Friday, June 25, 2010

Adjusting the Temperature

Over at Renegadeconversations the other day, Ronna put up a post called "I'm not in charge of the damn theromostat!"  It's a great piece, and it's had me percolating on several different levels for several days now.

I bear scars from the thermostat wars.  My mother radiates heat from her body, drips sweat from her hairline, and gets irritable in temperatures over 75 degrees.  My father must have ice water running in his veins.  He wears long-sleeves, jeans, boots and a hat in the middle of August in West Texas, and I didn't know his pickups had air-conditioners during my formative years.  We had central heat and an evaporative  "swamp-cooler" system that kept us comfortable in all but the hottest and most humid weather.  But comfort was relative - and in my house, everyone could not be comfortable at the same time.  I was the thermostat pawn.  During the winter months, Dad would usually start things.  "Go turn the heater up", he would say.  Dutifully, I'd adjust the dial, bumping up the temperature by a few degrees.  But it wouldn't be long until Mom came fuming into the living room hallway as if she were on fire.  "Who turned the heater up?  It's burning up in here.  I'm dripping!  Turn that thing down!"  And so, ever the dutiful daughter, I would trot over and bump the dial down, this time trying to find a happy medium between the two preferred set-points, usually a no-win situation.  My feet were always cold.  In the summer, without central temperature control, things were a bit less contentious because the only adjustment to be made involved the speed of the air being circulated.  But after a hot day outside in full dress, Dad was often cold in the evenings under the higher fan settings.  And although I don't think he won the war, he did win the summer nights battle, relegating all of us to sweltering and praying for a breeze, because we didn't run the AC at night.

I survived those wars and live in gratitude for central heat and air with a programmable thermostat, plus a husband who is a bit more compatible with me than my parents were with one another.  But physical temperature is not really the point at all.  Ronna's post made me think about how I adjust what I say, how and whether I share my feelings, how I behave based on what will make everyone around me comfortable.  So often, just like I did with the thermostat as a child, I will try to position myself at the perfect in-between, creating comfort for everyone around me.  My tendency to do this increases with the threat of conflict.  I'll do anything to keep it comfortable for everyone else, no matter how much it makes me sweat, or how cold my toes are.  If it will keep you happy, I'll hide my own discomfort, my true feelings.  I'll tone it down and cool it off.  Or I'll warm it up even if there is icy rage sitting in my chest.  Just to keep it comfortable.  To keep someone from yelling at me about the temperature.  Or at least I've operated that way in the past.

But I'm with Ronna - and I'm ready to stand up and shout - "I am not in charge of the damn thermostat!"  If you are too hot - take off a layer or move away from the heat.  If you are too cold, go put on a sweater.  But I'm done with adjusting my own internal thermostat in fear of making someone uncomfortable.  I'm tired of being the uncomfortable one.  I'm going to start taking responsibility for maintaining my own temperature, paying attention to my body and turning up the heat when things need to see a little action, or cooling it down a notch when it's time to chill.  And I'm going to work on not feeling responsible for managing the comfort level for anyone else at the expense of denying my own feelings.

As I sit here writing this post, I am acutely aware of the guilt and unease washing over me just from typing the words above.  The voices are saying "wow, that sounds really selfish and egotistical of you, you really don't care a whit about other people, do you really think anyone will like you if you act the way you are describing?"  And those voices are strong.  But here's the rub.  What I'm saying isn't coming from a place of selfishness and egotism.  It's coming from a deep pull to be authentic and open and vulnerable.  It's coming from a place of compassion that empathizes deeply with the discomfort of others.  It's coming from the voice of the inner self that says I must own who I am, what I believe, how I feel in order to bring my gifts into the light and use them for good.  I am not advocating running over anyone or being mean or selfish.  I'm just going to be me.  I'm always working on being the best, most authentic, most compassionate and loving me I can be - but if me doesn't work for you - then I need to leave the responsibility of that where it belongs - with you.  I'm not a little girl anymore who has no choice but to respond to the conflicting demands of her parents.  I am a grown woman with deep thoughts and real feelings that I need to honor, even if no one else does.  I don't need for anyone else to tell me if the temperature is just right.  I know it for myself and I am the only one who can adjust it for me if it's not right.  My hope is that in learning to do that for myself - I create an environment where others can do it too and we can all manage our own thermostats and stop yelling at someone else to adjust the temperature to our liking.


  1. Renae: So raw. So beautiful. So full of integrity and faith and hope...and you. Perfect temperature. Perfect climate. Perfect control.

    And, it's not a once-and-for-all decision is it? Even the internal tension you feel inside tells you such. We've been so conditioned (climate controlled) to adapt for everyone around us that the guilt and internal messages of selfishness (and a zillion more) are hard to quiet down. But eventually they shut up - or at least move to the back of the room. Eventually we come to realize that when we are most truly ourselves that those who most deeply "get," know, and love us will show up...

    Costs? Yes. Pain? Yes. Misunderstanding? For sure. But freedom, authenticity, integrity, truth-telling, living out loud, beauty, strength, tenderness? In spades, baby.

    Not too hot. Not too cold. Just right: you.

  2. Some of us are hardwired for compassion and intuitive sensing. We ARE the damn thermostat in so many ways. It is such a gift as we are the first to sense the loneliness and hurt of another person, the first to take action to see that they are included, the first to shift the focus of a conversation so that everyone's needs can be met. In the "colors" personality profiles, we are blues. Not the hard-core, down-to-business greens, not the pragmatic goal oriented golds, not the fun-loving party-animal oranges....we are blues. We are the color of healers, the color of the sky, the color of a perfect body of water, the morphing flexing entities ready to fit into whatever shaped container we find ourselves needing to fit.

    Yet learning how and when to refocus that intuitive thermostat to meet our own needs FIRST is key. We have to learn the difference between helping someone connect and enabling demanding and bad behaviors. Just as you pointed out so eloquently, being compassionate and loving does not preclude being genuinely who you are. Sensing the comfort of others doesn't demand making ourselves miserable or ignoring our own need to be heard.

    Sometimes others just need to fix their own damn thermostat.

  3. This is something I'm continually learning, too. Boy, is it hard sometimes! Thanks for sharing, Renae!