It’s just the way I am

“It’s just the way I am.”

Have you ever heard this from somebody? Have you ever SAID this to somebody?

Each one of us is a ‘certain way’. We all have individual habits, tendencies, behaviors, and thought processes that make up our concept of who we are (self concept). From a morning routine to an evening routine, from how we schedule our days to how we interact and react and respond, from our personal relationships and feelings: we are unique and individual, and for the most part we tend to believe that is a good thing.

Which it is, mostly. Having a healthy sense of self acceptance, self worth, self like and even self love are all really important.

Key word in the above phrase: HEALTHY.

In order to truly serve oneself in a healthy way, self worth and self love needs to come with a measure of flexibility, accountability, and responsibility.

Frieda feels that she has a good read on people, sees herself as a really caring person, and thinks that she is a good mom.

Sometimes she gets really, really angry and screams at her spouse and kids. She also has times where she withdraws; her anger and moodiness cause the whole family to tiptoe around her. 

Frieda presented as an articulate, devoted, caring, and involved mom to her 16-year-old daughter, Rosie. Frieda shared her frustrations with her daughter's behaviors and moods.

“Rosie is disrespectful. I ask her to do her chores, and she just doesn’t listen. Then she gets angry when I remind her. She is wrapped up in school and social media and is doing all kinds of things that she shouldn’t be doing. And she is not doing the things that she should be doing!”

Rosie, her daughter, is in turn frustrated by Frieda’s behaviors. “My mom needs me to do things immediately,and I constantly need to be available when she needs me. I have no space or independence. Her moods are unpredictable and she gets mad at me if I get upset. I just need to be this perfect, obedient daughter.”

There is likely a reason for why each person is acting or reacting in the way that they are. A reason for certain behaviors may include a diagnosis or the effect of medication, a trauma or difficult life experience.

In Frieda’s case, she grew up in a home with domestic violence, and she found herself pregnant at a young age in an unhealthy relationship. Additionally, she suffers physically with a medical diagnosis. In short, Frieda has experienced a long history of physical, mental and emotional challenges.

Frieda struggled with so many things in her life, and she did the best she could to parent Rosie. If Frieda had outbursts, or was moody, she seemed to have a good reason for it.

The reason behind “that’s just the way I am” may be valid, but that reason does not need to become an excuse. It does not excuse behaviors that are emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive,or being angry, moody or critical.

Some people are very careful about lashing out and feel that they generally are in control of their reactions. Interestingly, this way of managing emotions has its own repercussions of being avoidant, distant, or emotionally unavailable.

Not responding with rage seems like a good thing, but giving the cold shoulder or silent treatment is also emotionally devastating. The key is to explore the reason that “I am this way” and use that as a new kind of awareness and understanding in seeking out healthy, helpful, healing behaviors.

Dalia and her daughter, Naomi, came in together for a session.

Dalia regarded herself as a cool, composed kind of person. She felt that she didn’t rattle easily, ran a very well functioning household, and was an active member of the local community. Dalia could not understand why her adult children were reluctant to visit or share parts of their life with her.

“As a stay at home mom, I was always there for my kids. Their every need was provided for. If they forgot their lunches I would bring them to school, I drove them to every extracurricular and social event, I was so encouraging. Now, as adults, my children seem so distant.”

Naomi, Dalia’s daughter, shared, “My mom was always around and physically available, but it was hard to really connect and confide in her. To this day, she tends to sugarcoat all situations and is insistent on pointing out the good in whatever I’m experiencing.”

“That’s just the way I am!” Dalia burst out. “What’s the point of focusing on the difficult stuff?”

Dalia was making the best of situations, at the expense of being emotionally supportive. Instead of striking a healthy balance, and truly empathizing and connecting with her children, toxic positivity was an unhealthy coping mechanism that Dalia tended to fall back on. While this coping mechanism  shielded Dalia from feeling deep and difficult emotions, it also prevented her from forming strong and meaningful connections with her children. Saying “It’s just the way I am” does not leave room for change, much less for consideration of how others are being affected.

“It’s just the way I am” can stunt self awareness, self growth, and a deeper, better connection with oneself (and certainly with others).

When “it’s just the way I am” stands in the way of maximizing the good, it is time to reflect. It is time to make room for flexibility, for growth, for change. There is always space for a better version of yourself.

A good way to begin exploring is to challenge yourself by asking yourself:

When do I say this phrase?

Why do I say this phrase?

Is this most comfortable for me?

Is this fair to those around me?

There can be growth and repair, with awareness and flexibility.