At a local college in an Ethic’s class, students were tasked with choosing a morally persuasive sign to put on a broken vending machine in an effort to make customers take only what they’ve paid for. There were three options. Option one was, “STOP. This machine is being surveillance by cameras. Anyone caught stealing will pay a $250 fine.” The second option was, “Please take only what you’ve paid for. This vending machine is the only income my family has. Please don’t steal from me.” The third option was, “Please don’t take anything you haven’t paid for. What kind of person are you?” When asked what sign they’d use to deter others they chose the second option, but when it came to choosing which sign would deter them, they chose the third. It seems that seeing the kind of people they should be, helped them make the more morally demanding choice of not stealing. I once read that the measure of a person’s moral seriousness is what the person would do if nobody could see them. I think that’s most apparent in how we treat ourselves.
Generally, when I think of seeking justice, I think of getting revenge on someone who’s hurt you. The joy of showing someone else they are wrong about you, can feel priceless. Or the idea that they hurt as much as you have over an issue they caused, in our minds, could restore that power we lost back to us. While the rage in me when I felt victimized was deep and seemingly never ending, what I hadn’t considered was the person I should be seeking justice from, was actually myself. While the the bad times ended a little while ago, I kept reliving them, I kept using poor coping skills to numb myself, and I kept quiet about how I felt. When I thought I was getting away from the problem, I really just trapped myself in a hole and filled it with the cement, which was a mixture of dissociation and self-hatred. Then, when another, smaller situation happened, I’d overreact and be outraged. Mainly, because I didn’t deal with my feelings properly so my frustration and anger came out in other, inappropriate ways. By the time I woke up and saw how much damage I had done to myself, I felt like it was too late to fix it all.
It’s easy to find empathy for vengeful people, most of the time. While their spirits seem rotten or tainted, you can often understand why the real them has slipped away some time ago. If one were to tell me I was vengeful about certain situations in my life, I’d fully agree, not thinking that was something I should work on. Yet, if you told me someone else was vengeful, I’d be worried about their health or happiness and try to help them. Interestingly, option two, would have been the option I chose to not steal from the vending machine. If my theft had impacted the ability to care for one’s family, I’d be devastated and deeply ashamed. I’d never want to hurt someone else for my actions, yet, I am comfortable hurting myself with them. I find learning how to actually care for yourself and stop the torture we cause ourselves, is some type of wild justice. We go on the mentality that revenge is for the injury, and retribution is for the wrong and we damn everyone, especially ourselves. We may feel like we don’t deserve the pain, yet we somehow feel entitled to it. Otherwise, why would we have such a hard time letting it go?
My inadequacies follow me everywhere. I can’t shake them at the store, at work, the gym, on dates, anywhere. Once they start, I can feel them eating away at my self-esteem until I’m a complete mess. No matter how much I succeed, they remain haunting me. It’s so tough to break that cycle but so important to see it’s us we’re ultimately hurting. I once dated someone who hurt me deeply. Nearly every day for years, I was angry. I blamed him, shamed him, and mentally punished him while he went on to get married, buy a new house with his wife, and have a family. Meanwhile, I was still focused on the pain he caused. It was like I was holding a hot stone, waiting to throw it at him, all while he moved onto live a wonderful, full, happy life. All I did was burn my hand waiting for his apology, still stuck where he last left me. Still, it took a lot for me to see that and see my truth so I could find the courage to put that stone down and move on with my life.
I suppose we should ask ourselves what is enough to motive us to change? To love ourselves and deal with our problems instead of creating new, longer lasting ones? And how do we really get to the other side of pain and self-doubt, especially when those we thought loved us, stop loving us? Sometimes I think we focus too much on being entitled to our feelings than we do resolving them. It’s generally easy to see what we should do, or what we’re supposed to do, but when it comes to the discipline of making the hard choices and keeping up with them, that’s where it counts; not the intentions of making change. The desire to be selfish of our feelings and personal needs comes daily, almost hourly. Normally, we think of the need to be loved and the need to be right, which is the area we tend to focus on but, we don’t think of the need to end ruminating thoughts, relinquish control, or pay more attention to our body’s needs. Those bad habits provide us a sort of painful comfort both stabbing and soothing. It’s easy to get triggered by joy when joy has turned dark so many times in our lives, yet we still want it.
What we don’t want is someone stealing it, again. We have to be cognizant that we are letting those flashbacks and poisoned perceptions steal our joy and opportunities. What can awaken your spirit is understanding the longer you stay stuck with those feelings of hate, agony, pain, or grief, the longer you are stuck in most other areas of your life too and the longer you stay punished. It saddens me now I’ve spent so many years stuck in my hurt and I’ll never get those years back. Most of the time those that have said or did terrible things to me generally don’t remember saying or doing them so why did I spend so much energy fixated and allow them to ruin me? Because of how I treat myself now, I know what toxic things to look for in others.
Loving myself will likely never be easy. It’s a long, complicated road, but I’m better for having faced it. After all, hating yourself and loving other people is not selfless, it’s hoping others will have something good to remember you by. Stealing is still stealing, regardless if it’s from a business or from your self-worth. So, can you make the morally demanding choice to seek your own wild justice? Can you use the same kindness and compassion you give others to yourself to get you through your own grief? Or are you too entitled and vengeful to let your pain go? Will you burn yourself waiting for an apology from someone who hasn’t thought about you in years? It’s time we face the damage we’ve done to our bodies and our spirits and become the people we truly want to be remembered as. The patient, compassionate, logical, and kind people we give to others. Today is the day you stop stealing from yourself and get serious about the time you have left in life. Staying trapped in the dogma of rules you’ve set is keeping you from making the better choice in saving yourself, and aren’t you worth saving? Remaining abused after the abuse is over isn’t healing, it’s hiding. You are not better for having ignored or remained tucked away from your pain, even if it’s to protect someone else. Today, you need protecting. After all, what kind of person are you?