Progress not Perfection, Recovering from Condemning Ourselves – Article by Author Annie Highwater

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Progress not Perfection, Recovering from Condemning Ourselves

Recently I had a revelation of how deep recovery work has penetrated my former dysfunctional patterns of thinking.  That’s the thing about doing the work, sometimes we aren’t even sure it’s working until we see it play out in new situations that show us our strength.

At work some weeks back, a very dignified lady barreled into the office, rapidly approaching me.  She seemed frustrated and harsh. I quickly got the impression that she was angry.

“I’m looking for exactly where I need to send my information.” She somewhat barked, waving an envelope, implying that she had been misinformed and inconvenienced.

My coworkers and I were able to direct her to the correct area and she was quickly satisfied, which caused her guard to go down; she warmly said thanks to each of us before leaving.

And all was well.

So what does that moment have to do with recovery?

It gave me a great revelation that recovery is working.

I realized that a decade ago, before working to recover and grow from my emotional wounds and pathology, had someone “made a beeline” in my direction with that kind of aggressive energy, I would have quickly spiraled down a rabbit hole of codependent, emotional torment.

In those moments, my thoughts usually turned into a tape that played like this:

What did I do?  Why is she mad?  Why does she hate me?  How can I fix this atmosphere?

What did I do wrong?

What can I do to ease her tense energy?

How can I fix this upset??

What does she hate about me?

What did I do?  Why is she mad?  Why does she hate me?  How can I fix this?

Round and round it would go, pounding in my head.

Sound familiar?

Condemnation is confusing, never-ending and entirely exhausting.

Regardless that an issue is obviously someone else’s, outside hostility almost always launched me into my familiar, condemning inner dialogue.

It took a long time and a lot of good counsel to realize that condemnation runs internal.

No one can make you feel bad about yourself unless you already do.

* * *

Where it all began…

I’ve come a long way with a relative I used to struggle with when it came to assigning blame to me for the behavior of others.  Those dynamics plagued our relationship for decades.

Once, I was told that my personality could “cause anyone to be abusive, or to become an addict.”

I was often told that if I didn’t “push peoples’ buttons, I would never be mistreated.”

The truth was, I couldn’t ever seem to get it right.  And even if I did, the rules would change and before too long I would somehow find myself “causing” their moods and behavior again.

One morning a local newspaper published a story about abusive tactics and even specifically said how most abusers blame-shift and will frequently say, “she/he pushes my buttons.”

Thinking I would finally be heard, I took that paper to this family member.  The response was, “This doesn’t pertain to you. You DO push buttons.”

Deep breaths…

Soon after, I stopped engaging those arguments.

More importantly, I stopped trying to come up with evidence to prove what was true or untrue. And I began the work to learn to listen to, and even like – myself.  I realized I could only work on me.

I went no contact with some of those unhealthy relationships for a few years, focusing on taking care of myself and bettering my life.

I’m happy to say, life has come full circle.  There is peace in that relationship and healthy boundaries are intact.

These days, if those dynamics surface I know to quickly stiff-arm the situation and return to my peaceful, condemnation-free life.   I remember to keep my heart inside my body—I don’t allow it to go running off with someone else’s toxic beliefs.

While I do live a life of accountability and self-examination, let me emphasize that it’s kindhealthyaccountability and kindhealthy self-examining.

There is a difference.

One promotes healing, improvement and progress.  The other suffocates your self-worth and confidence, igniting feelings of shame, defeat and resignation.

* * *

Remember – people don’t mishandle or mistreat you because you’re you—they do it because they’re them.

It is critical to know that you are responsible for no oneelse’s faults, behavior, moods or decisions—except your own!

It is not your fault when someone is moody, rude or making bad decisions.

Remembering that as a bottom-line truth, filters a lot of junk out of life.

* * *

Peace within

I am grateful to have had the moment of tension with the stressed-out lady at work, it shows how far I’ve come and how deep recovery has gone.

I’m also thankful that I no longer take on the burden of anyone else’s attitudes or behavior.  That victory took time, it’s been a process, but the relief of recovery runs as deep as your healing needs it to—when you work it.

Even if we slip back to old patterns once in a while, the healthy new tools are always ready and waiting. It’s about progress—not perfection.

Still learning,


Author of Unhooked

Book 2: Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Addiction, Alcoholism and Heartache” coming soon!

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