You know that phenomenon where the longer you leave something, the harder it gets to do… I thought I’d have a talk with that phenomenon. (My version of it, anyway. Other people’s may vary.) I’ll be calling it Longer for short. Longer for short!
Me: So it’s been a while and I still haven’t done this thing. I’d like to do it now, and it seems like you’re unhappy about that.
Longer: Yes! Just think how much that person must be suffering because you haven’t done that thing!
Me: Okay, I’m confused. I’m hearing that you’re very upset about the consequences of my not doing the thing.
Me: And yet you’d like me to carry on not doing the thing.
Longer: Yes! LOOK AT ALL THIS GUILT! DO YOU REALLY WANT TO CONFRONT ALL THIS GUILT?! DO YOU?!
Me: Wait, so you exist to protect me from guilt!
Me: When you started the conversation by saying, ‘Think how that person must be suffering,’ it sounded to me like you wanted me to feel very guilty. Were you just showing me how big and scary the guilt was so I’d run away from it?
Longer: YES YES YES! I make you run away so you won’t do the thing! Because if you do the thing now, that means YOU COULD HAVE DONE IT ALL ALONG!
Me: You’re protecting me from knowing I could have done it all along?
Me: Okay, knowing I could have done it all along seems quite empowering to me. Like, I’ve always been capable. Like Dorothy has always had the ruby slippers that could take her home.
Longer: If you know you could have done it all along, you have to face the GUILT of knowing you could have done it all along! AND YOU DIDN’T! Dorothy has been stuck in Oz all this time and all she had to do was click her heels together, what an idiot! Do you really think she’d be happy to find that out? It means all the pain she went through was unnecessary!
Me: No… Oh, wait. The guilt thing is just a smokescreen. You’re just waving guilt at me to scare me off the thing you’re really protecting me from. Regret.
(Longer, who has had no discernible form up till now, turns into a tall, skinny white bird.)
Me: Did you just turn into an egret?
Me: You’re a Regret Egret! That’s… inspired.
Regret Egret: You did it WRONG. You did it WRONG and you SHOULDN’T have done it wrong and you have to live with all the pain that you went through because you did it wrong, AND all the pain of knowing that you DIDN’T HAVE TO GO THROUGH THE PAIN!
Me: Oh. Sweetie. You just really hate to see me in pain.
Regret Egret: OF COURSE, WHAT DID YOU THINK? (childlike voice) I HATE IT WHEN YOU DO IT WRONG. I HATE IT I HATE IT.
Me: It sounds like you’re from then. From a long time ago.
Regret Egret: (almost in tears) BECAUSE I DON’T LIKE SEEING YOU TOLD OFF AND PUNISHED!
Me: Oh. Oh, wow, you’re right. When I was little, if I got punished, sometimes I’d pretend I was fine with it. I mean, even to myself. Like I didn’t want whatever they were taking away from me, or… anything rather than acknowledge that I was in pain because I did it wrong. That was you, wasn’t it?
Regret Egret: Yes!
Me: And as an adult, almost 30, I said something that completely shocked me when my friend repeated it back. Basically, that I didn’t want to learn from my mistakes. I preferred to go on making the same mistake over and over rather than admit defeat and learn my lesson. That was you too, huh?
Regret Egret: Yes!
Me: ‘Admit defeat’ like ‘let the people punishing me win’.
Regret Egret: YES!
Me: Even though now I’m an adult and nobody is punishing me, I’m just getting results that I don’t like. When I don’t do something I’ve committed to doing, I worry that other people are suffering and I feel upset and guilty, and that’s a result I don’t like.
Regret Egret: Consequences. The consequences of your actions. Can’t you FEEL the weight of doomy-parenty-teachery AARGH behind that phrase?
Me: Yes, absolutely! AAARGH!
Regret Egret: (finding this cathartic) AAAAARGH!
Me: I’m wondering… what were my parents and teachers trying to communicate when they talked about ‘the consequences of my actions’? What need of theirs were they trying to meet?
Regret Egret: For you to stop being such a nuisance.
Me: (smiles) I think we can go a step back to something more basic and less judgementy. How about the need to know that I could learn from my mistakes? Even though they were saying it in a doomy way, what they really wanted was to help me learn.
Regret Egret: They could have found a better way of saying it!!!
Me: They could, couldn’t they?! Like what… how would you say it better?
Regret Egret: Well, they could have said it how Havi says it! That there’s no ‘doing it wrong’ because it’s all an experiment and all results are useful! So if you get a result that you don’t like, you can be a scientist and go ‘hmm, useful’ and note it down and it gives you clarity. It helps you work out how to get results that you do like. So what we call ‘making mistakes’ is actually vital experimenting, it’s how we learn, I mean you might as well call it making discoveries!
Me: Exactly! Beautiful!
Regret Egret: WELL, WHY DIDN’T THEY JUST SAY IT LIKE THAT THEN?
Me: I guess because nobody had ever said it like that to them. Plus I was really little and they wanted to make it really big and loud and simple and ‘THIS IS DEFINITELY BAD’ to be sure I understood.
Regret Egret: Well, ouch.
Me: Yeah. Ouch for the whole world. Because pretty much everybody’s been brought up like that.
Regret Egret: I’m sorry!!
Me: It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay!
Regret Egret: Now I want to change but I’m still terrified of letting you suffer pain. I mean you’re my baby!
Me: I understand. It’s hard to let your baby grow up.
Regret Egret: So what do I do?!
Me: Well, the thing is -
Regret Egret: Is this the bit where you tell me I’m one of those monsters? Because I was wondering why we hadn’t got to that bit.
Me: (laughs) Maaaaybe. What do you think? You’ve been trying to protect me from regret, right? And -
Regret Egret: And OMG I’ve totally been keeping you in it, because I haven’t been letting you stop doing the things you regret! Or start doing the things you regret not doing! And I can distract you but I can’t stop the pain completely, I mean I can’t make you completely stuck AND make you completely oblivious to being stuck, so it’s always going to hurt! OH NO OH NO I HAD THOSE RUBY SLIPPERS ALL THIS TIME AND I DIDN’T USE THEM AND WE’VE BEEN STUCK IN OZ ALL THIS TIME!
Me: Hey. Hey. It’s okay. Because we’ve been in Oz, right? You don’t want to miss the journey. You don’t want to miss the adventure. If Dorothy had just landed in Oz, taken the slippers, clicked her heels and gone home, there wouldn’t be a story! Or there would, but it would be a very short one that wouldn’t really say anything. Not a book. Not an epic beautiful journey where people experience wild and wonderful things and face deadly terrors and learn and grow and go through transformations and find out things about themselves they never knew.
Regret Egret: (crying) You mean it’s all okay?
Me: Yes. Yes. It’s great that we’ve been on this journey. And it’s great that we’re going home.
Regret Egret: What do I do?
Me: Well, when I’m doing something – or more likely not-doing something – that produces results I don’t like – don’t protect me from experiencing the pain.
Regret Egret: WAAH!
Me: Wait, it’s okay. Instead of holding me back from my pain and my adventure, you can support me through it. Be by my side. Remind me that this is an experiment and there’s no doing it wrong, just results. Help me take a curious, scientific look at those results and see what I discover. And if I’m still hurting about what I did or didn’t do, let me go through mourning so I can learn from it and it’ll stop hurting. You know what NVC mourning is?
Regret Egret: When you don’t beat yourself up, you just let yourself be sad for yourself and all the ways you didn’t meet your own needs.
Me: Yes! No guilt, just compassion. Let me cry, and be with me while I cry. That’ll help a lot, actually. I’ve got a lot of mourning to do and it’ll really help to have someone with me who loves me like you do.
Regret Egret: (sniffs) Will it help if I wear a funny lab coat? And funny little glasses on my beak? (does so)
Me: (laughing and crying) Yes!! Look at you, you totally suit that! Now I think of it, you kind of looked like a tall skinny scientist in a white lab coat already!
Regret Egret: That’s because all monsters have the – have the – person they’re going to be inside them already. You know, the person they’re going to be when they’re not monsters any more.
Regret Egret: Because secretly – that’s what we are. Already. Just with a monster suit over the top.
Me: YES YES YES! Look at you making scientific discoveries!
Regret Egret: Hmm! Useful!