Living On The Roof

lizard brainI miss the roof.  There.  I said it.  We camp out on the roof because of the good and the bad.  We are ever-hopeful that the good outweighs the bad.  After awhile, we lose sight of that delicate balance.

The good, with John, included that delicious ping sound the computer makes when I get a new email.  Those emails used to come from long-distance, John.  I’d hear that ping, look at the bottom of the screen, and that cute little envelope would be smiling up at me.  I would drop everything and check my inbox.  I miss anticipating hearing from him.  I miss the plans that I’d made for future visits.  I miss the sweetness of that fantasy of a life with John.  It’s funny how the missing overshadows the reality.  The reality is that I had plans.  He didn’t.

I’d been thinking a lot about how it is that we end up staying in unhealthy relationships.  Before I even figured out the roof analogy, I was wondering what it was that keeps us in something that ultimately makes us miserable.  Is there something in our wiring that makes us gloss over the negative and focus on the positive?  What if there is a lot more negative than positive?  Is it the same thing that makes women forget the rigors of labor and delivery.  If our brains didn’t have the capacity to stifle the negative, the world would be populated with only children, and there’d be no such thing as marriage.  We’d all bale out of relationships at the first sign of hurt feelings, thereby making it impossible to stick it out long enough to make it to the altar.

I’ve been following Seth Godin’s Blog.  He talks a lot about the lizard brain and fear and resistance and how those things relate to productivity.  I’m intrigued by the concept that what holds us back is basically biological.  We don’t wake up every morning and say to ourselves, “I’m not going to take risks.  I’m not going to jay-walk.  I’m not going to talk to that cute guy at work.  I’m going to blend in and not make a fool of myself.”  There is an unseen force in our brain that controls all those choices.

I assumed, then, that the lizard brain played a part in relationships.   And it does.  The lizard brain is consumed with the desire to reproduce and the avoidance of fear.  Picture this little lizard holding a large blueprint that maps out everything that happened to you up to the age of six.  The lizard compares any new situation to this blueprint, and then determines your knee-jerk reaction.  If you feared being left as a child, you go out of your way, now, to make sure you will never be left again.  If you craved attention as a child, your lizard fears the absence of attention, and will make sure to put you in situations where you get lots of attention.  In my case, when getting my feelings hurt, or when I feel rejected, my lizard brain (LB) studies the blueprint carefully and determines that I should be more pleasant,  play nice, and keep my disappointments to myself.  My LB tells me that if I’m nicer, I won’t get my feelings hurt; I won’t be rejected; and I won’t be deserted.

In my relationship with Mark, my LB told me, “Put up and shut up, at all costs.  If you complain, or reject his treatment of you, he will leave.  You do not want him to leave you.”  The fear of being left was ever-present.  My logical brain knew that a healthy relationship didn’t include this behavior that I was getting from Mark, but my LB would over-ride my logical brain.  As I write this, I am wondering if the LB is the force that gets us out of bed in the morning, and convinces us to spend the whole day trying to fill our hole.

Mark’s lizard brain was just as active as mine.  He feared the loss of adulation and attention.  Everything he did – his treatment of me, and then the kids – was motivated by his desire to make sure we would continue to focus on him.  Is it accurate to suggest that his fear was larger than mine?  Can I assume that his vision was so clouded by his deep-seated fears, that he couldn’t see that his behavior brought about the very reaction that he most feared;  just as my behavior in my relationship with John, brought about the very thing that I feared – his rejection of me?  Interesting that our damn lizard brain pretends to have our best interests at heart, but in the end, if unchecked, it drives us to sabotage ourselves.

With Mark, my Mama Bear instinct kicked in.  (Perhaps the Mama Bear trumps the Lizard Brain?)  I acted to protect my kids.  I’ve said before, that if I hadn’t had kids, I’d probably still be married.  I’d still be putting up and shutting up.  In the relationship with John, I think the distance helped me see that my LB was running amok.  I would assume that his schedule was more important, and that I shouldn’t be wanting more from him.  If he was too busy for me, I would tell myself that I was fine with that.  Finally, I realized that I am NOT fine with that.

I would benefit from focusing on having my logical brain do more of the driving.  I need to acknowledge my fears, and understand their root causes.  I have shown that I am just fine alone – if you can call living with two kids and a cat, alone.  And it gets back to what I need to do to fill my own hole.  I can’t let my LB run the show.

There’s that sweet ping, again.  I’m not checking my inbox.


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  1. I can’t imagine my computer life without you. My computer was starting to act up ( I thought ) and my first thought was, “oh no what about Jesse and my friends on her blog.” Fortunately the computer was OK — just a false alarm. My husband emailed me last night. He is planning to start the divorce after finishing the 2009 taxes. He still “loves me”. Yeah right! But I am going to stay strong and only believe what I KNOW to be true. My love to you Jesse and to all our friends.

  2. Hey Phyllis,

    I have your Independence Day on my calendar. April 5, right? I’m supporting you in staying tough, but I don’t think you need it. We should have a “virtual” party on the 5th!!

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