part 9. jumble sale

We (me and him) have just finished watching the box set of The Newsroom, the latest series from creator of the West Wing, Aaron Sorkin (pretty cheesy, but ok). The first episode is called “We just decided to.”

I feel a bit like that about my life. It had to change, it wasnt working. We had to change it, so we did…  we just decided to.

Of course, in reality it isn’t a bit like that. But there is truth in the sentiment. Sometimes you have to decide.

In Change or Die  Alan Deutschman says:

“Why do people persist in their self-destructive behavior, ignoring the blatant fact that what they’ve been doing for many years hasn’t solved their problems? They think that they need to do it even more fervently or frequently, as if they were doing the right thing but simply had to try even harder.”

For a long time, I was acting like that. Thinking that suddenly one day I would morph into the kind of person who could cope with all life was throwing at me. That without changing me, or the world I was living in, I would, by trying harder, become well. Not be anxious, feel good, and enjoy life.

But the truth is – something has to give. Some things have to change. And you have to be proactive about that.

One thing that needed to change was the way I thought about myself, and the expectations I placed on myself. When I was trying to sort through the jumble of thoughts and unhelpful statements on a daily basis, therapy was imperative for me. It enabled me to see what was going on and equipped me to make some changes.

A friend of mine has a job where he is often in a place to suggest therapy to teenagers and parents of troubled teens. He uses a great analogy. He asks them to imagine that their kitchen cupboards were full of food. You go to a cupboard to get the thing that you need but everything has been put away any-old-how and is literally crammed in. When you open the cupboard to get out what you require, instead of being able to access it easily, food and packets fall out on you – and you can’t find what you are looking for. Having therapy helps you to organise your cupboards. To put things away in their correct place so when you need something not only do you know where it is but you can get to it easily.

I’m sure you get the analogy. Therapy helps to make sense of a jumbled and overwhelmed mind.

Through many conversations with Sam I began to realise one unhelpful lie I had believed was that my value, my worth was directly linked to my capacity.

This mindset made it very difficult to say No to anything.

Like many people, growing up, it appeared to me, that how much you were able to do – how much responsibility you were able to take on – determined how valued you were. Someone who had the ability to take on more, go the extra mile, make that meal, help with that crisis was, in essence, worth more than someone who was struggling and couldn’t help at that time.

Thankfully, this is a load of rubbish.

It definitely does not say that in the Bible.

But I believed it.

Of course, if someone had asked me what I thought about this idea, I would have said it was ridiculous and that we are all equal, but I didnt really think that. And the life that I saw and lived didn’t seem to reflect that.

It was only this summer when I was listening to a podcast someone had suggested I would enjoy when I finally saw it for what it was.

I had, like so many other people, become a follower of the cult of ‘Performancism’.

‘Performancism’ is very dangerous. It sucks you in with its apparently noble ideas. With its good intentions. With the lie that those who succeed, those who contribute more, those who taken on additional responsibilty heck – those who keep a tidy house, whose kids are well behaved and look the part – are worth more as human beings.

Tullian Tchividjian describes ‘performancism’ (or we could call it ‘legalism’):

“If I can do enough of the right things, I will have established my value. Identity is the sum of my achievements. Hence, if I can satisfy the boss, meet the needs of my spouse and children, and still pursue my dreams, then I will be somebody. In Christian theology, such a position is called justification by works. It assumes that my worth is measured by my performance. Conversely, it conceals a dark and ghastly fear: If I do not perform, I will be judged unworthy. To myself I will cease to exist.”

(you can read his blog here)

I had to perform because my inherent value was so tied up with what I could do, produce, and achieve. With how many balls I could keep in the air.

This condition creates unbelievable anxiety.

When you believe that it is all on you, life is exhausting and scary.

Through talking to Sam I began to process these thoughts. To start with I had to realise that this way of thinking was not only a load of crap, but also that it was hurting me, and was detrimental to my wellbeing. Then I began to recognise what relationships, or i what situations I automatically capitulated to this way of thinking. Then I had to figure out how to respond – what was I going to do about it?

The recognition part of this process was actually part of the recovery. Once a lie has been exposed, and brought into the light of truth, it is seriously weakened.

I gradually started talking differently. I began to rehearse the truth. I still audibly correct myself when I start talking and the ‘should’ and ‘oughts’ of life (I think this might be a life’s work!). Over time some of the things i have to remind myself of regularly have become catchphrases. Along with Sam’s two classics; ‘Let yourself off the hook’ and ‘Take the easy option’, I also have started to tell myself often:

“I don’t have to”.

When met with a request, or someone’s expectation, an opportunity, or my own high standards… I tell myself – “I dont have to do that”. Sometimes I have to say it quite  few times to really hear the truth. I DONT HAVE TO.

Sounds ridiculously simple, but for me it has been liberating. It puts me back in control and stop me from feeling as though I am simply buffeted around by others wishes and requests.

I am learning….. My worth is not linked to my achievements. My worth is not linked to my capacity.

We have changed our lives in a myriad of ways. We have started prioritising the things that really matter. Family and health. Peace and relationships. It hasn’t been straight forward and is definitely a work in progress.

While we work on this – everything else can wait.


  • Vicki hambleton
    Posted at 22:41h, 06 November Reply

    Loved this x

  • Mark Jaffrey
    Posted at 14:44h, 07 November Reply

    Getting out from underneath the weight of expectations upon me was a huge part of my healing process, because that weight of expectations (some real, some false, some imposed by others, but many that were totally imaginary and self-imposed) was a major burden that ended up pushing me under. My therapist identified that my language was full of “I should, I must, I have to” and that was a huge danger sign. Yes I have responsibilities as a father, husband, employee, friend, leader, but if I cannot take care of them if I am not first taking care of myself. Being kind to myself was a critical step on the way to healing.

    Thanks Ellie for this series. It’s really important.

  • thehippochronicles
    Posted at 09:50h, 08 November Reply

    Thanks Mark. Being kind to yourself is really important isn’t it? Is taking me a while to learn this one. Nice to know it’s not just me! x

  • Jan
    Posted at 17:08h, 08 November Reply


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