One of the few TV shows I've ever watched over and over is Everybody Loves Raymond. We Tivo the episodes of this comedy, which has been off the air for a number of years now, and watch them while we eat dinner. ( I know, I complained about eating in front of the television, but we're still doing it and I suspect we will be until we're in the nursing home and get wheeled into the dining room to eat at the table.) Anyway, there's something about this show that I just love, and I laugh my head off every time I watch it. I can actually recite most of the lines along with the characters. It's pitiful, and I'm almost ashamed to admit it. Nevertheless, it's true. I'm a sucker for Ray and Debra, and their whole dysfunctional family.
Tonight we watched an episode entitled T-Ball. Debra brings an "unapproved" snack to the kids T-Ball game and is chastised by the overzealous team manager. Ray, in his usual pathetic need for approval, refuses to stand up for her, and tries to make nice with the manager without Debra finding out. Of course, it all blows up in his face - the manager gets mad, Debra gets mad, and Ray ends up making a fool of himself again.
Believe me, it really is funny.
But it's sad too, because tonight I realized how familiar Ray's reaction is. You see, I do the same kind of stuff all the time. I go through all kinds of contortions trying to make everybody love me. I can see myself doing exactly what Ray did - fixing the best snack ever for the next game, buying every single item on the approved snack list, trying to sneak the snack past Debra (who vowed never to bring another snack to the game) and secretly get in the obnoxious manager's good graces.
This constant need to win everybody's approval creates a lot of pressure. I'm generally pretty good at containing all that pressure. Better than Ray, at any rate, because he completely lost his cool and went off like a banshee at the manager, Debra, and his parents.
However, I definitely understand that impulse. I'm just better at controlling it. Sometimes it does feel like life is a big pressure cooker, and people keep throwing ingredients in the pot and turning up the valve. Before long, something has to blow.
Over the years I've learned ways to alleviate some of the pressure. You all probably know what my release factors are better than I do - music, writing, reading, walking. All those things help me blow off steam in a socially acceptable way instead of screaming and throwing things, which is what I really feel like doing sometimes.
But if I acted like that, then people wouldn't love me, would they?
And that would never do.
Of course, I really should address the root of the problem - the fact that my overly kind and empathetic nature, combined with a generalized desire for approval makes me put all sorts of pressure on myself to be all things to all people. The result - a lot of repressed anger and unhappiness.
The other thing Everybody Loves Raymond reminds me of is that our behavior and personality are often rooted in our early experiences. For Ray, his over-controlling mother who withheld love and approval based on his achievement of her expectations, combined with a cold, authoritarian father, primed him to become someone who was constantly seeking approval.
But for me - well, in my family I was the little princess who could do no wrong, and while that sounds rosy, it brings with it a burden to maintain this reputation at any cost. Hence, I'm still scurrying around trying to make myself look good in the eyes of the world.
Maybe knowing how you got to a certain place in life is half the battle in learning how to get out of it. I hope so.
Because even the best pressure cooker has its limits, and could eventually explode.