Thursday, November 4, 2010

Contemplating the origins of my nagging

I was thinking today about nagging.  I wasn’t a huge nag before, so why am I one now?  Does it have something to do with my last relationship?  I didn’t want to fight, I didn’t want to sweat the small stuff, but small things left unchecked add up until they are big things.  One of the biggest things I took away from that relationship when it ended was to not always bite my tongue, to not accept treatment that didn’t meet my standards for how I felt I deserved to be treated and that I would make it very clear what was and was not acceptable from the get go.  In an attempt to not make the same mistakes again I would often overreact about small things and have mini meltdowns over any repeated bad boyfriend behavior.  I’ve mellowed out a lot, and what’s left is a tendency to nag.

Then I think no, that doesn’t make sense, lots of people nag and they are not all dealing with having been mistreated by a former partner once upon a time.  Maybe it’s just a learned behavior, maybe we nag if our parents nagged, or it’s some fundamental men versus women thing.  I’m still trying to decide if nagging is the height of selfishness, or if it is an annoying form of selflessness.  Parents often nag children to do things, but they are doing that for the child’s benefit, right?  Things like do your homework.  Pretty sure if I tried hard enough I could think of a way in which that benefitted the parent.  Do your homework and mind your manners because when you misbehave it reflects badly on me as a parent. 

I don’t know why, but I feel like there’s more to it, some underlying reason.  I was bumming around on the internet and found a few interesting discussions.  One woman said that she nagged her husband like crazy to get up and be productive when he was in the depths of depression.  She said that through therapy she learned that she was nagging him as a way to alleviate her own anxiety, that she feels the need to fix the problem and doing nothing makes her feel like she’s going to have a nervous breakdown.  One of Gretchen’s least favorite strategies to quit nagging was simply to do the task herself.  I would have no problem with that, but there are times when I can’t do it myself and I find that stressful.  Maybe I'm just a bit of a control freak, maybe I don’t trust Flash to get things done on his own, maybe I’m worried that if I don’t say anything little things will snowball into big things.

I read an article about nagging on Oprah’s website that says we nag because we care.  The author breaks it down into three types: motherly loving nagging, be like me nagging and aggressive nagging.  Motherly loving comes from a desire to nurture and be helpful, be like me nagging is nagging people to do things the way you would do them, to change into the person you want them to be, and aggressive nagging is when the nagger is miserable and wants everyone else to be miserable too.  This type of nagger is never satisfied and nags for their own benefit and no one else’s.  I think I am a combination of the first two types.  I am nagging for Flash’s benefit, trying to help him follow through on things he claims to need to do, but I’m also trying to get him to do things my way.

Everything I’ve read comes to the conclusion that nagging doesn’t work and has the negative side effect of drawing attention to the flaws and shortcomings of the other person, which makes them feel bad.  Oh yeah and it’s a super annoying and unattractive habit.  Nagging always leaves me feeling frustrated.  I don’t want to be a nag, but I still want to be helpful.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making suggestions, or reminding someone of something they need to do, and I don’t believe my suggestions are unreasonable.  What’s frustrating is the thing that turns helping into nagging is the other person’s refusal to follow through on the task.  Just do it already! 

One thing the article says is, it’s not what you say but how you say it, so I’m going to alter my approach.  I’m going to stop nagging and simply let a lot of things go.  I’ll ask myself something like, “Does this really matter to me?” or “Do I need to spend my energy on this?”  If not then whatever, Flash can deal with it on his own and I won’t concern myself.  I think it will be a relief to give up any self-imposed responsibility I feel for making sure things get done.  For things that genuinely bother me, or affect me in some way I’m going to try and figure out a better approach, put a different spin on what I normally would say.

I was apprehensive about my no nagging resolution at first, but I am more excited about it now.  I feel like I’m doing a psychological experiment and I’m curious about the results.

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