Why Owning Your Own Crap Empowers You

Most of us are reluctant to turn the flashlight back on ourselves and look at the ways we might have screwed up.

After all, who likes feeling like they’ve messed up?

Like the balance of power has shifted in the story and all of a sudden, instead of the other person being so predictably wrong – it’s now our behavior that’s under scrutiny?

Back during the days when I used to not get along with my ex-husband David and his wife (and my co-author) Carol, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to mentally nail them for things they had done wrong. The slightest little mistake was grounds for a rant with my friends — or a ruined afternoon, with me stewing in my anger and irritation.

Never mind the fact that there was also a part of me that was secretly enjoying the fact that they might have screwed up, such as getting a pick-up or drop off time mixed up.

And never mind the fact that I also did what I could to subtly help them get it mixed up, while also trying to claim otherwise.

It was childish, ridiculous behavior.

And part of me knew it.

But instead of looking at that reality, I chose instead to focus on them.

And they, in turn, were doing the same thing with me. (Something they fully owned up to later).

After all, how many of us, when we sense someone in our immediate environment out to get us, open our hearts in response?

Maybe if you live on a mountain in Tibet you do, but I doubt the majority of us mere mortals lean that way out of habit.

So there we were, judging the hell out of each other, blowing things out of proportion, taking lots of things personally, making ourselves and everyone else miserable… and the entire time, we’re all still feeling victimized.

Like something was being done TO us!

I have to shake my head and laugh at this now, because it seems so clearly illogical and insane.

I can’t speak for David or Carol, but when I had my first inklings of owning my own shit, it was like a blast of light shining through the curtains.

Once I started to see how I was fully participating in this impossible, never-ending, score-keeping behavior, I couldn’t STOP seeing it in all my actions.

And I suspected that they probably had inklings of this as well.

We all seemed so hopelessly, helplessly blind.

But we were not helpless.

Admitting to myself that I was deliberately trying to set them up, trying to make them fail, trying to make myself out to be the well-intentioned, blameless victim — even if it meant occasionally putting the kids in the middle as leverage was life-changing.

I could throw up my hands and claim my innocence all I wanted in public, but now that I knew the truth of what I was doing, I could never go back and pretend otherwise to myself again.

The bottom line was….

Was it worth it?

Was it worth what I was doing to the kids to feel temporarily superior to David and Carol? To feel like the better, more loving, devoted parent? (One who still uses her kids as “leverage?” Right….) To milk sympathy from friends and family about how unfair it was, how stressful and awful their “two against my one” was?

To self-righteously funnel my leftover anger and grief about our marriage into something tangible, something that gave me the feeling that at least something was actually moving? Something was actually happening?

Well…. No.

It wasn’t.

It wasn’t worth all the stress. It wasn’t worth how hard my heart felt.

It wasn’t worth the feeling that I was now living behind a large rock wall, thirty feet high, waiting for flaming balls of mud to be lobbed upon me at any time. Or constantly gathering up mud inside my own yard to lob back.

My brain hurt. My head hurt. My stomach hurt.

My kids were hurting.

It sucked.

So… when I clearly and irrevocably saw what I was doing, I made the decision to stop.

Whether they did or not, whether they apologized or not, whether they ever understood or not.

I stopped.

And I told myself the truth about my crappy behavior, without justifications, without trying to turn my actions back on them somehow.

I apologized at first to David.

And then, later, when things were better between us, to Carol.

And then, eventually, when my girls seemed old enough to really get it, I apologized to them too.

You’d think that all of that apologizing would make a person feel pretty darned small.

And it did, temporarily.

But that’s what humility does. It makes you small enough so that you can see the error of your ways.

It takes you out of your ego so you can get over yourself.

It gives you a chance to just shut the heck up and take stock of what’s you’ve created, shame-inducing and all.

When you own your own shit and when you apologize to people — without any investment about what’s coming to you in return — without any expectations of what’s going to happen now or how you’ll be perceived as “better” — magic can happen.

Time and time again, I hear stories of huge turnarounds that occur between warring parties.

A heartfelt apology is made and ice melts. Handshakes are made. Smiles freely given for maybe the first time ever.

Maybe not immediately, but sometimes… eventually….

I firmly believe, though it sounds all new-agey to say, that you change the energetic field between you and the other person. You stop the tension, the pushing and pulling. The space opens up between you for something new to be created, even if there’s no way to anticipate what that might be.

It still happens.

Based on my own experiences, I recommend that the exes start with each other, in particular. It’s often the leftover angst and anger between them that can really fuel the competition between the women — and all the offenses that come along with that.

When you own your own shit, it’s true: you may not make one single thing happen as far as changing the other person’s behavior.

And you have to be willing to accept that.

But you will feel a MILLION times better about yourself and your own sense of integrity.

And you will be giving your children an AWESOME gift to emulate themselves one day.

You will have stopped leaking your self-pity and vengeance all over them, when they’re just trying to be kids, doing their kid thing.

You will be showing them what’s possible when the two people who brought them into this world put down their weapons and say they’re sorry… and maybe cry for the chaos they’ve wrought.

You’ll make it okay for them to love their stepmom, like they should be able to, since she likely loves them.

You’ll show them what it’s like when all the adults create something new and wonderful out of a weird and awkward situation.

And then truly, even though their lives may have exploded with the dissolution of their original family, you’ll show them that life really can be okay — and new bonds will form that they can lean on for the rest of their lives.

Won’t you try it… and see?

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine   All Rights Reserved

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  1. Shellie Cadogan says:

    Saw myself a few times in this article…before I took that deep breathe and kept telling myself ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ it never matters in the end!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Cool, Shellie! And it’s so true — we can get so fixated on controlling all these silly, insignificant details and then realize… oh. Never mind! 🙂

  3. Dina McCausley says:

    YEP!! Dat be da troofs!!
    “When you own your own shit, it’s true: you may not make one single thing happen as far as changing the other person’s behavior.

    And you have to be willing to accept that.

    But you will feel a MILLION times better about yourself and your own sense of integrity.”

    This part in particular is true. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Even if the other person fails to reciprocate EVER, letting go is FREEDOM. <3 Not just because of feeling like you have integrity, but also because you release yourself from holding on to things that just make your burden bigger. Let it go.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Absolutely, Dina! Freedom for sure….

    And one thing that I forgot to put in the article, but you made me think of, is that you can now see the OTHER PERSON’S behavior much more accurately, because your perceptions aren’t all skewed by this stuff. When you can see what they’re doing from a non-competitive perspective, it allows to make clearer decisions about how to address the things that aren’t working.

  5. Lucky (Renee) says:

    It was so true for me that when I decided to change not just how I acted but how I *thought* it really did seem to change the energy between us. Suddenly she didn’t feel threatened, because I’d stopped trying to one-up her even in my head. It does sound new-age-y so I don’t often say it, but I think it works a lot.

  6. I believe it, Renee! You may not have verbalized your thoughts or feelings, but I’m sure they were evident in your body language, tone of voice and eye contact. And yes, on that woo-woo level too — that science will be able to measure one day. Kudos to you for making that decision! 🙂

  7. Elisette says:

    I am going to own the fact that I can not communicate with my ex anymore. It grieves me to be at this point, but it is simply too difficult to try, try, and try and be treated poorly, like someone at his beck and call. He is out of my life and we can not form one of these mutually symbiotic relationships I read about — he never wanted anything like that and has never felt a need to reconcile the pain he causes with his actions. And never will. And it hurts to beat my head against that brick wall and it makes me INSANE. And like the old adage – never argue with an idiot, people watching can’t tell the difference- when you try to work with a passive aggressive you are made out to be the crazy one for getting frustrated when no solutions are acceptable. And I’m done. And it will be healthier for my children and me.

    And random babble /end

  8. I very much own my crap and I think that’s one of the qualities about me that my husband and my stepkids’ mom appreciate about me. I own my crap so much that I get frustrated when other people don’t own their’s!

  9. Alexis says:

    I have this from both angles, I am both a mom/ex, as well as a step-mom. What’s weird for me is, I get along just fine with my ex, his family, and even his wife. A few things have happened in the past that rubbed me the wrong way, but it was always little stuff that didn’t mean anything, and didn’t directly affect my daughter. So I owned my sh*t and I let it go. My relationship with the both of them is virtually stress-free and quite peaceful. We cooperate and communicate.

    My fiance’s ex-wife is a different story. He has two kids from his previous marriage, and even though I have been with him for over 4 years now, and we live together, I feel like I am at constant war with this other woman. She and I have probably exchanged 5 sentences with each other over the course of the 4 years, so our communication is definitely lacking. It has also definitely strained my relationship with my fiance, though, because there are days when I don’t feel like this is all WORTH it. His ex gets way more than her 25% in child support, (which isn’t her fault at all- my fiance got laid off from work our first year together and is still paying her back-child support.) When he went to court a year ago and had the regular 25% adjusted to reflect how much he actually made starting over in his new career, though, [as opposed to the large amount he was paying her because he made more before the lay-off,] she flipped out on him during the review, and even yelled at the government worker about how it wasn’t “fair” that my fiance didn’t have to keep paying her a grand a month because he had ME around to help with bills [as though it’s my fault her marriage failed, my fault she can’t seem to find a roommate or a boyfriend to split bills with, or my financial responsibility to make sure that she and her kids are living the high-life.] On top of all of this, she has over $200k in inheritance money that her father left her when he passed away, she owns her own home, and she has her mom around to help whenever she can’t get the kids from school in time. She’s ridiculous and petty, and I DO find myself enjoying it when she slips up or makes a stupid decision. I just can’t bring myself around to letting things go, and she has managed to ruin entire afternoons of mine on more than one occasion. I hate that she has this kind of power over me- the way she seems able to infuriate me without so much as a word cast in my direction. I hate it, and I hate that I succumb to it. It seems like I finally get over something, though, and then she does something else that sends me over the edge, and every little misdemeanor comes flooding back to fuel me. Like last year when she was supposed to have her two kids for Mother’s Day so that I could spend Mother’s Day with my own daughter, and instead she blew us off and didn’t text my fiance until Mother’s Day to let him know that “Oops, I hadn’t realized it was Mother’s Day weekend when I made plans. It’s okay, though, every day feels like mother’s day to me! Lol” Well, that’s not the point, is it? She was out of town that weekend and hadn’t even let us know beforehand that she wasn’t planning on taking the kids on HER Mother’s Day. Then, sensing I was mad about it, she offered to watch my daughter (whom she has never met) one night so that me and my fiance could go on a date night together. I don’t even KNOW this woman, like I’m sending my kid to her house. And what’s more ridiculous about the offer is: Mother’s Day isn’t about me spending the weekend with my live-in fiance. It was about the time that I missed with my child because I wasn’t going to be a jerk and take my daughter out for a nice weekend with movies and dinner and stuff and leave her children home wondering why they couldn’t participate. So it ruined my one-on-one bonding with my only child. Months later, she invited my fiance to a baseball game with just her and their two kids for their daughter’s birthday, which took place on OUR scheduled weekend [without bothering to ask us if this was alright,] and then got all defensive when my fiance brought up the fact that going to a baseball game with just the three of them was a little inappropriate, and that it was thoughtless and rude to plan stuff on our weekends without bothering to ask us. I really think she does do this stuff to get under my skin. This woman is a petty, ridiculous tart, and I really can’t seem to make myself rise above the bait.

    [Don’t you love how I just went ahead and fulfilled the whole “ranting to strangers” bit of the article? I need more advice! What kind of tactics have worked for some of you to get this other woman out from under your skin?]

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