A Cautionary Tale of Flattery

I don’t recall being read to very often as a young child.  A couple books stand out in my mind, but most of them I remember hearing in school.  It wasn’t until I had my own children that I really became aware of the vast array of children’s books out there.  I came to realize that you can write the most ridiculous books and somehow they get published.  I remember reading one book recently and recalling the scene in Elf when Buddy’s Dad, who works at a children’s book company, is talking with one of his employees.  The dialogue is as follows:

Buddy’s Dad:  A reprint?  You know how much that’s gonna cost?
Employee:  Two whole pages are missing.  The story doesn’t make any sense.
Buddy’s Dad:  What, you think some kid’s gonna notice two pages?  I mean, they… all they do is look at pictures.

Well, maybe the kid won’t notice, but us parents do.  I wish I could remember the book that I was reading.  I seriously kept checking to see if pages were ripped out because the ending of the book made zero sense.  Gru, from Despicable Me, said it best when it comes to these ‘less than optimal’ children’s books I am referring to, “This is literature?  A two year old could have written this…Ah, I don’t like this book.  This is going on forever.”  I think we’ve all experienced these types of books.  Thankfully, there are children’s books out there that are fully worth adding a book award badge to their cover.  These are the books that I will gladly read to my children one hundred times over, not because my kids ask me to, but because I genuinely enjoy getting lost in the book.

The Spider and the Fly is one of those books that I can’t help but read in the best of my character voices because it deserves to be read with feeling.  It’s based on the 1829 poem by Mary Howitt with delightfully eerie illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi.  It’s a darker book than you expect to read to a child, but it gets the message across.  Don’t expect a happy ending, as situations between spiders and flies rarely end in such a manner.  But expect the opportunity to teach the lesson from this tale, which is, “To idle, silly, flattering words I pray you ne’er give heed.”  This is something I feel our children need to learn in today’s society.

How cunning the world has come at flattering us into falsehoods.  Not that spinning things to lead people astray is anything new.  Obviously, it was a concern worth warning about in 1829.  I personally fell victim to such “idle, silly, flattering words” during my teens and early twenties.  I suppose I was too trusting.  I believed that people always meant what they said.  I hadn’t fully grasped that people will tell you what they think you want to hear to get from you what they want.  I don’t mean for this to be a depressing topic, but I suppose I want to share the counsel that Mary Howitt did so eloquently nearly 200 years ago.  We must teach our children and, if necessary, ourselves to be weary of such flattery.  To be able to see flattery for what it is.  I don’t suggest that we should become cynical and untrusting, but rather cautious.
Perhaps evaluate such a situation with Jacques Bainville’s quote mentioned in my earlier post Making Tomorrow’s Headlines Positive Ones, “One must want the consequences of what one wants.”  For example, once upon a time I would be what I perceived others wanted me to be instead of being myself.  I would receive flattery from a guy, which would feel exciting at first.  Then flattery would evolve into flirting, which can be fun and innocent enough until it’s not.  Suddenly, I would find myself in uncomfortable situations.  Was that what I had intended when I first got wrapped up in the flattery?  Certainly not.  But we can get caught into these webs and soon find ourselves stuck.  I had to learn that to avoid the web entanglement, I had to forego the belief that those first words of flattery were sincere.  I had to understand that I was perfectly fine being exactly who I was.  I didn’t have to prove that I was fun by being flirtatious, I had to realize that I am fun because I am me.
I have had my eyes opened more with age, but I still have to fight daily to separate the truths from the half-truths, as the latter are trickier than lies.  Both The Spider and the Fly and my own experience above are proof of that.  The Spider says many true things to the Fly to coerce her into trusting him.  The same goes for my situation.  The issue really begins when the truths become half-truths.  If I struggle with this at the age of thirty-three, then how can I expect my children to be equipped for such a world if I don’t help explain it to them?  Sure, The Spider and the Fly is a darker tale than most children’s books, but perhaps it’s a tale that our children need to hear before they have to learn it the hard way.  Or worse, what if they never realize the web they have become entangled in?
“And now, dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly, flattering words I pray you ne’er give heed;
Unto an evil counselor close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.”
– Mary Howitt

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An Esteemed Reality

I saw a psychologist off and on for nearly five years.  I am a huge advocate of therapy for any and all aspects of life.  In fact, I get a bit frustrated when people are so reluctant to seek additional assistance.  When I say all aspects of life, I mean it.  Before the age of three, our sweet little girl had already attended Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Speech Therapy for her various issues resulting from premature birth.  The progress she made under the care of professionals was astounding.  I feel equally blessed for the knowledge I received during my countless therapy sessions to address my distorted thinking.

While I had attempted to find psychological help a few times prior in my life, it was not until I met with a particular doctor in 2007 that I began to make progress.  I still recall my first session with her.  I had brought in a list of my concerns and why I was there to meet with her.  As I read off the long list I had prepared, she listened intently.  At the end of the session, she had pretty much summed up my personal laundry list of issues into one: I had low self-esteem.

I was reminded of how crucial a healthy self-esteem is in one’s life when I came across this excellent description in a parenting magazine, Parent & Child.  The article “Rehab a Praise Junkie” reads: “Self-esteem depends on your internal ability to generate positive feelings about your accomplishments – it’s not something other people can give you.”  I learned this in therapy, but I so wish I hadn’t had to wait that long.  For years, I based my worth on the praise of others.  I still fall victim to it in ways I’d rather not admit.

This blog is a perfect example.  Sometimes when I write a post that I’m excited about, I become deflated when I don’t receive any positive feedback to validate my feelings.  I suppose it’s the nature of the beast.  But at least now I have the tools to separate my distorted thinking and reality.  Previously, my train of thought would run something like this – I tried really hard on something, received no accolades for it, therefore I am a failure.  That’s where it ended.  How sad, right?  That’s why I prevented myself from attempting so many tasks in life.  I had already deemed myself a failure.  Now my thought process goes something like this – I tried really hard on something, received no praise for it, feel down about it, realize that other’s praise is not an indication of my success, and take joy in the process of the task and what I learned from it.  My previous pattern begat nothing but feeling worthless.  This healthier pattern is what keeps me moving and posting.

There are so many ways in which a low self-esteem can hinder our daily activities.  Thankfully, there are tools to help eradicate feelings of low self-worth.  Again, I will suggest the The Self-Esteem Workbook, which was recommended to me during that first therapy session.  It provides a variety of ways to gain a self-esteem.  One of the easiest methods for me to prevent myself from going down the poor self-esteem spiral is to debunk my negative instincts.  You’ll notice my new pattern in the previous paragraph has additional steps in my thinking.  You’ll also see that my healthier method does not omit the sadness of no praise.  I still feel bummed.  Maybe one day I won’t care at all, but that’s not right now.  Now, the key to healthier living is analyzing those feelings and figuring out if what I feel is reality or something I’ve imagined.  While it might not seem the case, in a world where grandiose is king, reality can sometimes be better than what you’ve imagine.

For me, my reality is much better than what I had deemed myself worthy.  According to my instinctual thought process, I was not deserving of anything good.  And yet here I type, as the wife to an incredible husband, the mother to three beautiful children (and one on the way), a friend to the most amazing people, and a woman of faith.  My reality is better than anything I could have imagined.  It’s not perfect, as nobody’s is, but it’s filled with hope and a belief in myself that I did not have previously.

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Two Makes It True

I’m a firm believer in the “two makes it true” philosophy.  If I hear something from two separate sources, then I imagine it is most likely true.  I’m also a firm believer in finding out the truth for myself.  As a result, I hold on to the “two makes it true” information until I find out otherwise.  This thought process has helped me a lot in life.  The one bit of information that it becomes cloudy on is whether or not Santa is real.  Multiple sources, mostly under the age of 5, have informed me that Santa is real.  Further personal experiences has told me otherwise.  Perhaps that’s why I do not believe in the physical presence of Santa, but the spirit of Santa still lives on in my heart.  Alas, I digress.

This “two makes it true” philosophy came to the forefront of my mind as I was reading the book
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.  I apologize in advance for the many times I will likely reference this book in future posts.  It’s not that it offered earth-shattering ideas, but that it reiterated a lot of concepts I learned in my years of attending therapy.  As I was reading it, I realized how the book was the second source confirming the principles I had learned through difficult and eye-opening therapy sessions.  This book is the “two” that made those therapy concepts “true.”

But better than that, I marveled at how this time I had first put to practice the information I learned in those therapy sessions.  My practice of those principles and the positive results were truly the “two that makes it true.”  So, really this book was the “three.”  Reading this book was the confirmation that those, often painful, therapy sessions really were beneficial to my growth and I’ve now come farther than I realized.  What joy it brought my heart to know that I’m learning and growing.  That change for the better is possible.  Certainly, I have a long way to go.  Don’t we all?

I saw three separate therapists before finding the one that helped change my path.  When I made the call to that fourth therapist, I expressed to her my concern about not finding success with past therapists.  Her response was, “I won’t be able to help you either if you’re not ready to be helped.”  While I still believe her to have been the best therapist out of my experiences, she was right in her response.  Previously, I wasn’t ready to be helped.  I wanted a quick fix.  I wanted the therapists to just take the pain away.  I didn’t really want to have to work at it.  I hadn’t quite grasped before that to truly be healed, it involved re-opening the wounds and cleaning them out.

I am fully aware that there are many out there that live much more secure lives when it comes to their self-worth.  I too have a greater understanding of my self-worth at this point in my life.  I’m learning that I am worth loving just as I am.  But that wasn’t always the case.  I didn’t even realize how far I had come from the woman I was 6 years ago until I was reading The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.

I think today, more than anything, I wanted to share that it’s not too late to do the uncomfortable for the hope of a brighter tomorrow.  Maybe set aside some time today to consider ways in which you might be holding yourself back or, worse, being unnecessarily hard on yourself.  The path to bettering ourselves is not an easy one.  We have to look at the ugly and make sense of it before we can move beyond it.  Maybe that means attending therapy for some, meditating for others, or reading an inspirational book.  But I am happy to report that working through the pain can result in something beautiful.  It’s similar to that magical feeling of believing in the spirit of Santa.  It feels light-hearted and hopeful.

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Can You Get Yourself All Wrong?

This past weekend I went to a lake near our new hometown.  I’m not used to such treasures being so close.  I grew up in Southern California.  We had different treasures of our own there.  It is a land of plenty and yet somehow it was missing something I never knew I needed.  This made me think, while I was floating on the lake, can you get yourself all wrong?  Can you discover that something has been missing in your life without ever knowing it was missing in the first place?

I was spoiled as a kid.  I’d like to think I didn’t act spoiled.  I went to Disneyland frequently as a child.  I had an annual pass to Disneyland nearly constantly from thirteen until I was thirty.  I got to spend time in beach houses for a few summers, attend professional sporting events of all kinds, go to concerts, and went shopping more than I even enjoyed.  I truly love where I grew up.  It made for a fun-filled upbringing.

As I grew into adulthood, I learned that my personal favorites of Southern California were the beach, Disneyland, and attending LA Kings hockey games.  Then, after having kids, I realized that the beach started to become a hassle to get to and parking rates were ever-increasing; Disneyland’s ticket prices were sky-rocketing faster than I could keep up; and hockey games in LA required hours of baby-sitting and loads of money for tickets, food, gas and parking.  Crowds and costs started to make those things I loved less special and, honestly, less attainable.

Then this past weekend, I think it finally hit me that I had it all wrong all those years.  I will not deny that the Pacific Coast is breath-taking, Disneyland is magical, and an LA Kings hockey game is thrilling.  But, since I’ve moved from the hustle and bustle, I’ve seen scenery so gorgeous and virtually untouched that it brought me nearly to tears, found that walking through forests and along waterfalls is magical, and learned that floating a river is heavenly.

I grew up believing these simple truths about myself – I am a Disney girl, I don’t like the great outdoors, I’m not athletic, I don’t camp, and I hate bugs.  I got myself all wrong, well, except for the latter.  I truly hate bugs.  While I haven’t let loose quite yet and gone camping, I foresee it happening sooner than I ever even desired in Southern California.  I’ve been out exploring the great outdoors more in the past seven months than my thirty-one years prior combined.

I’m finding a piece of me here that I had hoped I would find but didn’t expect to find out on the lake last Saturday.  I anticipated a slower paced life would do me good and it has.  However, I never imagined that feeling smaller in this great big universe would make me feel fuller inside.  Is this what it feels like to start growing beyond yourself?

I have a dear friend who I was discussing religion with some years ago.  At the time, she described herself as Agnostic, a person who believes the existence of a deity is unknowable.  When discussing Christianity with her, she replied, “I’m just not sure I can believe it after I’ve spent so many years not believing it.”  She didn’t like the idea of the possibility of having spent all those years “wrong.”

I remember feeling pretty sad at the time about her remark.  But there are many of us that are making similar choices daily in regards to other matters, perhaps less important than religion.  I’ve spent years believing that Southern California was the best place to be.  You have everything you can imagine at your fingertips.  What more can you want?  But, what I didn’t realize was that I needed less not more.  Less lines, less prices, less taxes, less traffic, and less materialism.

I truly don’t intend for this post to be anti-Southern California.  I love where I grew up and look forward to many visits to loved ones, beaches, and Disneyland.  I am merely using this an example.

On this day when America celebrates its independence and our individual freedoms, I encourage those reading to practice their freedoms.  We have the freedom to change our minds and, perhaps, change our path.  Are you trying to fit yourself into a mold that you once fit or were put in to at a young age?  Are you afraid to admit you’ve been wrong all these years?

For those out there that have been good about experiencing the many treasures of this world, thanks for setting the example for the rest of us learning to spread our wings.

I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.

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