Here I am on the airplane, heading home to San Francisco after my transformative week at the The Meadows, and I am in full judgement mode. I’ve gone adaptive! Scapegoat, adolescent adaptive! If you want to know what means, you’ll have to investigate Pia Mellody‘s model of Developmental Immaturity, formerly known as Codependence. I highly recommend doing so.
Judgement is a maladaptive trait that I work on a lot in my own recovery process. Harsh, searing, ruthless, cruel judgement of myself and others. At times, when I am triggered, I have difficulty allowing myself and others to be mere, flawed humans who can, at times, be annoying, even offensive, and definitely imperfect.
So here I am on the airplane, happily in my seat. I’m feeling so connected to my full self! I had a beautiful drive through the desert, blasting ecstatic music and singing along. I felt so free, so able to fully be myself, so in tune with what that means and how it feels. Wow! What a refreshing, empowering experience!
Now, as I sit here waiting for takeoff, basking in the glow of my connection to myself and Spirit, God, Higher Power, Shakti…whatever you want to call it… this guy comes to the back of the plane to put his bag in the one remaining overhead bin. As he hoists his bag into the slot he gripes, “Well, this is going to be convenient when we land.” I think, “I guess his seat must be up further towards the front and the poor dear is going to have to wait, heaven forbid an American should have to wait for anything.” Can you hear my contemptuous tone? I mumble under my breath, “No, having to walk 10 miles to get dirty water to drink is inconvenient, walking to the back of the plane is actually convenient.” Then my judge, jury and executioner rev up into full speed. I go totally adaptive as Pia Mellody might say. I think, “Buck up you pathetically privileged little asshole! You wouldn’t survive one day in the wild. Not that I would either, but at least I know how lucky I am. I’d be grateful that there was a spot for my bag if I decided to board at the last minute.” Then I took it global. “Americans are so entitled!” Do you see the teenager, rolling her eyes in utter disgust? My body is bobbing in waves of contemptuous superiority and disdain for a whole nation of people.
Then another man walks up and asks the flight attendant, “Is this the only spot left?” And I think, “No, Einstein, they had you walk back here just for the view, and it is the only compartment still open because they are playing hide and seek with you. Jeez, how much convenience do people demand? Why is everyone but me so stupid?”
Woah! I become aware of myself. My functional adult steps in, chuckling, and says, “Dude, you’ve gone totally adaptive!” Again, I highly recommend checking out Pia Mellody’s work, especially her book, Facing Codependence, if you want to know in depth what that means, or if you can relate.
In very basic terms, it means that part of me was scapegoated by major caregivers as a child and relates from an adolescent developmental stage at times, rather than as a functional adult. When caught in that pattern, I react from a place of feeling superior, better, smarter than others. I can be vicious in the way that I speak to myself or others and I am extremely judgmental.
So what do I do when I catch myself going adaptive? The fact that I see it means that my functional adult has shown up and I can see a choice. Option 1: I continue, because that old, dysfunctional pattern feels familiar and safer than simply being a flawed human among other flawed humans. Option 2: I turn the judgmental teenager onto myself and berate myself about how judgmental I am and ask myself “Why haven’t I gotten over this yet? I know better, so what is wrong with me? Why do I get so caught?” This line of thinking can go all the way down the long and treacherous road to its final destination of, “I am so stupid, so messed up and so damaged! I am beyond help and would be better off dead.” Yes. Because I judged people on an airplane. No, I am not exaggerating or being dramatic. If I let my maladaptive, scapegoated self stay in charge, that is where I can end up on a really bad day.
So far you’ve read the dysfunctional choices. My final option is to stay with the functional adult, who is growing in strength, stability and stamina as a result of my psychological and recovery work, and spiritual practices. I strengthen that part of myself by choosing it consciously. In doing so, I flex those muscles, further activating my functional adult. When I choose this option, I create new neural pathways in my brain and let the old, dysfunctional patterns lose a bit of their grip. For more information on Neuroplasticity, check out the book, The Brain that Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge.
What does option 3 look like? I say to myself, “Okay, that is an old, immature response that I don’t have to choose today. Somehow, I was activated.” It may or may not be obvious to me why that happened. It is not necessary to know, though it doesn’t hurt to understand my triggers. Now that I know I am in a regressed, dysfunctional pattern, I ask myself, “How would a functional adult handle this?” Functional adults would come at it from a more balanced perspective. I would feel appropriate shame about these thoughts, like, “I see I’m being judgmental right now. I feel angry and sad about what I see as a kind of greed for convenience in the world, which I feel contributes to harming the planet environmentally and otherwise. Feeling that anger is okay, but going to a place of extreme judgment is not necessary and only serves to harm me and others. It is not my job to judge people. I can choose a different mindset myself. I am not in charge of the thoughts or behaviors of other people. They are fellow human beings, worthy of my regard in that they were born precious just like I was and they have had their own life history and struggles of which I know nothing.”
Then I wish them well and let go of my inner dialogue. I feel at peace and safe in my own body again. My reactive episode is over and I have strengthened a healthy new pattern within my own psyche. I won that round.