“When you finally learn that a person’s behavior has more to do with their own internal struggle than you, you learn grace.”Allison Aars
One of the psychology blogs that I follow recently published an article on phobias. As I was reading over it, “thalassophobia” caught my attention. Never in my life have I heard of such a term. It went on to define this as an intense fear of large, open, naturally occurring, deep bodies of water and, suddenly, certain things made a lot more sense. Because, as the article went on to describe, it’s not so much the fear of the water itself (“aquaphobia”) as it is the fear of what lies beneath those waters… the unseen, the unknown, and the completely unpredictable.
Throughout our entire 20 year relationship, my husband has never cared very much for swimming in the ocean… or river, or lake, or any other large body of water aside from a man-made swimming pool. In the beginning, he’d laugh it off and say that the water was too cold. Sometimes he would wade in, but only up to his knees. Other times, I could coerce him into coming with me, chest deep, but only for a little while before he’d hightail it back to the beach to sit in his chair or lay down on our blanket.
One night, on my birthday many years ago, while on vacation to my favorite childhood beach destination, I talked him into walking the beach back to our hotel. He was reluctant, but did so just to please me. The closer I took us to the water, the more quiet and distant he became… until, finally, as the waves washed up over my feet, he immediately let go of my hand. It never occurred to me then that the sweat left to evaporate from upon my palm had anything to do with him, rather than the humidity of the thick, summer night’s air.
I remembered walking this same beach early in the morning, as well as, late at night with my sister and our parents, every summer, ever since I was a little kid. I wanted so much to share this pastime with him – to see him enjoy it as much as I do. But, as I called out to him over the crashing of the waves and the roaring of the wind, he retreated even further and further away from me, in body and in mind.
It would be easy to become offended by this behavior. To feel dejected or rejected. But, deep down, I’ve always known that this behavior had more to do with him, than it ever did with me. Sure enough, this pattern has repeated itself in our lives, year after year, to the point where I no longer pressure him to enter deep waters with me. I will always extend the invitation… yet, mostly, he just smiles and says “I’m good”. He stands there, on the shore, giving me an occasional wave, while he keeps careful watch over the area as I swim, float and dive to my heart’s content, exploring all that I possibly can, wherever it is that we go.
A similar incident happened on a flight back home from some adventure we had traveled to experience together. We were faced with a series of strong storms that our flight crew was unable to completely fly above. As the aircraft navigated through some of the worst turbulence either of us had ever experienced, I was giggling with excitement as the bottom dropped out from beneath the plane and butterflies danced in my stomach in response to this briefly simulated “freefall”. My Honey, however, appeared anxious and edgy, as he continued to check and recheck the weather radar, as well as, our aircraft’s altitude. I reached over, taking hold of his hand, and found it to be soaked with sweat. As beads of sweat also formed upon his brow, I realized, for the first time in all of our lives together, that he was legitimately scared. I immediately toned down my own energy, changing my excited demeanor to match his solemn one, in an attempt to quietly offer him comfort. I held his hand and squeezed his arm. I did not question him in regards to his fears or pressure him to relax. I simply sat with him, this man that I love, sharing in his silence and extending solidarity and support.
You see, this man that I love has spent his entire life building a career around public safety and emergency preparedness. Yet, in this particular environment, the potential dangers remain completely unforeseen… and there is nothing he can do to help or change that. Rather than relaxing into the moment, he may find himself overwhelmed with fear of all that he can neither anticipate nor control – the inability to protect himself, my self, and all of those around us.
I, on the other hand, have always been drawn to such adventures, intrigued by the unknown. Moments when I realize I have absolutely no control are the exact same moments when I feel the most alive, relaxed, and completely free – because, in my mind, when nothing is certain, anything is possible!
My husband and I, we are not the same… yet, we compliment each other very well. In fact, no two people are ever completely alike… and that’s not only okay, it’s precisely what make us all so very interesting. The intricacies of our minds and the idiosyncrasies of our personalities, the things that make us similar, but also very different. The simple fact that, even after all these years, there’s still so much more to learn about each other, not only excites me, it intrigues me, as well.
This man that I love, whom I admire, respect, and chose to marry is my anchor, my rock, my stability and my strength. He is quick to assess a situation, decide and act. He draws upon his acquired knowledge, training and experience in order to assist and save. Yet, the ability to control this environment, and others like it, is simply not possible. It’s no wonder that moments like these make him so damn uncomfortable.
Sure, I could point these things out, psychoanalyze him, encourage changed behavior, coach him through the processing of his emotions and all that lies beneath… but this decision towards personal growth is not mine to make. He has never tried change me, nor do I seek to alter him. We simply love each other for all that we are, and laugh about all that we may never be.
This is a lesson that I have been learning in regards to family, friends, and other loved ones, many times over, throughout the past several years. That you can still choose to love them, up close or from afar, strive to understand them, rationalize their behaviors, and accept them for all that they are, as well as, all that they will never be. Because to love someone unconditionally is to learn how to support them without stepping in to save them. To encourage their personal growth, yet remain detached from their ultimate decisions.
Compassion is the key – because everyone is fighting his or her own inner battles, and everyone harbors their own past traumas. It helps to remember that we are all of it. At one time or another, everyone is an asshole and everyone is awesome. When we’re acting unconsciously or not at our highest level, it’s because we’re responding from a place of pain or fear… and you can find compassion for a person who is in pain or one who is gripped with fear.
I no longer seek to challenge or influence the opinions or behaviors of others because I’ve finally come to realize that these are the direct result of their own reality, as filtered through the lense of their own perceptions.
It is not my responsibility to educate anyone or force any person to change. But, in my own personal growth journey, I am discovering how much better it is to LOVE people wherever they’re at, rather than simply leaving them where they’re at.
Seeking to understand where certain behaviors are coming from, and caring enough to see all the way down to the root cause, alleviates a lot of the negativity expressed upon the surface because, suddenly, it all makes perfect sense.