Shoulds, Buts, and the Need To Get it “Right”

For some time now, I have become a little anxious about the frequency with which the word “but” is creeping into my vocabulary.

“Should” has always been bit of a problem for me, but I’d kind of prided myself on my ability to problem solve and think creatively and take the initiative …

The realisation that I automatically see objections – rather than possibilities – is a little sore.

I’ve also noticed that I assume there’s a “right way” and a “wrong way” of doing things; and, that “but” often emerges in this context, typically within phrases like “but that’s not the right away” and “but I don’t know how I’m meant to do it”…

This is another ongoing theme for me. It means that the first obstacle in any activity is identifying the “right” approach and, sometimes, that just doesn’t exist.

Last week, an article on ‘conformity’ that was winging its way around twitter joined the dots for me. Apparently, eating disorders are more common in people with a pre-disposition towards conformity; my over-preoccupation with “getting it right” – as signified by an increasing use of the word “but” – would suggest that I might fall into this category.

And that I haven’t quite grown out of it yet.

So, because I have been a little frustrated by the confines of my own thought process; and, as I have an inkling that my current mentality will always result in a general sense of worry and the impression that I’m not quite good enough, I think it’s about time that I had a little look at what’s really been going on, because addressing the conformity issue and the need to do it “right” might, perhaps, make life a little easier, and me, a little more “but” resistant.

When my eating disorder started, I was bang in conformity target zone: new school, new people, new social codes. Desperate to ‘belong’ and ‘succeed’ and ‘slot right in’, I became something of a chameleon (“whatever you want me to be”), willing to shoe-horn myself into which ever socially acceptable code of behaviour was present at the time.

As well as wearing the “right” clothes, and going to the “right” places, and saying the “right” words, eating the “right” foods and being the “right” weight, seemed like good ways of making sure that I met the social criteria…

Conformity comes at quite a high cost: along with messing up a previously healthy diet and tumbling straight into the unforgiving grasp of an eating disorder, I also managed to negate everything that made me, me, in the process.

Fast forward 18 years and add in the realisation (finally) that my attempts at eating the “right” food had spiralled dramatically out of control, along with the fact that the social markers had moved somewhat over the years (what’s on your plate is no longer quite so important); and I find myself still acting out the same need to “get it right” – just with a different set of criteria.

This time round, I’m trying to identify the key to fitting in at work, and the “right” things to do in my spare time; I’m attempting to go about relationships in the way you’re meant to go about them, and desperately trying to understand how life should be approached…

The contexts are different, but the feelings are exactly the same -

So, in the lingering assumption of a “right” or “wrong” way of doing things; and, operating within the restrictions of ever-changing and subject-to-multiple-interpretations social codes, I am losing myself, again, and reinforcing the same message that me, as me, does not stack up.

And, because I’m no longer sure which is “right” – or “wrong” – or acceptable – or not-acceptable, then the objections (but you can’t possibly do that), and the apprehension (but that might be wrong), and the need to get it right (but how should I be doing it) are getting louder –

And “but” is a big warning that I am about to make the same mistakes, all over again.

So, I’m going to try a little experiment (this time round), and give myself a little breathing space, because conforming has become claustrophobic and I am finding my quest for the “right” way is starting to stifle.

And, instead of assuming that there’s only one option or answer, I’m going to try and replace “but” with “maybe”, because entertaining the possibility is the first big step on the way to “could”.

Rather than checking out whether I’m “right” or “wrong” or the same as the girl next door, I’m going to see – for a little while – how it feels to just be me –

And, instead of assuming that there’s a correct process or procedure for every given action or experience, I’m going to see what happens if I try it my way –

And have a little faith in me.

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