content.

My heart has become stone.

In my attempt to fix my past mistakes, to free myself from the lie that some other person holds the key to my happiness, to keep my heart from spilling out all over people who don't want it, I've sealed it up.

I find myself thinking and saying, "I don't care what this person thinks. I don't care what this person does. I don't care."

To say that a person doesn't determine my worth or happiness is one thing. A good thing. To say that I simply do not care, to clamp the valves of my heart so tightly so that I don't feel anymore--that's different. That's an overcorrection.

Lately, I've refused to let anything that even smells like validation or rejection from anyone jump over the moat that has slowly surrounded me. I don't care who calls me or doesn't call me to hang out. I don't care who responds to my text messages or not. I don't care who remembers my birthday or not. I don't care if someone compliments me or not. I don't care when someone does compliment me. I don't care who checks in on me or not. I don't care if you care about me or not. I don't care if you respond to me. I'm going to do me, and I'm going to do it with or without you.

Because I

will

not

let

you

make

me

feel.

I will not let you make me feel anything I don't want to feel. This is not, "I'm independent." This is, "Forget you--I won't give you the chance to put so much as a scratch or dent anywhere on me."

The difference is hard to detect. I'm not quite sure of the exact moment I crossed the line from healthy to shut off. It was probably a slow process, the way that bread shifts from soft and fresh to stiff and stale a little bit at a time.

I feel lucky that I'm catching it now, before I make any stupid decisions or hurt someone significantly in the process. Maybe I have already, and if so, feel free to call me on my nonsense. If I've learned anything from my past, it's that people who don't allow themselves to be hurt will inevitably hurt the people around them. The defenses you set up, the barbed wire with which you line the doors to your heart, will cut and damage the people who try to breach them.

I don't want this to be me.

I know better. I really do. To love, to experience life in its fullest capacity, I have to let people hurt me. It's part of the deal. One of my favorite bands, Sleeping At Last, has a song that says, "We can't...fall in love with a heart that's too strong to break."

I think that applies to all forms of love, not just the romantic sort. We can't love and be loved without being in a position to have our hearts broken from time to time.

We have to fight our defensive instincts sometimes.

We have to resist the urge to jerk the steering wheel away from danger.

We have to restrain our feet from pushing the brake pedal into the floor.

We have to finesse this. Keep our eyes fixed on where we want to go. Ease ourselves back in that direction.

And sometimes, we'll still hit something.

It's okay.

It's how life and love work.

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Feature photo ©2010 Niels Linneberg | Flickr