I have decided to take a trial separation from my ego. This will be a first for us after 31 years together.
Let’s call her Claudia, which was my college alter ego’s name (the girl who came out after too many Smirnoff Ices). She caused trouble then and she still causes it now. So Claudia it is…
Claudia loves drama and competition. She makes me feel incredibly insecure and ridiculously self-involved. Claudia is never satisfied. She will take, take, take whatever I (or anyone, for that matter) will give her and then demands more.
I used to think that Claudia and I were similar. We’d get confused for each other all the time, actually. If I got a great report from a boss, we’d both be happy. If my boyfriend did something really stupid, we’d fume about it to each other. She encouraged me to react quickly and often and to protect her whenever anything seemed like a threat, even really innocuous stuff.
But then this past year, I started to notice that Claudia wasn’t being very good to me. She would say mean things to me, encourage me to do destructive things to my other relationships, and she didn’t really seem to care about anyone other than herself. Claudia is the one who is always pushing me to have another glass of wine or to stay up late for no damn reason. She is an expert arguer – making even the craziest ideas seem reasonable.
I’ve started to find her really exhausting, if I’m honest.
I guess I never really noticed a separation between us before. And once I did, it got bigger and bigger until I was able to see that she’s actually pretty abusive. I’ve never talked to anyone the way she talks to me. She says things like, “you look like crap,” “you’re dumb,” and “you are a terrible friend.” She puts this insane pressure on me so that it’s sometimes hard to breathe.
Claudia holds me to old identities, which is really hard since I’ve recently changed my lifestyle, job, and the country in which I live. Why is she so change-averse? She was never happy with my life before either.
She used to say things like, “Don’t go to yoga! Be lazy and watch Netflix for four hours instead” but now that I’m in yoga teacher training she’s changed her tune to say things like “Work harder! You have to be the best in the class.” To her I say this: how can you be “the best” at something that is personal and non-competitive? It seems a little convenient for her to even notice this now that I’ve gone off and done something for myself without including her.
This is what she does when she feels left out.
But it isn’t just yoga that she involves herself in. If I get any constructive criticism at work, she defends me. Like, “Oh well, he WOULD say that! He is so lazy. This isn’t your fault at all.” I’ve never asked her to stand up for me – she just instantaneously starts doing it without missing a beat.
I recently had to tell her to stop ranting so I could actually listen to what my colleague was saying to me. I put myself in the other person’s shoes and had some great conversations as a result. I learned so much from this thing that could have been threatening. One key takeaway was: being defensive doesn’t help me do my job. And neither does Claudia.
As I’ve started to distance myself from her more, I have accomplished so much that I never thought I would. I have changed careers to do something that makes me feel really passionate. I just finished a year-long yoga teacher training course. I’ve managed to get rid of my life-long bout of insomnia. And I’m in a very happy relationship.
Claudia used to say none of this would ever happen for me, but I see now that, actually, none of this will happen for her because she is so focused on the petty stuff. Whenever I’d get on a productive kick before, she would roadblock it somehow. I don’t really miss all the meaningless crap she used to pressure me into caring about.
I am seeing less and less of her, but she still makes an occasional appearance and mucks things up again.
The other day, I hosted my first ever Thanksgiving dinner in Sydney and invited colleagues and yoga trainee friends. Claudia was counting who was coming or not coming like it was some sort of contest. Then she wanted to buy all this fancy stuff for my apartment so it would look nicer, but I don’t have the money to do that so she was overruled. And then, she started obsessing about the food and other details no one would even notice.
The morning of the party, I spilled breadcrumbs everywhere because she wouldn’t shut up about these stupid things. So I promptly left her in the messy kitchen, stomped into the bathroom and hopped in the shower.
As I lathered up, I thought to myself: Thanksgiving is not about how many people come over or how fancy your flat is. It is about sharing a great meal with friends and family. I decided to focus on this sentiment instead of all of her obsessing. And when I walked out of the bathroom, she was gone.
It ended up being a great day – with paper plates, undecorated walls, and a mix of people I never would have put together. I had the best time and I really think it was because Claudia, and her direct route to my lower-will, was nowhere to be found.
Sometimes relationships stop serving us and we need to cut ties.
While I know Claudia will always be in my life in some capacity, I am really hoping she changes her tune a little bit (but let’s be honest, you can’t change others). I will take her opinion into account going forward, but in the end, hers is just one of many and sound decision-making isn’t her forte.
I am pretty happy that I will never be “perfect” by Claudia’s standards. In fact, I’m finding that the less pressure I feel to be a certain person, the more creative and productive I am able to be in every aspect of my life. Without that negative influence, I can just be in a situation without some part of my identity riding on whatever happens. It’s a relief, as I know I can handle issues as they arise.
If you have a Claudia in your life, I suggest you take a look at him or her for who they really are: your unreliable, backstabbing, ever-changing enemy.
Let’s surround ourselves with people who let us be ourselves as we are today. Right now. This moment. Without these negative forces, life is a lot happier and more peaceful.