The randomness that spews forth from my mind


My brother-in-law is an intuitive cook. He rarely makes use of recipes. I on the other hand rely on recipes for my cooking. I may have cooked something ten times, but I always cook it after reviewing the recipe. I might make minor changes here and there based on missing ingredients, but I still need the recipe there as a guide. The recipe has been tried and tested and published based on its previous successes. If something doesn’t taste good, but you followed the recipe, you can blame the recipe, not the cook.

Although undiagnosed, my mother likely had either borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. What this meant in practical terms was that she was moody and almost anything could set her off. She could be loving one moment, and then the next be screaming at you, set off by some minor thing you might have done. The common refrain is “it’s like walking on eggshells around them.”

As a child I spent a lot of time with my mother. She was a stay-at-home-mom until I was in middle school. That meant I needed to figure out what would set her off and what wouldn’t. The logic I think I eventually developed was a reversal on that old line “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.” In my case it turned into, “it’s easier to ask permission than to receive forgiveness.” I think my child-logic was, if she knows what I am doing, or I do what she tells me to, then she can’t possibly get upset at the outcome.

A corollary to this rule was don’t upset anyone, and if you did, figure out how and never do it again. That was my modus operandi in elementary school. Other than doing well in my classes I tried to not make myself stand out. Sadly, this rarely worked. I was a target for bullies and was regularly beaten up. I would always, afterwards, try and figure out what it was that I had done to make them want to beat me up. I came up with theories and would implement the conclusions of those theories, and it would never help. (Behaviorists would probably see this as the development of superstitions – ie the application of logic to something illogical.)

Eventually I filled the role of the class whipping boy so well that even other kids low in the pecking order started picking on me. After this went on for long enough I finally snapped and fought back. Bad idea. Especially because I did this in front of a teacher. I was almost suspended. The lesson I learned? Don’t fight back, don’t step out of your role, or something even worse than what you are suffering might come down on you.

This mentality made its presence known in my first marriage as well. I would ask my wife permission to go hang out with friends for an evening instead of just telling her I was going out with friends. This wasn’t because she demanded it (she always said yes) but that I wasn’t willing to be wrong and possibly upset her. This unwillingness to stray from the norm and try something new was definitely a contributing factor to the failure of that marriage.

How do you go against that internalized mindset of “don’t rock the boat or there will be hell to pay?” I think there are two things that can allow you to do this. One is determining that the consequences actually aren’t as dire as you feel they are. The other is with the support of people who genuinely care about you and your well being. If you know there are people there who will catch you, it is much easier to let yourself do something where you might fall.