Why the Pressure Cooker?
At the end of the last post, I explained that what I wanted to understand was why, when I’d finished a boring but not particularly dangerous process, in this case the renewal of our house insurance, it felt as though my brains were boiling.
I decided to place this matter before my subliminal mind and wait and see what popped into consciousness. This approach has worked many times in the past as long as I remain alert for the whispered hints that float up from the cellar of my mind.
Sure enough, late that night, as I was cleaning my teeth, I thought to ask myself again why I got so uptight. The answer came: it was partly to do with my sister Mary’s death.
I’ll need to explain that, I suspect.
Mary was 12 years old when she died in 1939, four years before I was born. My parents were in grief still, having had the war to cope with as well as their grieving process. To put it somewhat dramatically, it felt as though my mother’s anxiety about my health and my father’s broken spirit had imprinted a conviction on my soul that, because you never know how long you might live, time is infinitely more important than money.
Most of us, in this society, will be able sooner or later to earn again what we have spent. Time that has been wasted cannot be replaced. Once it is gone, it gone forever. So, to put it more materialistically, spending time trying to save small amounts of money/dosh/dough/loot, no matter how I try to rationalise it as prudent, violates the conviction branded on my brain in childhood.
And it is hard for me to look upon my personal ‘scripture,’ in which so much emotion has been invested, merely as a childhood script from which it would be right and helpful to detach my mind in the moments when it is screaming to be heard. This is what being mindful would require and I don’t think I’m quite that mindful yet.
The following day, though, I began to wonder whether this explanation, poignant as it seemed, was all there was to it. It would have been easy to accept the emotion-drenched story as a full account of the problem, plausibly painting the trauma as all that was needed to make me, its victim, the prisoner of this kind of over-reaction.
When I remembered to ask again, it soon became apparent that the Death and Dough part of it, though clearly powerful, was only the beginning. As often happens the problem was, in psychobabble, ‘multiply determined.’ I was equally determined to get to the bottom of it.
The Full Five Dimensions
The subliminal mind obliged with a set of responses as I sat quietly by the garden table with my notebook in hand. Three more ideas surfaced.
I hate commercial Deadlines.
At first I thought it was all deadlines, but I checked with myself and remembered that producing pieces of work for a deadline has never really bothered me, anymore than completing blog posts on schedule is a problem. No, it’s definitely the deadlines imposed by big companies for their contracts or insurance companies for their policies, as in this case.
I know I regard most big companies as sharks who are out to extract from us without anaesthetic every dollar/penny that they can. But why was I so uptight just for that? I know they can’t really eat me. I do seem to be exaggerating the costs of failing to meet the deadline.
I remembered how I feel when the car service is due. It’s as though I believe that if I miss the date, when I get into the car the following day the engine will fall out. Maybe I have the same fears with house insurance – fail to renew on time and the roof caves in.
It was worth holding this crazed logic in mind as a possible factor.
But Deadlines were not the end of it. There were going to be five dimensions working hard to get my brain buzzing with this problem.
The whisper came through that the Devil of the fourth dimension was in the Detail.
I hate picking over details. This could be a temperamental issue. If you accept there is some validity in the Myers-Briggs typology and it’s not as flaky as astrology, then I am an INFP. True to form, I won’t bore you with what that means in detail.
I’ll cut straight to the chase.
A website describes one aspect of people with this personality profile: ‘The mundane aspects of life are of less interest to this type, and they are more excited by interesting ideas than by practical facts.’ That’s me to a ‘T.’ So, whether there’s anything in this personality typing model or not, the description is an exact fit. If it’s not a question of temperament, I’m not sure where the trait comes from.
I’m definitely a lumper rather than a splitter in terms of my instinctively preferred mode of operation. Always the big picture: never the nitty-gritty.
It’s also true though that the preference for ideas rather than practicalities might also relate to the money issue I described at first: money is just too mundane a thing for my abstraction-loving mind to be bothered with. This notion, if it is true, has clearly been reinforced by my childhood experience of my parents’ grief.
And, to be fair, also by the stories that came down through my mum about my dad. Apparently, during the depression, he had a butcher’s shop. When people came in who could not afford to pay for meat he gave it them on tick and eventually the business went bust because he never got most of the money in the end. It feels like a betrayal of his principles to get concerned about cash.
In short, to waste precious time going into detail about money was like selling your soul to the Devil. I could see the different threads forming a cord strong enough to throttle me. To complicate things, there is a baby in this bathwater – I really do believe that the love of money is the root of a great deal of evil and it’s hard to tell where this praiseworthy principle ends and a neurotic fecklessness masquerading as virtue begins.
Another possibility is that my kinaesthetic processing bias is at work here. I’ve dealt with this at some length in an earlier post so I won’t go over all that again here. In brief, it’s far easier for someone whose natural inclination is to work visually or verbally, to comfortably perform detailed analyses, nit picking over tiny discrepancies.
Someone like me, who likes to feel their way, has to work against the grain when scrutinising factual details. Only if someone’s life was on the line would I feel that the end justified the effort, for me at least. House insurance didn’t seem to qualify by that criterion, unless of course roofs really do fall in when you don’t pay on time.
We’re not done yet I’m afraid though we’re almost there.
Then there is an aversion to displeasing anyone.
This is rather like a Please Me Driver in TA terms. And what effect does that have?
I find it barely credible to say this, but it seems that even when it’s a call centre operator, whom I’ve never met nor ever will, I behave as though they held my life in their hands, as though if I irritated them too much, by some strange voodoo power, they’d do me serious damage. I really, really do not want to upset him or her. In fact, I’m like this with most people unless I’m angry or outraged. At such times I cease to care and speak my mind. So far, though, my survival at such times seems to have done nothing to convince me I could be as frank when I am calm.
I know that I am also exceptionally keen not to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I know where that comes from, but this is not the same. It’s upsetting in the sense of offending or displeasing that’s at work here. I’m not entirely sure where that comes from with such strength, but I certainly had key authority figures in my childhood who were capable of kicking off even to an insultingly raised eyebrow or sarcastically curled lip on my part, not to the extent of getting physical but certainly of having a major strop. Silent disapproval and some kind of ban for as long as the sulk lasted were the usual consequences. Definitely something to be avoided if possible. It had to be a major issue for me to risk that.
Still, that possibility doesn’t seem to provide experiences of sufficient strength to explain my current aversion to the faint possibility of upsetting people hundreds of miles away. Myers Briggs trait theory suggests that INFPs loathe conflict of any kind and will go a very long way indeed to avoid it, so that could be in the mix as well, I suppose.
And there we have all the threads involved so far as I’m aware at the moment. Death, Dough, Deadlines, Details and Displeasing people, making it a 5D problem.
Does knowing all that help?
Once I add them all up in that way, I can see they would make a very potent cocktail, easily strong enough to knock my mind out of gear when picking over details which will then be raised as levers to dispute an insurance quote. Whether it really constitutes a correct explanation, rather than a convenient rationalisation for an embarrassing inability to deal calmly with the simple practicalities of life, is still not clear.
From a pragmatic point of view the key question is, ‘Does knowing this help me defuse their effects?’
I believe it might, as I can pick each element off one by one and use the mindfulness desensitisation process to take the powerful charge out of each of these elements, assuming they have been correctly identified. This is the process I described in an earlier post. I summarised its elements as the summoning up to consciousness of a troubling experience combined with a distractor activity that helps induce greater calm in the presence of the stress stimulus.
This would test whether these ideas are rationalisations rather than accurate explanations for why I get so uptight. I could try to defuse them all one by one and see where that leaves me. If nothing changes it would either suggest they were not the culprits, or that I was using the wrong remedy. I’d be inclined to think that the first explanation would be the best: I was backing the wrong horses.
So, I’ll be giving it a go and letting you know how I get on.
For now the main point is that mindfulness work enabled me to spot the problem and triggered this helpful analysis. Let’s see if it can take me one step further.
Who knows? If I manage to work through this lot successfully I might be ready to tackle my aversion to haggling.
Was that a pig I saw flying past my window just now?